The Politics of Foreign Aid in the Arab Middle East: Have the Arab Uprisings Changed The Practice? (closed workshop)
date: June 28, 2013
location: Villa Sassetti

Foreign aid is an instrument of diplomacy and it is never devoid of political considerations. This is particularly true in the Arab Middle East. The region is heavily penetrated and constantly struggling for autonomy from external control, as argued by, among others, Raymond Hinnebusch. At the same time, there is a long-standing history of local elites trying to exert concessions from outside actors and drawing them into local politics, a dynamic Fred Halliday captured with the metaphor of the tail wagging the dog. Both foreign aid donors and local actors thus have had and continue to have a political agenda, which affects both the form and the substance of the relationship they create.
With the outbreak of genuine popular protests in most Arab countries in 2011 (the ‘Arab Spring’), most of the political observers and practitioners have been humbled by the sheer intensity and democratic spirit these revolts brought to the fore at their onset. Stefan Füle, EU Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy admitted that the EU should learn from past errors in the region, namely that the EU had developed too close a relationship with Arab dictators. This feeling was partly echoed in some of President Obama’s declarations on Libya, Egypt or Tunisia in his May 19, 2011 speech.

Yet, some of the aid policies do not seem to have evolved substantially. The USA seems somehow reluctant to embrace a profound change in its funding policies (US Congress vs. White House), and the EU has been accused of giving too little to countries embattled with difficult economic situations. It remains that many Arab and transnational actors are now more able to exert pressure on international donors (because of much higher international scrutiny following the fall of extremely opaque systems of surveillance), or feel empowered to do so. More fundamentally, Hamid Dabashi, in his recent The Arab Spring: The end of postcolonialism, goes as far as to say that the people did not only call for the end of the regime (‘Ash-Sha’b Yourid Isqat an-Nizaam’), but that they also meant the end of the regime of knowledge. In other words, Arab populations signified their strong and inalienable will to take politics into their own hands and to establish a new vocabulary to express and enact different power relations. There have been even protests openly targeting international funding agencies (e.g. Yemen, Palestinian Territories, Egypt, etc).

The aim of this workshop is therefore to explore the politics of foreign aid disbursed to Arab countries in the Middle East, with a special focus on any post-2011 changes. The analytical purpose will be to focus on the relationship between donors and receivers to assess the impact (if any) of the Arab uprisings and the possible emergence of a ‘new’ Middle East in terms of foreign aid.