Introduction to the Special Journal Issue: Spaces for Change? Decentralization, Participation and Local Governance in the Middle East/North Africa Region
One of the critical factors that positively influence democratic transition in developing countries is the phenomena of decentralized governance. This is the capacity of institutions and political leaders to share power and responsibilities in accordance with the principles of participation, transparency and accountability, among others. There is a broad consensus in the related literature that the goal of local governance is to identify and promote those institutional arrangements that advance legislation and policies linked to effective human development and active citizenship. The latter can be affected through formal mechanisms such as elections or informal mechanisms, such as civil society involvement in the decision making processes affecting the lives of the people. The participatory approach is regarded as key to the empowerment of marginalized local communities which in turn is crucial to attaining democratic control over the policy process and hopefully over their own destiny. Community participation is not a panacea or a magical fix to defeat authoritarianism and promote decentralized governance, but if infused successfully with other democratic principles and practices it has the potential to influence the political game and the policy process at the local level through local government planning, budgeting, and development.