Aid and legitimacy VIII. (Arab Spring and the West)

People’s views and perceptions are needed to understand the relations between foreign aid and legitimacy. Negative perceptions on their governments’ performance and their ‘illegitimate’ foreign alliances will lead to decreasing feeling of community between the masses and the elites as well as decreasing legitimacy of the regime. Mainstream literature dealing with the demonstrators’ motivations and contemporary history of the Arab Spring analyzes the ‘explaining factors’ from various perspectives, putting emphasis on the middle class and structural transformation, the socio-economic hardships such as increasing food prices and high unemployment and the desire for regime strange or the importance of internet-based technological development.[1] Looking at the opinion polls, however, the Arab uprisings have been widely interpreted as uprisings against political tyranny over freedom and public participation as well as against the prevalence of human rights abuses.

Source: Telhami, The World Through, Chapter 6, Figure 6.1.

Source: Telhami, The World Through, Chapter 6, Figure 6.1.

The demand for human dignity explains much better the demonstrations than any desire to seize power. The main message of the Arab Spring was addressed not simply to their corrupt leaders, but to the world outside too: ‘decades of perceived humiliations at the hands of the West have left many Arabs with a wounded sense of national pride, but also a desire for political systems with elements of Western democracies’.[2] The sense of humiliation is explained by the contradiction hidden in the previous sentence. As long as the West is held responsible for supporting oppressive and authoritarian regimes in the MENA, it seems to be uneasy, even illegitimate, to cooperate with it. It is true even if the Arab Spring itself has been conditional on interactions with the West, global political consciousness, messages conveyed by NGO aid and mobile-, internet-based innovations. Cooperating with the Western countries is even more humiliating, since ‘the [Arab] socialists, the liberals and the pro-feminists are today closer to this West in [their] thinking and in [their] democratic and scholarly attitudes – [they are closer to the] West that plotted against the peoples of the Third World and their interests’ – than to their own leaders, internal opposition and their ideologies.[3] Yet, even if accepting foreign aid is humiliating, this is probably the only source of money for those being interested in building Western-style democracies in the region.

Source and further reading: [1] Brynen Beyond the Arab Spring; Mona Christophersen, ‘Protest and reform in Jordan. Popular demand and government response, 2011 to 2012’ Fafo-report 50 (Oslo: Fafo, 2013); Sobhi Samour, ‘The Promises and Limitations of Economic Protests in the West Bank’ in Kjetil Fossheim (ed), Arab Spring. Uprisings, Powers and Interventions (New York, Berghahn, 2014)[2] Telhami, The World Through Arab Eyes; [3] Sahar Khalifeh, ‘Who is Hidden Beneath the Burqa? An Appeal to the West’, Goethe Institute, 2011, (accessed March 1, 2014).


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