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Claiming Bits and Pieces of the State: Squatting and Appropriation of Public Domain in Algeria

In: Middle East Law and Governance
Author:
Robert P. Parks Centre d’Études Maghrébines en Algérie, parks@cema-northafrica.org

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This article examines how Algerians negotiate property and public space and how citizens encounter and engage the state. It explores the phenomenon of squatting and appropriation of public space in contemporary Algeria through the lens of the polysemic term beylik, which can be simultaneously used to define the state, public domain, and no man’s land. It argues that, in addition to individual motivations for personal gain or out of necessity, squatting and the appropriation of public space is also a silent yet highly political act that reimagines the relationship of rights and obligations incumbent between citizen and polity. The appropriation of beylik is a process that comes from widely-held beliefs that types of unused state property are somehow unnatural, if not illegitimate, or that, as a citizen, one has the right to re-model and re-fashion it for either individual or collective use. In this sense, beylik is an empty space in which citizens re-imagine how the community should be governed. By seizing and transforming beylik, a citizen is simultaneously forgetting (or ignoring) the state, while projecting a different governing order for both private and public spheres. The silent encroachment of citizens into the domains of the state – in occupying and re-ordering state space – reveals the fluidity of Algerian institutions, inasmuch as it reveals that institutions are themselves negotiated between state and society.

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