Describing a decade of developments in North Africa is no simple task. The last ten years have offered each North African State its own redefining moment(s) to grapple with, making a case for observing their distinctive contexts and the complex processes stemming from the different choices and strategies adopted by these countries. However, as one tries to extract meaning from these events, it is possible to argue that North African countries are experiencing a common paradoxical reality marked by the coexistence between the promises of sweeping change and the static resonance of the past. Through this process, the very essence of the North African authoritarian States is being challenged, reshaped and reordered by and in relationship with citizens.
In Tunisia, the repercussions borne from its revolution continue to unfold, creating new dynamics and challenges that need to be confronted at a rapid pace, creating the impression of restless change. Tunisia portrays a twofold dimension: on one side the country has definitely moved towards establishing a new political landscape and is trying to lay the foundations of democratic institutions. On the other, it seems that the 2010-2011 moment keeps replicating itself through the persistence of popular mobilization, economic hardship and an ongoing raft of reforms in all sectors. Like an echo in the background, Tunisia’s problems of governance keep on dominating the scene and uncovering how the state asymmetrically reaches its citizens and its territory. When it comes to perception, a decade that has been all about transition is, oddly enough, a constant reminiscence of its beginnings.
In Algeria, former Presidents Bouteflika’s announcement that he had intended to run for a fifth mandate despite illness sparked the Hirak movement in February 2019. The weekly peaceful protests against this façade presidency opened a breach in the sealed Algerian system. As Amel Boubekeur develops, the movement created an independent political space for Algerians that allows for the renegotiation of the post-civil war social contract. As the public space is vigorously reclaimed by citizens, they announce their intention to put an end to lethargic politics. Yet, elections reproduced the regime leaving no doubt about the people’s distrust in the State processes and the void that exists between power strata and the citizens.
Morocco has also had its share of popular discontent that has been diluted over time by the monarchy through the introduction of several though limited reforms. Nonetheless, the recrudescence of protests in Morocco since the February 20 events, especially following the Hirak Al-Rif movement that took place in 2016, calls to consider that something deeper than mere institutional reform is demanded. Beyond the selling narrative of Morocco’s soft transition, lies the idea of wanting more of the state than its formal existence through administrative structures and security apparatuses. The Hirak Al-Rif demands were focused on the region’s development and the delivery of public service such as health and education, it demanded a State’s “presence”.
In 2011 Libya has crossed the line of civil war, emerging out as a failed state where “there is no single political system. There is no single authority. There is no single government”. In the background of Libya’s tale of chaos is the looming shadow of Ghadhafi’s regime. The one-man rule has actively created spaces of fear and violence. It fostered an uneven societal reality and neglected the creation of a viable link to the state. This authoritarian self-centered approach of Libya’s former dictator left the country dealing with decades of unsolved frustrations.
Apart from redefining the contours of the State’s mission and reason of being, the movement of change that has been unleashed in North Africa is unveiling another common challenge: Corruption and clientelism are the other defining characters of this North African transitioning decade. These practices are, indeed, so engrained in North African States and societies that they constitute the main deterrent to building viable alternatives. With the absence of trust in, and the lack of accountability from the ruling class, the disillusionment that followed the revolutionary wave is preventing the formulation of a sustainable social contract. Unsurprisingly, this configuration is leading to the rejection of responses based on classical party politics. In Tunisia, for example, nine years of democratic practice have accelerated the pace towards the rise of populist figures.
While it can be felt and described in terms of struggle and challenges, this North African decade has undoubtedly introduced the concepts of change and freedom as possibilities and opportunities to seize. It also bridges the region to global concerns and raises the importance of looking at how issues are being tackled in this part of the world. This vivid negotiation of roles and collective reimagination of the state can only be a salutary process. Its ramification will extend in time inasmuch as the process of citizen appropriation and politicization of public space continues. In this regard, the recent Covid-19 crisis risks being an accelerator of the trends described in this article. The emergency measures employed by local governments, such as nation-wide lockdowns, have already had the effects of exacerbating socioeconomic inequalities and to further deteriorate the already critical conditions of North African economies. Their effects will most probably emerge once the medical emergency is over and people are able to occupy again their countries’ streets and squares. On their part, local regimes have used the current situation to strengthen their grip on their societies. The exacerbation of both discontent factors are repressive policies during this emergency may lead to even more dramatic episodes of contention and instability than those that we have witnessed over the last decade.
 Boubekeur, Amel. 2020: “Demonstration effects: How the Hirak protest movement is reshaping Algerian politics”, ECFR.
 Rachidi, Ilhem. 2019: "Morocco’s Crackdown Won’t Silence Dissent”, Foreign Policy.
 Alasha, Faraj. 2019: “Libya – failed state par excellence”, Qantara.
 Stroetges, Fabian. 2018 : “In the Triple Threat to Tunisia’s Democracy, Corruption is King”, DGAP Compakt.
 Kahlaoui, Tarek. 2019: “How Tunisia’s presidential election could deliver a populist president”, Washington Post.