ANALYSIS

A selection of some of my writing for general audiences.

August 22, 2019

Why Tunisia’s early presidential election will test its democracy (Washington Post/Monkey Cage)

In this article, Isabelle Werenfels and I analyse the upcoming Tunisian presidential election, examining how the death of President Essebsi has affected the campaign, analysing the candidates' diverse claims to continuity, and discussing how the election may shape the country's political institutions in years to come. 

June 18, 2019

In North Africa’s borderlands, smuggling has helped keep a fragile peace. Now it’s under threat. (Washington Post/MonkeyCage)

Popular talking points suggest that smuggling in North Africa is occurring under the radar of its states, and is subverting them through corruption and the creation of porous borders that terrorist groups can exploit. Proposed solutions, including new border walls and internationally funded surveillance equipment, have focused on improving the surveillance capacity of states and raising the costs of cross-border movements. But this misunderstands the role states play in the region’s smuggling economies, I argue in this piece for the Washington Post's 'MonkeyCage'.

March 05, 2019

Is Tunisia Really Democratising? (SWP)

January 2019 marked the eighth anniversary of the end of the Ben Ali dictatorship – the celebrations however were marred by massive social protests. Opinions both in Tunisia and abroad differ about the state of Tunisia’s political development as it gears up for its second parliamentary and presidential elections since the adoption of the new constitution in 2014. While some consider its democratisation to be virtually complete, others fear a relapse into autocracy. Despite its considerable democratic achievements, Tunisia is in danger of developing into a hybrid system: part democratic, part authoritarian. This is not only due to the difficult economic and regional con­text. Critically, the political, economic and administrative networks of the old system, as well as persistent authoritarian practices and “old” rhetoric in politics and society, complicate the deepening of its fragile democracy. Tunisia’s international partners should make it their explicit objective to weaken these counter-currents, I argue in this article written with Isabelle Werenfels (SWP).

February 28, 2019

Stability in North Africa does not require stronger governments, but stronger opposition (SWP)

As it seeks to support “stability” in North Africa, the international community needs to think less about strong states, and more about strong opposition, I argue in this article for the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). 

January 28, 2019

Transnational Organized Crime and Political Actors in the Maghreb and Sahel (KAS)

In this issue of the 'Mediterranean Dialogue Series' I argue for a new approach towards the study and understanding of transnational organised crime in the Maghreb and the Sahel, together with Matt Herbert, Jihane Ben Yahia and Riccardo Fabiani. My argument focuses in particular on the relationship between organised crime and distributional politics in the region. 

January 17, 2019

As Tunisia's political consensus cracks, IMF austerity may hit the rocks (Middle East Eye)

Following the largest strike in Tunisia's modern history with more than 670,000 participants, I discuss its likely effects on Tunisia's political system in this column for Middle East Eye. 

November 07, 2018

Tunisia's deep structural inequality will take generations to unwind (Middle East Eye)

The current discourse on building a 'level playing field' in Tunisia risks reframing the exploited of yesterday as the underperforming of tomorrow. My latest column for Middle East Eye looks at structural inequality and the argument for affirmative action:

August 29, 2018

What’s the impact of smuggling networks on local communities in Libya? (Ce.S.I.)

In this piece for Ce.S.I.'s edited volume on "The Libyan Maze - The Path to Elections and the Future of the Reconciliation Process", I discuss the effect of smuggling networks on local communities in Libya, highlighting their role for local political actors and armed groups. 

August 28, 2018

Tunisia isn’t a migrant transit country – yet (ISS)

Although Libya’s drop in migrants isn’t related to Tunisia’s increase, policy is needed on the issue, I argue with Matt Herbert in this article for the Institute for Security Studies.

August 15, 2018

The Risks of Hardened Borders in North Africa (Carnegie)

Rather than making North Africa safer, securitizing borders has raised the risk of instability along the region’s frontiers, where communities depend on smuggling, Matt Herbert and I argue for Carnegie's Sada. 

July 29, 2018

An economic malaise lies at the heart of Libya-Tunisia border standoff (Middle East Eye)

“We let go if you let go,” reads a banner hoisted a few miles from Ras Ajdir, one of the main border crossings between Tunisia and Libya. For weeks, the border crossing has been blocked by Libyan authorities from one side, and Tunisian smugglers on the other side. I argue that the current stand-off points to a larger challenge for both the Tunisian and Libyan state: the absence of a unified plan on how to manage its border economies in a post-2011 world.

July 15, 2018

Understanding informal economies in North Africa (Friedrich Ebert Foundation)

More than half of North Africa’s labour force is employed in the informal economy, typically working without contracts, unions, or access to social insurance schemes. The intersection of economic marginality, underdevelopment, and abuse by law enforcement have made the region’s informal workers a powerful symbol of social injustice around which protest movements have rallied. I outline the role of the informal economy in the region's development models and point towards alternative routes for reform in this policy paper for the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. 

