Causes and consequences of the ‘Arab Spring’ have received considerable attention in Europe since winter of 2010/2011. While concerns about the stability of regimes go back many decades, fears about the decreasing legitimacy of long-supported allies and subsequent instability in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) appears to be at higher level now than before. The research project embraces the issue how relations between the Middle East and the West (with particular emphasis on the EU) have been changing in a broad sense and more narrowly in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The project contends that an important component of these relations has been the trade-off between the foreign support channeled in the form of aid to governments in the Middle East and benefits (regional stability, regime stability) ensured for such support. However, this trade-off has been challenged by the ‘Arab Spring’. Despite the billions of foreign aid channeled to simultaneously maintain stability and promote peaceful democratic transition, the internal legitimacy of supported regimes as well as regional stability weakened all of a sudden during the winter of 2010/2011.
The ‘Arab Spring’ may be seen as an unintended consequence of Western aid policies, because those policies have contributed to breaking down legitimacy and stability in two, mutually reinforcing ways: (i) for decades foreign aid policies bolstered weak regimes that could not have survived on their own; (ii) while at the same time by putting emphasis on democratic ideals and models they have educated societies on the necessity of change the status quo. Considering the case of Egypt (an ‘aid darling’ experiencing ‘revolution’), the case of Syria (an ‘aid orphan’ experiencing unrest and oppression), those of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and Jordan (‘aid darlings’ exhibiting relative stability so far) combined with the specific case of Israel (a country which is neither entitled for, nor in need of development aid, but receiving billions of US military aid), the research seeks to answer the question how foreign support relates to domestic social-political phenomena (economic development, social conflict, power relations, legitimacy, political (in)stability) and how relations between the region and the EU have been changing in light of the recent events.