The blog aims to convey thoughts that are somehow related to an EU-financed Marie Curie research project (2013-2016; suspended from July 2015 to June 2016). AIDINMENA research, conducted at Fafo AIS (Oslo), focuses on relations and exchange between foreign support (coming mainly from OECD DAC countries) and local social phenomena in order to understand better the ‘price of foreign aid’ in certain Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries being close proximity to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Jordan, Egypt, Israel, Palestine). It aims  to track the recent changes of Western, mainly EU, to lesser extent US aid policies in the MENA countries involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how they are applied in an attempt to control regional developments; to understand how Western aid policies have contributed to the ‘Arab Spring’ and how the focus of Western aid has been changing; to understand local perceptions on aid-related foreign interventions and on their relatedness to the legitimacy of political elites and/or regimes; and last, but not least to evaluate the function and overall ‘price’ of foreign aid – social costs and externalities included – from the perspective of the donors and from that of the recipients.

Political dilemmas embodied in foreign aid (supporting stability vs. democracy) are explored by applying the anthropological theory of gift to contemporary donor-recipient relations in the Middle East context. The main argument – being built on the core concept of ‘gift’ developed by Marcel Mauss in archaic societies – have been sporadically discussed in the context of foreign aid (Stirrat and Henkel 1997; Hattori 2001; Karagiannis 2004; Hattori 2006; Eyben 2006; Kaapor 2008; Da Silva 2008; Kowalski 2011; Mawdsley 2011; Paragi 2012; Furia 2015). The gift-theory can be used to investigate how international social bonds between the donor and the recipient have been shaped by foreign aid, how the recipient government may be obliged to return the ‘gift of foreign aid’ even at the expense of social cohesion, how social cohesion and collective identity within the recipient society has been shaped by the very fact of accepting ‘gifts’ from outsiders, namely, Western foreign powers. The need to apply the gift-approach to foreign aid relations can be justified by general similarities observed between archaic societies and the international system as well as by the very fact that various traditional identity affiliations (kinship, family, religion) observed in the Middle Eastern societies continue to be important factors determining the ways how people think about their governments and the foreign aid supported alliances. People’s perceptions on various aid-related concepts can be measured by data gained from public opinion polls (World Value Survey, Arab Barometer, Gallup, Pew, Zogby, Neighbourhood Barometer, etc) and qualitative interviews.

The project builds on earlier research, some results of which will also be shared to highlight the background.

Marie Curie Fellowships are European research grants available to early-stage and experienced researchers gaining experience abroad and completing their training useful for their careers.

Fafo develops and disseminates knowledge about changes in living and working conditions, societal participation, democracy and development in a range of social and economic settings. Its “Rights and Security” research group is specialized in policy relevant and empirically founded research, in areas in conflict, post-conflict and political transition.

Excerpts from the MC final report:

The work for the first year of the project has principally consisted of elaborating the theoretical and empirical basis for the project as well as putting the infrastructure in place for dissemination activities. In 2014-2016 (a year-long maternity leave included), research was carried out on the exchange and reciprocity dimensions of foreign aid by applying an interdisciplinary perspective (IR and anthropology) and qualitative methods. By collecting data both at macro and micro level the research evolved around (i) the contested concept of ‘legitimacy’ in aid recipient countries; (ii) exploring local (NGO) experiences with and perceptions on their donors and foreign aid in general (only in Palestine); (iii) understanding the macro-level and meso-level (NGOs) exchange dimensions of foreign aid in light of the post ‘Arab Spring’ developments.

The research has yielded six papers: two published, two accepted (or under publication) and two papers that are currently being reviewed; a book contact with I.B. Tauris has been signed  (the manuscript will be submitted in January 2017). The first paper reflects on the changes in the neighborhood policy by focusing on public perceptions measured in Europe and in countries being in close proximity to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The second paper builds on the argument that while foreign aid strengthens the external legitimacy of recipient regimes, it does not enhance internal legitimacy, and in contrast may create or strength subdivisions within the society. The third paper (a book chapter, under publication) analyses the nature of foreign aid relations by applying the social exchange theories to contemporary donor-recipient relations in the Middle East context; it chapter focuses on the political dilemmas evoked by foreign aid (supporting stability vs. democracy) in countries being closest to the Arab-Israeli conflict and being the main beneficiaries of Western foreign aid (Egypt, Jordan, Palestine and Israel). The fourth paper (accepted for publication) explores how non-governmental organizations at the recipient end of foreign aid relationship perceive partnership and cooperation with donors. Empirical research in the West Bank and Gaza Strip revealed that relations established by foreign aid resemble archaic gift exchange the extent to which both evokes concepts of solidarity, equality, reciprocity and related power dynamics. The results of the research indicate that return-gifts do exist even in financially unreciprocated foreign aid relations. By building on the same data set, the fifth and the sixths papers (under review) explore local, perceptions on ‘shame’ and on the ‘power of solidarity’ in Palestine.

References

(under review) Foreign Aid in the Middle East: In Search of Peace, Stability and Democracy. Contract signed with IB Tauris, manuscript submitted in January 2017.

 

(2017) “Contemporary Gifts: Solidarity, Compassion, Equality, Sacrifice, and Reciprocity from an NGO Perspective,” Current Anthropology 58, no. 3 (June 2017): 317-339., http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.1086/692086

(2017) Cultures of (dis)trust: shame and solidarity from recipient NGO perspectives. International Journal of Cultural Studies; http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1367877917704237?journalCode=icsa

(2016) Hegemonic solidarity? Palestinian NGO perceptions on power and cooperation with their donors’ Alternatives; published online first, December 2016.

( 2016) ‘Foreign Aid and the Arab Spring’ In El-Anis, I. and Underhill, N. (eds) Regional integration and national disintegration in the post-Arab Spring Middle East. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, pp. 72-97.

(2016) Divide et Impera? Foreign aid interventions in the Middle East and North Africa region. Journal of Intervention And Statebuilding 10(2): 200-221.

(2015) ‘Eastern and Western Perceptions on EU Aid in Light of the Arab Spring’ Democracy and Security 11 (1): 60-82.

Expected final results and their potential impact and use. Only a few, but very important studies have explored the contemporary aid relations within the analytical framework offered by social exchange theories and anthropological theories on the gift. The project aimed to contribute to these findings, arguing that given the political instability of the Middle East and the related regional challenges, it is essential to pay more attention to the ‘social embeddedness’ and local political implications of foreign aid. There is an urgent need to shift the focus from looking at aid (programs and projects) as a purely technical, ‘apoliticized’ instrument that is ‘only’ about supporting peace processes, political reforms, or economic development. Understood as ‘modern gift’, foreign aid influences the distribution of goods in society and hence justice, fairness and related perceptions too.  The expected final result of the project is to draw attention to the unintended impacts (side effects or externalities) of foreign aid that remain mostly invisible (indifferent?) for researchers and political decision makers being concerned with foreign policy objectives, aid efficiency and effectiveness. These ‘unintended’ impacts concern the way how recipients need to make painful compromises by accepting not only contemporary gifts, but also the burden (‘spiritual essence’) attached. Results also indicate that return-gifts do exist even in financially unreciprocated foreign aid relations.

Oslo, 20 September 2016 (15 June, 2016)

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