June 12, 2018

Is Morocco’s boycott the future of political resistance in North Africa? (Middle East Eye)

Protest movements in the Middle East and North Africa are not confined by geographical boundaries: groups pick up strategies, technologies, slogans and songs from their counterparts across the region. Traditionally, Morocco has not been a noted exporter of protest movements. But this is likely to change...

January 11, 2018

Video: Tunisia - Country in a way a victim of its success (France24)

My comments for France24 on the January 2018 austerity protests in Tunisia, discussing responsibility, the role of the IMF, and the impact of Tunisia's political 'consensus' strategy. 

January 11, 2018

Tunisia protests: Another heavy dose of austerity (Middle East Eye)

My op-ed on the January 2018 austerity protests in Tunisia, and how the current crisis exposes the weakness of Tunisia's post-revolutionary political landscape.

December 16, 2017

Seven years on: Tunisia's legacies of neglect (Middle East Eye)

On Sunday, 17 December, it will be seven years since Mohamed Bouazizi, an informal street vendor from Sidi Bouzid, took his own life. In the revolution that followed, he became a symbol of Tunisia's marginalised, those who had to create their own jobs, without rights, support or security.

The economic origins of the Tunisian revolution lie in predation and exclusion. Both came with their own figurehead – while Bouazizi became the symbol of the excluded, the dictator's wife, Leila Trabelsi, emerged as the symbol of a corrupt and predatory state elite.

One represented an image of a state that is painfully present, one of a state that is painfully absent...

November 27, 2017

Out of the Streets and Into the Boats: Tunisia’s Irregular Migration Surge (Atlantic Council)

Between October 1st and November 8th, more Tunisians took to the seas than in 2015 and 2016 combined. Matt Herbert and I clear up common misconceptions about the migration surge, and connect it to the economic deterioration of Tunisia's South, and conclude that this trend will not present sustainable solutions to Tunisia's problems of regional equality and economic indignity.

September 18, 2017

Clickbait and impact: how academia has been hacked (LSE Impact Blogs)

It has become increasingly clear that prevailing academic incentive structures have a potentially damaging and distorting effect on the nature of academic debates. Portia Roelofs and I use the example of a controversial recent journal publication to illustrate how deliberately provocative articles have the capacity to hack academia, to privilege clicks and attention over rigour in research. This is consistent with equally troubling trends in the wider news media; where equal prominence is seemingly always afforded to extreme opposing views, where actual progress in debates becomes impossible, and false dissent is created on issues which are overwhelmingly sites of academic consensus.

May 29, 2017

Corruption and Reform in Tunisia: The Dangers of an Elitist Analysis (Jadaliyya)

In an article for Jadaliyya, Mohamed Dhia Hammami and I outline the dangers of viewing recent protests and disagreements around corruption and reform in Tunisia as a conflict between a northern business elite and southern smugglers. We critique a recent report by International Crisis Group, and argue for a more comprehensive reform agenda in Tunisia. 

March 24, 2017

From smugglers to supermarkets: the 'informal economy' touches us all (Guardian)

You may think that a smuggler in the Tunisian desert has nothing to do with your trip to the supermarket. You’re wrong.

February 11, 2016

How old-fashioned violence and repression thwarted the ‘Facebook revolution’ in Egypt (Free Speech Debate)

I contrast Cairo's Tahrir Square in 2011 and 2016, and look back at the original enthusiasm around social media and the Arab Uprisings.

November 20, 2014

Schwarzer Handel, goldenes Geschäft (Tagesanzeiger)

Die Schattenwirtschaft hält weite Teile Tunesiens am Laufen. Die Revolution hat die Situation verschärft.

September 16, 2014

Imported Repression in the Middle East (Eurozine)

Despite evidence that western companies sell surveillance software to repressive regimes like Egypt, there have been few attempts to restrict the export of such technologies. After all, the cyber surveillance industry is big business.

June 09, 2014

Egypt: the show is over (Free Speech Debate)

Since the summer of 2011, Bassem Youssef’s satirical news show “Al-Bernameg” – which literally translates as “The Show” – was an institution on Egyptian television. The show ventured to test the limits of freedom of speech in the post revolutionary state, and its public struggle with state authorities and censorship were as much a part of its appeal as its comical hats and satirical songs...

July 15, 2013

Egypt: No Coup Without a Plan (Süddeutsche Zeitung)

With Stephan Roll
For many observers, the return of the military to the political scene in Egypt did not come as a surprise, as it regards itself as a guardian of public order, which was under threat from the protests and their effects. However, the way in which the generals overhauled the entire political system, through the removal of Mohammed Morsi and the suspension of the constitution, did cause some astonishment. It is now becoming increasingly clear that the coup was not at all a spontaneous reaction to the protests, or even an attempt at strengthening democracy, but instead a carefully planned return to power based on the military’s direct political interests...

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© 2017 by Max Gallien