An overview on spatial exclusion process in Tunisia


The exclusion is defined as being the process of excluding. Exclude is to deny to someone to access to a place, group or privilege and remove from consideration.ii Etymologically exclusion comes from the Latin word excludere, «from L. Excludere. Keep out, shut out, hinder, from ex-“out” + claudere “to close, shut»


About Tunisia, corruption and anti-democratic government define the regime of Ben Alii that leaded the country during the last twenty five years. In this paper we will focus on this dark side concerning urban planning. Nevertheless and for the sake of objectivity, we have to mention that the urban planning in Tunisia have had some positive politics and successful results. The Tunisian ministry of infrastructure and planning have been flexible for change and improvement. The awareness about what happen concerning planning worldwide and the competence of human resources has reduced the impact of bad governance. Tunisia has dealt with a double government, a volt faced institutions, a double politic that always struggle as the infinite war between good and evil.


Most of the idolized subjects relayed by leading politicians talk about the fight against exclusion and the efforts –which they never defined the nature nor the actors of- to undertake to ensure ‘in’tegration of the excluded, in other terms : the inclusion.
The exclusion is defined as being the process of excluding. Exclude is to deny to someone to access to a place, group or privilege and remove from consideration.ii Etymologically exclusion comes from the Latin word excludere, «from L. Excludere. Keep out, shut out, hinder, from ex-“out” + claudere “to close, shut»iii
This brief definition expresses the brutal side and negative connotations this word refers to. We rather prefer the definition of Peter Saunders “Exclusion is a multi-dimensional concept that highlights the role of institutional structures and community attitudes in creating the barriers that lead to exclusion”. (Saunders, P.2006:1). That we complete with the description of Alain Touraine (Garnier, C.V. 2010:3) of exclusion as an active word.
In recent years, Tunisian cities have been the scene where exclusion has been deployed in all its forms and showed its extreme figures. This phenomenon has created social tensions, exasperation of the deprived population and high serge of outrage which leaded to unexpected intensive popular movements.
These violent waves of protests had been uprising in 2008iv from inner regions and had been reaching their pick in 2011 creating a tsunami which robbed the power from Ben Ali and his mafia clan.
We can track the figures of exclusion in the social, economic, political, cultural and spatial Tunisian spheres. What are the roots of those multiple exclusion? On what scale this exclusion is visible? Scale of territory, of the region, of the city, the neighbourhood? Who are the stakeholders involved in this diabolical process? Which planning instruments, tools used to seal this active process of segregation?
First, we need to understand the characteristics of the urban structure in Tunisia. It is necessary to have a spectral view of the predominant factors that have swung the development of Tunisian cities to be able to understand the gestation of exclusion process. Although we can find the origins in the ottoman and the French protectorate period, we will focus on the last fifty years.

Tunisian urban structure – The establishment of the urban exclusion process

The different urban studies undertaken by national institutions, academic researches etcetera all agree that since 1956, the year of independence, the hierarchical structure of Tunisian cities did not widely changed. Those studies have left a huge side of analysis associate to the political side. We can estate that any attempt to do such investigation would be a threat for the author and even, the research would not be published. Indeed, cities and their urban structure have been changed during the Bourguiba ‘one part’ political regime and accelerated with the Ben Ali one. It results a new distribution of forces through the decommissioning or the promotion of certain urban centres and regions.
In a paper published under a collective work directed by Nadir Boumazav “Villes réelles projetées, villes maghrébines en fabrication” edited in 2005 by Maisonneuve et Laros Paris, Morched Chabbivi shows that the urban system in Tunisia is characterized by three main aspects: The primacy of the capital, the coastal concentration of cities and finally the predominance of small and medium size cities.
The rate of urbanisation in Tunisia had reached 64, 8 %vii in 2004 with about ten million inhabitants. The capital Tunis concentrate almost one third of the urban population. This situation is due mainly to its strategic situation as an economic turntable. More, the concentration of all political power and the head of administration system in Tunis create a tension and attract forces towards the agglomeration of ‘Grand Tunis’ (fig1). As a barycentre, Tunis constitutes the source of imbalance of the whole urban frame. Today the country is administratively divided in 262 towns with 140 medium and large sizes along the coastline. 178 cities accommodate less than 20.000 population and we can judge by their infrastructure that they are more rural than urban(Viii)

