“Participatory challenges from Tunisia to Oman” (STREETPOL) is a research project funded by the Italian Ministry of Higher Education and University within a Scientific Independence of Young Researcher Grant, covering the period from September 2015-September 2018.

The Principal Investigator is Ruth Hanau Santini, who teaches Politics and International Relations at Università L’Orientale in Naples.


The project complements another recently carried out project, “Democracy and Citizenship rights since the Arab Awakening: challenges for US and EU foreign policies” (EUSPRING), funded by the Italian Compagnia di San Paolo, which ran from July 2013 until July 2016.

EUSPRING analysed the changing nature of state-society relations through the lenses of citizenship in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt, through analysis of documents, in-depth interviews and focus groups. In particular, EUSPRING aimed at exploring in detail how the debate over civil, political and socio-economic rights in these three countries was handled by state authorities, and through which institutional mechanisms, constitutional texts and policies the 2011 revolutionary demands were addressed.


While EUSPRING has mostly concentrated on an institutional analysis and has sought to reconstruct the evolution of citizenship trajectories from 2011 until 2016 in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt, STREETPOL concentrates more on what Bryan Turner calls ‘citizenship from below’, referring to the notion of social struggles as the central motor of the drive of citizenship (Turner 1989: 193). Citizenship represents an ideal vantage point through which the reconfiguration of state-society relations can be scrutinized as “Ultimately, citizenship should be studied because it is the prism through which to address the political” (Nyers, 2007: 3). Within this approach, a particular emphasis is attributed to political participation and the different shapes it can take (Bellamy and Palumbo, 2010). At the heart of both formal and informal, violent and non-violent participation lies the dynamic of inclusion and exclusion, the question of who is member of a political community and according to which criteria.

Within a post-westphalian reading of MENA polities, the project will investigate the extent to which Tunisian, Moroccan and Omani citizens in particular confer legitimacy to the statehood and what attributes they attach to the notion of statehood, by identifying as key target group marginalized populations, excluded wither politically, economically or culturally.  We will attempt at uncovering how the state is imagined and perceived among those who are excluded and are or perceive themselves at the margins. Among marginalized populations it is often the case that competing sources of allegiances and authority coexist.

The project starts from the assumption that modern statehood in the Middle East and North Africa as well as in the Sahara-Sahel area need to be rethought. In particular, both Westphalian emphasis on borders’ sanctity as prerogative of modern states, and Weberian static conception of states as only form of political organization. While the idealized “Westphalian state”, which has distinct boundaries and emphasizes the right of nonintervention and borders’ inviolability has been under attack in recent years (Kaldor, 1999), this research project aims at further enriching the reflection on the importance of historicizing and contextualizing the different forms and shapes statehood and governance can take even with regard to the territory and the fluidity of borders (Bierstecker, 2013).

On the other hand, we aim to challenge the idea that the lack of all proper attributes of states in a Weberian states necessarily leads to ‘areas of limited statehood’ (Risse, 2013), or the idea that, the coexistence of modern and traditional practices, representing a hybrid form of sovereignty implies ipso facto limited sovereignty (Bacik 2008).

The simultaneity of multiple sources of power and authority does not necessarily imply limited statehood. While the clash between different sources of authority and claims of legitimacy can certainly generate tensions and conflicts, in the MENA region and in the Sahara-Sahel region, in some cases the presence of supposedly competing private and public actors in controlling the territory and providing services can coexist generating an heterarchical system of authority enjoying varying degrees of popular legitimacy.

The nature of these heterarchical political orders will be investigated across at least the three above-mentioned case studies, through the empirical analyses of instances of citizenship from below, especially from marginal areas, assessing the ways in which the state is thought of, experienced, criticized, substituted with other forms of authority, complemented by other allegiances and in general re-thought.