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Essentially anchored in towns and cities, the protests synonymous with the Arab Spring reflected a population’s deep-rooted desire for political and social change across the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean region. Whilst access to jobs, along with the democratization of the political system, represented a primary concern, citizens also voiced the urgent need to address the issue of living conditions and particularly the provision of housing and urban services by the authorities.
The Arab Spring has opened channels for claims (often articulated by either urban planning associations or environmentalist groups) against the urban policies which have prevailed over recent decades. Such claims include: (i) a lack of strategic planning; (ii) an absence of dialogue during the planning and implementation phases of urban projects; (iii) the monopolization of urban land by elites; (iv) inability of housing provision to reflect resources or needs of local populations (which partly explains the resurgence of informal housing across the region since January 2011). In the context of political crisis, the decentralization of power has become a key objective of policy-makers who are seeking to build new ways of strengthening existing institutions and local associations. The latter have been assigned not only with greater responsibilities but also to be more accountable to citizens for their actions. Civil society representatives have been instrumental in the emergence of new urban themes such as participation of inhabitants in urban projects, or sustainable development. They have established channels of dialogue not only with the public local and national authorities, but also with international financial institutions in order to obtain their participation in redefining local governance processes, ultimately leading to new ways of shaping the Mediterranean city.