Franchising has become a dominant model of retailing in the Western world and is rapidly expanding in emerging countries. This paper is an attempt to explain the significant differences in the development of franchising in three emerging countries: Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Explanations can be found in the general institutional environment in these countries, including the political and economic environments; governments' willingness to modernize the distribution structures; and the legal and regulatory environments specific to franchising. Our analytical framework is based on institutional theory (DiMaggio & Powell, 1983), a framework that provides further insights beyond the approaches based on economic efficiency (agency theory and the resource scarcity perspective). Based on an analysis of the documents in the major public databases in the three countries, supplemented with field research, we propose an analytical framework that helps explain the uneven developments of franchising in the three North African countries based on the specific institutional environment of each country. This study thus provides empirical evidence supporting the institutional theory of franchise expansion. It appears that institutional theory complements agency theory and resource scarcity theory in explaining the development of franchising in emerging markets: while agency theory and resource scarcity theory explain the motivation of firms to expand internationally through franchising, institutional theory helps explain the success or failure of these firms in the emerging markets they expand to.