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Decentralisation Strategies in Morocco and Jordan: Local Empowerment or Authoritarian Upgrading?

Democratisation
Elites
Local Government
Political Regime
Erik Vollmann
Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg
Miriam Bohn
Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg
Erik Vollmann
Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg

Abstract

Ever since the 1990s, various countries in the Arab world have experienced government-led efforts to establish decentralized governing structures. Encouraged by western donors, including IMF and World Bank, as well as local civil society activists, decentralization was expected to enhance political participation, local autonomy and the overall economic situation. The Arab uprisings in 2011 brought back to life a vivid public and international discourse on decentralization and further pushed reform projects in Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries. As strong protest movements originated from the local periphery, they also challenged the thus far dominant scientific focus on the national level or regime type in the MENA region. Expectations of international donors are high: Decentralization reforms are presented as less invasive forms of democratization, as way to bolster the efficiency of local service provision, to increase regime accountability and create new opportunities for the participation of citizens and the civil society. Compelling evidence towards those merits of decentralization, however, is scarce in most MENA countries. The reform processes are still coordinated or dominated by the center. Building on extensive fieldwork and elite interviews in Jordan and Morocco, we provide evidence on the possibilities and shortcomings of decentralization efforts in the two cases. We conclude that reforms might indeed open a pathway towards local and regional regime liberation and increased self-government. But they are also employed as a strategy to reinforce the state’s power on the territory and to stabilize the ruling regimes. Essential factors are the coordination and interaction of local, regional and national actors in the process as well as the reforms’ impact on the renewal of elite structures and the financial and managerial abilities of local and regional elected governments.