Zones of ambiguity. The political economy of insecurity in Tunisia.

By Hamza Meddeb
Submitted to Session P4798 (Rethinking Security Studies in the Arab World: In/Security Beyond the State, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
One of the most significant consequences of political change in Tunisia has been the expansion of the illicit trade, smuggling networks and trafficking. This evolution has been explained by the security vacuum that followed the fall of Ben Ali’s regime especially in the border and inland regions that become “areas of limited statehood” - in which central government authorities and institutions are too weak to enforce rules and/or do not control the monopoly over the means of violence. Such explanation reveals a normative misconception that security in Tunisia (and more broadly the Arab World) is primarily about fighting crime and ensuring law enforcement. Though, heavily securitized, large parts of Tunisia’s territory have been paradoxically ruled by a ‘laissez-faire‘ form of governance, allowing an important toleration of the illegal economic activities. In other regions, namely costal regions and the capital Tunis, law enforcement has always been more effective. This pragmatic and neoliberal mode of governance has exacerbated vulnerability, facilitated the maintaining of the social order and transformed the security services into “entrepreneurs of insecurity”. Such modes of governance are based on a political economy of insecurity that combines the mobilization of minimal state resources in a context of fiscal and budgetary constraints while achieving social control through corruption, patronage and intermediation mechanisms. Based on an extensive fieldwork in Tunisia, this contribution aims at moving beyond “state fragility” approach (and the exclusive Tunisian case) to understand broadly the crisis in legitimacy and capacity of Arab states. Used to describe the weakening of the states, the category of “state fragility” should invite us to rethink about the sovereignty and its articulation to power exercise in a context of globalization.