MESA Banner
Property Disputes, Dispossession and Processes of Marginalization in North Africa

Panel IX-14, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, November 4 at 3:00 pm

Panel Description
Due to increasing urbanization, climate change, and political conflict, the North Africa region has been experiencing several political crises, increasingly focused on housing, land, and property rights. As many researchers have shown, a new interest in the issue of dispossession has been revived in the decade following the Arab revolutions. Following on Marx's reflections on the “social war of properties”, this panel wants to explore the inherent conflict that marginalised communities face in defending their contested properties which contradicts the strictly legal definition of what is considered legitimate forms of property ownership (Cavanagh 2013). Indeed, rural exodus, intensive urban growth, and political conflict have created new spaces of contested territory in which property rights remain uncertain and generate conflict. While there is considerable literature on the history of the social construction of property rights (both private and collective) (Batatu 1999, Amin 1970), research that address land issues (Hounet 2013), or questions of dispossession (Mahdi 2018, Bush & Ayeb 2019) in the region often fail to examine the process of formation of contemporary property regimes. Several accounts have focused on existing conflicts of legitimacy between modern (post-colonial) state legislation and the customary laws of indigenous communities related, for example, to the management of collective or common land (terres collectives). These accounts highlighted how the modernization of legislation has often been used as a tool to legitimize the appropriation of wealth of these communities (Kapoor & al. 2017). Nevertheless, by focusing mainly on rural areas (Sauer 2012), these analyses neglected the emergence of new spaces of informal law within urban margins, such as slums, or informal settlements. If during the colonial period, it is the tribal organizational system that was de-structured and delegitimized (Agrour 2018), today, more than fifty years after the process of decolonization and the formation of the post-colonial state, struggles for property rights are no longer confined to the tribal areas (Dahou 2018, Maeckelbergh 2012, Ferrier 2012, Schijman 2012). Indeed, rural exodus, intensive urban growth and political conflicts have created new areas of contested territories in which property rights remains uncertain and lead to conflict (McMichael 2014, Lombard & Rakodi 2016). By exposing the existing systemic link between these new spaces of modern “contested properties” and their historical process of emergence, this panel will explore the concept of “contested properties” as one of the modalities through which capitalist modernity has been reconfigured in postcolonial countries .
Political Science
  • Dr. Karen Eugenie Rignall -- Discussant
  • Dr. Koenraad Bogaert -- Organizer, Chair
  • Lana Salman -- Presenter
  • Ms. Soraya El Kahlaoui -- Organizer, Presenter
  • Souad Eddouada -- Presenter
  • Cristiana Strava -- Presenter
  • Yasmine Berriane -- Presenter
  • Ms. Soraya El Kahlaoui
    This article aims to offer an innovative re-reading of the dynamics of social and political transformation in North Africa. Starting from the hypothesis that mechanisms of dispossession alongside processes of privatizing “the commons”, which can be traced back to the colonial era, were foundational for the formation of the modern states in North Africa and continue to (re)form those states today, this project aims to analyze the proliferation of social contestation in the margins of Moroccan and Tunisian society since 2011 as a form of resistance to this longer terrm political process. My work understands the phenomenon of dispossession as a part of a global phenomenon, and will explain the existing systemic connections between processes linked to the monopolization of agricultural lands in rural areas and procedures of eviction and expropriation in urban areas. The article will be based on two ethnographic case studies. (1) The Guich Oudaya tribe live in collective lands in Rabat (originally 3000 hectares), the capital of Morocco, which has experienced dispossession since the arrival of colonization. Their dispossessions has accelerated since independence, and today they have only 250 hectares of land left, which is also targeted by an eviction procedure. Since 2014, I have been conducting a longitudinal study on the eviction procedures carried out by the state and the forms of resistance and negotiation carried out by the tribe. (2) In Tozeur, the inhabitants organized in the form of a Tensiqia "Tozeur El Jadida” (coordination committee New Tozeur) and have used the tactic of Haouz on state land to assert their right to housing through the construction of a large urban project, where more than 1000 houses will be built. Currently negotiations are underway with the state to grant them the permits to build.
  • Cristiana Strava
    In the summer of 2022, Morocco announced the Phase 2 completion of Zenata, a so-called ‘New Green City’ occupying 5 km of polluted coast north of Casablanca. First brought to life in 2006 at the initiative of the Moroccan King, Zenata has been celebrated as “the first African city to be awarded an Eco-City Label (ECL)”, a certification granted in 2016 during the COP 22 conference, before any ground had been broken on the site. One of several dozen ‘green’ megaprojects currently being built across the Kingdom, Zenata is a 1,9-billion-euro investment partly financed through EU loans, responsible for the forced-displacement of local informal communities on the periphery of Casablanca, and financialization of previously communally-held lands. Based on research that combines participant-observation, online ethnography, and interviews with local activists and urban planners, this paper takes a three-fold approach: I first place recent developments like Zenata in the longer timeline of state-led environmental discourses and agendas that define Morocco’s colonial and post-colonial engagements with indigenous people and nature – efforts only recently refocused on coastal cities and anchored in the financialization of urban spaces. Secondly, I use ethnography to highlight several responses from ordinary Moroccans to both envisioned and already-existing ‘green’ projects like Zenata. In this way, I foreground the profound and profoundly alternative ways in which ordinary inhabitants try to reclaim narratives about inclusion or exclusion from aspirational futures, and critique current planning regimes' orthodoxies. Finally, drawing on this ethnographic material, I aim to theorize the analytical and practical valences of 'speculative' approaches when taken outside the realm of finance capitalism and deployed as part of current struggles for social justice and access to land.
