Politics and Power in the Maghreb

Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco from Independence to the Arab Spring

June 2012 9781849042000 320pp
Out of print
May 2014 9781849043922 320pp
Out of print
EU Customers


The overthrow of the regime of President Ben Ali in Tunisia on 14 January 2011 took the world by surprise. The popular revolt in this small Arab country and the effect it had on the wider Arab world prompted questions as to why there had been so little awareness of it up until that point. It also revealed a more general lack of knowledge about the surrounding western part of the Arab world, or the Maghreb, which had long attracted a tiny fraction of the outside interest shown in the eastern Arab world of Egypt, the Levant and the Gulf.

This book examines the politics of the three states of the central Maghreb — Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco — since their achievement of independence from European colonial rule in the 1950s and 1960s. It explains the political dynamics of the region by looking at the roles played by various actors such as the military, political parties and Islamist movements and addresses issues such as Berber identity and the role played by economics, as well as how the states of the region interact with each other and with the wider world.


‘History, culture and geography have set North Africa apart from the rest of the Arab and Mediterranean worlds. Yet it would be difficult to find three more different countries than Morocco, the conservative monarchy, “revolutionary” Algeria, and “moderate” Tunisia — particularly in light of the Arab Spring of 2011. Drawing on more than two decades of living and work experience in the Maghreb, Michael Willis has crafted a brilliant guide to the ever-changing culture, society and politics of this critical part of the world. It is the best book on the subject by far, and confirms Willis’s reputation as the foremost authority on the comparative politics of North Africa in the English-speaking world.’ — Eugene Rogan, author of The Arabs: A History

‘A novel and very successful attempt to describe and analyse the political evolution of the three core countries of North Africa — Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria — from independence up to the present day. It concludes with the eruption of the Arab Spring in 2011 and, as such, gives us an immensely valuable comparative study of the articulation and exercise of power in the Maghreb in the period before the radical changes now under way began. An essential introduction to a region now undergoing complex and unpredictable change for academics, professionals and the general reader alike.’  — George Joffe, Research Fellow at the Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge.

‘This accessible and timely volume provides an excellent background to the extraordinary events currently taking place in North Africa. Taking a thematic approach to developments in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, Michael Willis highlights their similarities and differences in ways essential to an understanding of whether continuity or radical change will characterise this region in future.’ — Dr. Claire Spencer, Head, Middle East & North Africa Programme, Chatham House

‘Willis succeeds brilliantly in the task [of producing] a much needed introductory text to the region … providing an accurate, comprehensive and readable study of the modern history and politics of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. Accessible in style to a broad readership [this book] … does much to expand our knowledge of the Maghreb and its importance to the wider world.’ — Ronald Bruce St John, International Affairs 

‘Willis effortlessly guides the reader through scholarly debates in the existing English-language literature on North Africa. Intense cross-referencing between chapters, an excellent index, and extensive endnotes make this an ideal reference volume. … the work’s unique strength [is] its accessibility. Despite its dense, detail-filled narrative, Politics and Power in the Maghreb remains approachable for the lay reader and fulfills its primary aim — the creation of an up-to-date reference work on contemporary North Africa tailored specifically for the concerns of an Anglo-American audience. … Politics and Power is a refreshingly old-fashioned book. It appears calculated to strike a blow against the post-colonial focus on cultural studies which has dominated campuses in recent decades, culminating in the “marginalization” of diplomatic history. Willis resoundingly reaffirms the value of high politics and grand narrative for area studies. … For the foreseeable future, [it] is likely to remain the definitive reference volume for policymakers, academics, and students alike.’ — Middle East Journal


Michael J. Willis teaches contemporary Maghreb politics at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford. He is the author of Politics and Power in the Maghreb: Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco from Independence to the Arab Spring and The Islamist Challenge in Algeria: A Political History.

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