Middle East Studies

Conference – Decolonization, Development and State Building in North Africa

north africa conference

Friday, September 25, 2020

9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Virtual event
Please register on Eventbrite to attend the webinar. For security purposes, the link to attend the event will be sent to you 2 hours in advance of the conference.

In 2011, Tunisia made international headlines for sparking the Arab Spring. Everyday men and women took to the streets to demand political, social and economic change, culminating in the unprecedented ouster of longtime Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Similar protests spread throughout the region, primarily in eastern neighboring countries, including Libya, Egypt, and Syria, the repercussions of which are ongoing. But what of Tunisia’s western neighbors, Algeria and Morocco? Why did they not undergo the same degree of political unrest? This conference explores the historical developments in the postcolonial Maghrib (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia), all former French colonial territories. It analyzes the impact of decolonization across the three countries and interrogates the varied approaches to development and state building after prolonged periods of foreign rule. Topics include infrastructure and investment projects, public health campaigns, education and language policies, intra-Maghribi relations as well as international relations, and strategies for establishing legitimacy and maintaining power.

Historical scholarship on the Maghrib often focuses on one of the three countries, and while a limited number of political science studies attend to Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia within a single frame, they typically exclusively examine politics and party formation. This conference, therefore, aims to bring together an interdisciplinary group of Maghribi specialists to consider anew the region as a unit and its unique evolution. In so doing, the conference will identify new directions in North African history that will help us better understand the priorities and concerns of Maghribi actors and shed light on its current place within the overlapping spheres of the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.

Workshops, Conferences, Seminars
North Africa
Virtual Event


9:30-9:45 a.m.
Welcoming Remarks and Introductions

9:45-11:45 a.m. 
Panel 1: Challenging Nationalist and Statist Narratives

Mark Drury, Morocco/Western Sahara (Anthropology, Princeton) “Anticolonial Irredentism: Decolonization, The Liberation Army of Morocco, and the Saharan Making of the Maghreb in the 1950s

David Stenner, Morocco (History, Christopher Newport U) “International Anti-Colonialism and the Remaking of the Moroccan State"

Keenan Wilder, Tunisia (Sociology, Brown) “Historical Origins of Tunisian Unionism"

Rebecca Gruskin, Tunisia (History, Stanford) “Nationalization beyond the National Scale: Phosphates, Independence, and Economic Sovereignty in Tunisia (1940s-1960s)"

Discussant: Jonathan Wyrtzen (Sociology, Yale)

12:00 p.m.-12:45 p.m.
Lunch Break

12:45-2:45 p.m. 
Panel 2: Health, Environment, and Development Initiatives

Nancy Demerdash, Tunisia (Art History, Albion) “The Évolué, Migration and the Architectural Prophylactics of Hygiene and Housing in Postwar Tunisia

Daniel Willford, Morocco (History, U Wisconsin, Madison) “Environmental Protection and Morocco’s Post-Colonial Urban Order

Amy Kallander, Tunisia (History, Syracuse) “Family Planning and Maghrebi Demography: between National Development and Transnational Collaboration

Andrew Bellisari, Algeria (History, Vietnam) “Switching Tracks: Decolonizing Infrastructure and Constructing Sovereignty in Algeria

Discussant: Jennifer Johnson

2:45-3:00 p.m. 

3:00 - 4:45 p.m.
Panel 3: Humor, Language, and Human Rights

Elizabeth Perego, Algeria (History, Princeton) “Riotous Laughter Before Riots: Satire as Site of Informal Political Engagement in the Post-Independence Maghrib

Douaa Sheet, Tunisia (Anthropology, CUNY) “Transitional Justice and the Democratization Process in Post-Uprising Tunisia, 2014-2018

Annemarie Iddins, Morocco (Media Studies/Communication, Fairfield U) “Decolonizing Media Policy: The Evolution of Morocco’s Press Code and Discourses of Digital Reform

Discussant: Melani Cammett (Government, Harvard)

4:45-5:00 p.m.
Closing Remarks