The urban politic of development has been focussed on the capital and the favourite cities of the ancient government mainly Sousse – home town of the deposed president, Sfax -The biggest economic hub, and in the recent years Hammamet – as the new head of touristic industry (fig1). All those cities cited above are coastal urban areas.

Concerning small and medium cities, the majority are weak and in deplorable situation. Standards of living are so low; almost they have small centres providing basic services. Huge gap exist between rural areas, medium cities and big urban littoral cores. The precariousness of interior regional cities expresses the negation of the same region itself. We can assume to state that they are simply intentionally uncalculated. It was discovered recently that the Tunisian National Solidarity Fund “26-26”ix was in finality feeding the greed of Ben Ali family and friends instead financing the development of rural areas and reducing poverty. A Corrupted government has been the incubator of this mechanism of exclusion which targeted a part of its population. The government wanted to have a tight control on those regions. Any development of those regions – known being the cradle of revolution movements through history- could constitute a threat at that time and thwart the ambitions of the government mafia. This highly political-economic centralisation urban system has created at first a spatial form of exclusion at a territorial scale. The whole country is split in two large parts along a north south axis. At the east we found all big and large cities along the coast line and concentrated around the biggest mine fields; at the west the poorest regions of the country.

The cleavage between the coast and the interior was emphasised since the 70’s with the liberalisation of the economy for the benefit of littoral agglomerations. They are today the headquarters and milestones of national market and windows on the global economy as all companies, small, medium size and large ones are concentrated in those cities. We have two consequences of this littoral process, the unemployment rate exceeds 50 % in inland areas and the majority touch young population. Most of them have to wait at least five years after graduation to get a job offer. The second is the actively sprawling of coastal cities mainly the capital Tunis by the rural-urban migration. This movement of population has caused the spontaneous suburbanisation of the cities and the densification of their urban structure. These areas suffer from segregation, they still lucking of infrastructure and facilities despite their regularisation. In the case of Tunis more than half of the urbanized land is constituted by regularised spontaneous settlements. Those suburbs are the nucleus of informal economy insuring the survival of its population.  Large disparity exists between cities themselves, coastal or not. The state budget, job markets, quality infrastructure and educational facilities are not equitably distributed. These disparate treatments of regions and segregation create exclusion of the majority of Tunisian population and their pauperisation.

Tunisian urban planning

“As an essentially state-based activity which influences the access individuals have to resources, the decisions made in the name of planning are of their nature political” Campbell, H. and Marshall, R.(1999:464). In this article, H.CAMPBELL and R.MARSHALL refers to the relation of planning with politics and emphasis on its ethic aspect. Planning is overall a political issue and this dimension is the cause of most of the problems met by planners. In the Tunisian Context, we weren’t dealing with decision makers but an ultimate decision maker: the presidentx. One of the spines of Tunisian urban planning is the total absence of real and effective local structure; municipalities are almost useless and weakened. They have been habituated to get top down plans from the ministry and decrees from the president himself which mean: lack of transparency, speculation and corruption. Concerning the existing good policies, the majority are simply unimplemented. The lack of real institution of management, the lack of coordination, the existing territorial and administrative division that leads to confusion characterize the urban planning in Tunisia.

Planning was a tool to inhibit any kind of social, economic and cultural production of inner regions and segregated urban areas. This spatial exclusion has been deployed using a powerful and heavy sector planning instrument: transport infrastructure. How exclusion has been introduced through urban infrastructure?

