Recent decentralisation reforms have – at least on paper – devolved more resources and power to local governments, yet their administrative, fiscal and political autonomy remains limited. Decentralisation and other local governance reforms should therefore not be interpreted as a marker of government withdrawal, but rather as a tool in the toolbox of (semi-)authoritarian regimes in the MENA region to further extend government control and oversight to the peripheries of society, while outwardly satisfying Western expectations of transitions to democracy.