Local-national relations and the politics of property rights in Algeria and Tunisia
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Most models of property rights assume they are supplied by the state on demand from society. Property rights are strong when state institutions enforce the law. The strength of state institutions in the provinces determines how well property rights will be enforced on the ground. The penetration of state institutions from the capital city to the provinces is a part of long state building processes. These processes pit centralizing elites against local notables who want to protect their authority and privileges. In the West, state building processes took centuries; in post-colonial states like Algeria and Tunisia, these processes have occurred over the last fifty years, and have occurred unevenly This dissertation asks why property rights are relatively strong in Tunisia, and why they are so weak in Algeria. To answer this question, it focuses on the development of local political and state institutions in the years immediately following independence. At independence, rulers in both states used their anti-colonial nationalist parties to buttress the state-in-formation. Their ability to do so, however, was conditioned on the development of those parties during the colonial period, and affected their rural state building strategies. The choices they made in the first decades of independence defined the parameters of local-national relations and the degree to which they can implement property rights on the ground. Using the Neo-Destour Party, which had developed into a mass-mobilizing movement by independence, the Tunisian state was able to project authority into the periphery. In return for vertical mobility opportunities, party cadres enforced national legislation during the early state building period. Property rights are strong. In Algeria, authority collapsed when close to a million European settlers fled in 1962. The French excluded Muslims from the political and economic sphere fearing they would subvert the foundation of the colonial system: strong settler property rights. At independence, the new regime had few cadres to staff the new state institutions, and an amorphous nationalist movement. The regime chose a two-tiered state building strategy. From the top-down, it placed its few cadres for the central and provincial administration. Its bottom-up strategy was to form a new set of party-administrators that could act as proxy agents on the ground through the municipalities. The top-down, bottom-up powersharing agreement turned on its side, however, as local notables infiltrated the local party organizations and municipalities. The party-administrators entered alliances with notables, creating localized political arenas independent of Algiers. Subsequent efforts to run land and property reform through the municipalities were undermined by these alliances, and have been since. In Algeria, property rights are nationally legislated, but they are enforced according to local dictates. Property rights are weak.