The infrastructure planning: A tool for spatial exclusion

Transport infrastructure is the support of the mobility. Motorized population favourite the most connected regions. This situation contributes to downgrade the unrelated centres which depend mostly on artisanal transport. We defend the hypothesis that the existing network gives priority to zones of influence. It constitutes a replica of the spatial order discussed before. In the city, huge interchanges, expressways with width exceeding forty meter cross through dense residential fabric snatching the quietude of inhabitants. Walkways corridors are removed and no crossing is planned. In most of the case, they are built after huge number of complains and fatal accidents of people trying to cross. Such inhuman projects create a spatial fragmentation, a social division in the neighbourhood -once welded- into several pieces. It looks more as an anti-riot plan.

In this essay, we tried to give an overview on what we have called a spatial exclusion in the Tunisian context. We assume that this study must be documented and investigated furthermore and supported by field studies. We defend the hypothesis that urban planning is a tool for spatial exclusion when it is exploited by a corrupted and autocratic government. However, urban exclusion can be magnified in a context where cultural and social exclusion already exist. The Tunisian society despite its qualities is marked by a dichotomised culture devoting exclusion of one community by another which in local term they called it ‘Regionalism’. Furthermore, we are witnessing today a ‘replay’ of another type of exclusion affecting any Tunisian, any institution and any ideology related to the old regime, including the littoral cities. The population is shredded. Some elite of the society included planner, architects as they were institutionalised by the government are rejected even Ostracizedxi. Challenging circumstances when we realize that during this transition period, with the mutation of political landscape in Tunisia, It could be the first and the last opportunity to implement good governance and establish a process of integration.


i Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the second president of Tunisia forced to flee to Saudi Arabia, under Interpol international arrest warrant.
ii Oxford Dictionary 2012
iii Online Etymology dictionary 2012, available at < http://www.>
iv Gafsa, Redeyef town, a mining region. A pacific movement by population have been violently repressed by Tunisian authorities.
vProfessor and director of Jacque Berque centre in Rabat, Maroc. Sociologist specialised in the field of urban planning.
viTunisian urban planner and researcher, author of main articles and work on urban planning in Tunisia.
vii e-Geopolis/MENAPOLIS, see list references.
viii Statistics from e-Geopolis/Menapolis, see list of references
ixFSN is a public-service institution funded by public and private donations for the implementation of development projects for the sake of poor and needy populations. 26-26, refer to the number of postal account.
x The president and what the corrupted government. He has had established ‘Etat policier’: police state.
xi In sociology, ostracism is a form of social exclusion that occurs in some special circumstance in some particular groups.

List of references :
-Saunders, P. (2006) Towards new indicators of disadvantage Project-social exclusion in Australia, Identifying the essentials of life, University of New South wales, Social Policy Research Centre Newsletter, 7.
[online] November 2007 available < > [29 December 2011]
-Garnier, C.V. (2010) Alain Touraine, Un seul monde, toujours plus d’exclus, [online] 14 June 2010, available from < /politique_developpement>,[18 Feburary 2012]
-Morched, C. and Boumaza, N. (2006) Villes Réelles, Villes Projetées, Villes Maghrébines en fabrication’, collection of articles, Maisonneuve & Larose, France.
-Gazel, H. and Harre.D. and Moriconi-Ebrard, F. (2011) L’urbanisation des pays du Moyens-Orient et de l’Afrique du Nord (MENA), 1950-2030.
[online] available < > [12 January 2012]
-Campbell, H. and Marshall,R.(1999) Ethical frameworks and planning theory, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 23,3 : 464-478.
-Friedmann, J.(2000) The Good City : In Defence of Utopian Thinking, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 24.2 : 460-471.
-Bouchrara, Z, T. (1997) Les nouvelles formes d’identités vécues au Maghreb : Le cas de Tunis, REVISTA CIDOB d’AFERS INTERNACIONALS 36.Espaces de l’interculturalité, 36 : 203-210.
-Hmaid Ben Aziza. (2004) Exclus et Exclusion, cahier de la Méditerranée.
[online],10 march 2006 available <>,[01 Feburary 2012]


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