Protest Policing in Tunisia and Morocco

By Chantal Berman
Submitted to Session P4916 (New Boundaries of State/Resistance Constellations in the Middle East, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Maghreb;
LCD Projector without Audio;
This paper analyzes temporal, geographic, and sectoral patterns of protest policing in Tunisia and Morocco, asking in particular how democratizing revolutions (“successful” or otherwise) shift the logic of repressive response to mobilization. Departing from the question of repressive intervention during revolutionary moments of mass mobilization, this project aims to shed light on longer-term patterns of state response to diffuse and recurrent public protests over a period of ten years (2006 - 2016). I argue that the presence and severity of physical repression at contentious events tracks both the individual-level characteristics of protests (types of demands, protest tactics, organizations involved or lack thereof) and corresponds, in aggregate, to broader political and legal transformations. Security forces, like protesters, respond to a “political opportunity structure” that provides greater latitude for repression at certain times and within certain geographic and social spaces.

Empirically, I draw on a database of select protests and sit-ins collected from local mainstream and “opposition” media sources, situating the logic of repressive response within a broader range of "demobilizing" tactics including concessions, negotiations, and "ignorance." I use two analytic approaches: 1) individual-level modeling of physical repression, taking into account the mobilizational characteristics listed above, and 2) process-tracing of broader temporal trends in state response, embedding protest “cycles” within a broader account of political rupture and reconfiguration during this period. I supplement the macro data through interview-based evidence drawn from case studies of popular mobilization and police response in phosphate mining towns.