Decentralization in the Arab World (2017-2021)

Decentralization in the Arab World: Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan from a comparative perspective


Since the early 1990s we have been witnessing the emergence of government-led decentralization strategies in the Arab world, which vary considerably with regard to timing, depth, success, reach and results. Despite these empirical findings, the scholarly literature remains vague when discussing causes and consequences of governments’ decisions to further decentralize the body politic.

This is the point of departure of our research project. It focuses on experiences with strategies of administrative decentralization. Our research is embedded in the generally accepted finding of a persistence of neopatrimonial networks of patronage and clientelism in the region. We assume that policies of decentralization are guided, inspired and instrumentalized by clear-cut identifiable personal networks. They interlock the central, regional and local levels of government. The emergence and the function of decentralization processes are hence more than only the result of modifications within the constitutional architecture. The reason for political change by decentralization is a re-configuration of neopatrimonial networks, which causes a modified territorialization of power whenever the central government transfers competences down to the regions. In our project we ask, to what extent and with which social and political consequences decentralization processes shape governability in the four countries under study, and how these processes produce legitimacy beyond the traditional aim of regime survival through institutional reform. In order to investigate the consequences of decentralization for governability we use as indicator and analytical tool the governance of budgets and financial transfers to the subnational level.

Our country sample comprises Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan. These cases were selected because they vary significantly with regard to forms, functions and consequences of decentralization, but are at the same time structurally very similar (tradition of centralized statehood, similar pathways of state-building and persistence of neopatrimonial networks). Our project will provide a conceptual and empirical contribution to the still fairly underresearched questions of decentralization and its consequences in the Arab world. We aim at the identification of a middle range theoretical approach that allows us to tease out the inner logic of decentralization policies in the Arab world and which locates our research results in the existing literature of comparative research on the workings of statehood.


Funded by: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) (German Research Foundation)

Duration: 2017 – 2021 (project start date: 1 August 2017)
Grant:  EUR 450,000
Project team: Prof. Dr. Thomas DemmelhuberProf. Dr. Roland Sturm, Miriam Bohn, M.A., Erik Vollmann, M.A.