  • Lana Salman
    One of the most persistent images of rogue ungovernable spaces that haunts Tunisia’s post-revolution future is that of popular neighborhoods. The 2011 revolution added danger and fear of their potential rebellion to the images of lawlessness, decay, and backwardness already associated with these neighborhoods. In this presentation, I trace these fears to the French colonial preoccupation with ‘nomadism,’ the need to fix people to territory and make property alienable. I show how nomadism tested the capacity of the colonial administration to govern the city’s edge. In tracking the evolution of nomadism from a mobility to a property issue, I trace the emergence of popular neighborhoods as a problem space and the conditions under which their presence became an unsolvable problem – the solution here is to make them disappear. The intractability of this problem carried over from the colonial to the post-independence period, where adequate housing and the upgrading of underserviced popular neighborhoods remained on the agenda. Its management under French colonialism gave birth to new institutions, such as urban upgrading, which took various forms in the post-colonial period until the 2011 revolution and its aftermath. The analysis points to three conclusions: city-making has always been an essential terrain for political participation. Poor people's non-access to property is at the heart of this terrain. Second, seemingly urban problems exceeded urban and spatial dimensions; they demonstrated ways of governing vast territories to bring them under ever-fleeting centralized rule. Accomplishing this required complex bureaucratic schemes that necessitated alignment within institutions on issues disputed within the bureaucracy and led to institutional innovations that resulted equally from compromise and ingenuity. Third, and relatedly, this history of the genesis of popular neighborhoods is also a history of state-building and its colonial precedents from the perspective of one intractable planning problem: governing the city’s margins.
  • Yasmine Berriane
    This paper builds upon the idea that land rights and belonging (and more broadly property and citizenship) are interrelated and that recognition is a core element of this dynamic connection (Lund, 2011; Jacob, Le Meur, 2010; Berry, 2009). What happens to the way belonging is conceptualized and defined by individuals when land resources become more valuable and when laws regulating this access change? Morocco represents an interesting case study in this regard. During the past 20 years, major economic projects have led to increasing pressure on Moroccan collective lands and have exacerbated conflicts and tensions within local communities and groups demanding to be included in the ongoing transactions. Drawing upon a book project-in-the-making and on research conducted since 2012 with different groups contesting their exclusion from collective land rights in Morocco, the paper focuses on developments that emerged after the adoption, in 2019, of new laws regulating collective land rights. This legislative reform declared women as legitimate beneficiaries of collective land, breaking with previous norms and practices that excluded them from their usufruct (Berriane, Rignall, 2017), but at the same time, it established a new category of people excluded from use rights: that of “non-residents”, meaning individuals who do not live within the area where the collectively owned land is situated. Paradoxically, this new category affects more particularly women. By focusing on a group of men and women who submitted a petition against this new resolution, this paper examines the impact of this new legal category in a context of widespread emigration which has distanced family and community members from the lands to which they now claim rights. How do they legitimize their claims? And, by doing so, how do they reconceptualize their belonging and membership to the community despite geographical distance?
  • Souad Eddouada
    The purpose of this paper is to address the 2019 collective land tenure reforms from the perspective of local women farmers in the Moroccan Gharb by focusing on the implementation of a corporate agenda with global and local dimensions and its production of a mainstream discourse on women’s rights and gender inclusion. Among the questions this paper attempts to answer is: how does women’s rights rhetoric negotiate with, resist, and support neoliberal land tenure reforms? The research for this discussion is based on in-depth interviews with women farmers and participant observation in classes that they are attending to educate themselves about the new land tenure reform laws and policies. Based on this data, the paper explores how local women farmers negotiate with dominant land dispossession policies and feminist rhetoric staged by the government, donors, and women’s rights NGOs regarding the representation of women’s land rights. In this vein, this paper draws attention to the way that human and women’s rights rhetoric is deployed as a strategy of co-optation by governance feminism (Hally 2018). Through an analysis of interviews with urban feminists, officials from American corporate organizations funding land privatization, and with women identified as the beneficiaries of communal land privatization efforts across various rural Moroccan sites, this paper has two aims: first, to provide a context for the emergence of the discourse on Moroccan women’s land rights in the early 2000s, and second, to explore the ways in which local farmers negotiate with rather than confront the ongoing violence of land expropriation and dispossession across the rural Moroccan Gharb.