The fact that  the US prioritizes Mubarak-era security arrangements over (transition to) democracy according to a draft version of a bill (Making appropriations for the Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2016, and for other purposes) does not reflect more (nor less) that ties and bonds do matter as long as (i) there is a common enemy to win over or dangers to overcome (ii) democracy is not a sacred cow. Fear matters more than political ideas.

Reading p 133-134 (paragraphs on Egypt) it is clear how “foreign aid” is linked to regional considerations and donor interests: “Funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act that are made available for assistance for the Government of Egypt may be made available notwithstanding any provision of law restricting assistance for Egypt, except such funds may only be made available if the Secretary of State certifies and reports to the appropriate congressional committees that such government is (A) sustaining the strategic relationship with the United States; and (B) meeting its obligations under the 1979 Egypt- Israel Peace Treaty.”

AL-Monitor quotes panel member Dutch Ruppersberger, justifying the proposed bill this way: “If you have an ally you work with them. You don’t tear them down, you build them up (..) if we walk away, do you want China, Russia to move in and take them over? That’s kind of the things you have to look at.”

The objective of foreign (development, military) aid practices is to perpetuate the bond (Furia 2015, 4) as long as the bond is seen as a means or guarantee to prevent non-desired outcomes.


Julian Pecquet: “Congress seeks to lift last restrictions on aid to Egypt” Al-Monitor, June 1, 2015 available at


Donors: keep out writes The Economist and then continues: Egypt and Hungary are just two fronts in an escalating war waged by authoritarian governments against groups promoting the Western vision of liberal democracy as not just regular elections but public, pluralistic debate. Recent years have seen a big rise in “philanthropic protectionism”, says Douglas Rutzen of the International Centre for Non-Profit Law (ICNL), which tracks how governments treat NGOs. Some, like Hungary, harass foreign-funded NGOs using existing tools, such as heavy-handed investigations. Others are writing new laws that serve the same purpose.

What is common in Azerbaijan, Mexico, Pakistan, Russia, Sudan, Venezuela, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Nigeria, Egypt and Hungary for that matter and to mention only a few? Members of the political leadership and the elite are simply unable to apply for and get a normal job on the market, except for the political marketplace. Their profession is being in power. Some of them probably have sincere worries for their own people, but the majority has to take care too much neither with their people’s will, nor with the borders of their playgrounds. As long as the nation state and national sovereignty is considered sacred by the international community, as long as the Western powers are not willing to risk their own citizens’ lives in real wars to protect political, social, religious, economic, etc, rights in the listed (and non-listed) countries, too much will not happen. Budgetary aid (grants, loans) and sanctions against governments are part of the game: these can ensure a balance between stability and instability in international relations. But will never lead to democratic changes within a society, unless, those in power can be convinced that they can have a much happier life outside the government, parliament, judiciary. Niebuhr’s famous thought (man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary, 1944) probably misses one point: the gradual development of (Western) democracy was not externally forced upon the governing elites; sharing power was their enlightened self-interest, it was a sort of means guaranteeing the survival of the state in the 19th and 20th centuries. If ‘someone’ has a state(like entity) today guaranteed by international legal norms and principles, and supported by foreign grants, it will not be so much interested in voluntarily providing democratic rights to those that want to have his seat.

The Economist, Foreign funding of NGOs: Donors: keep out | The Economist, 13 September, 2014. // // // //

Why do we obey if the state is far from being democratic or respecting our political, economic, human rights? As noted by Schlumberger (2010) and Sedgwick (2010) people tend to obey, even if the ‘normative’ qualities (listed in the previous post) are completely or partially missing. Indeed, the widely discussed normative approach excludes the non-democratic political systems by assuming that non-democratic regimes are inherently without legitimacy and as such they depend on repression to a large extent. [1] Recalling the descriptive – empirically supported – understanding of legitimacy, even authoritarian regimes can enjoy certain level of collective support. It must be kept in mind, however, that neither performance (providing public goods and services, good governance), nor popularity equals to legitimacy. [2] While legitimacy in general is viewed as a source of stability in social systems, political legitimacy is considered a basic condition for governing, without which a government would suffer collapse. In political systems where this is not the case, unpopular regimes survive because they are considered legitimate by a small, influential elite or by external powers. Indeed, regime stability is a ‘function of the ongoing ability of the actors within the system to mobilize resources to perpetuate a legitimate system.’[3] This ‘ability’ has been supported by foreign – military and development alike – aid in the Middle East for decades.

Sources and further reading: [1] Sedgwick, M. (2010) Measuring Egyptian Regime Legitimacy. Middle East Critique 19 (3): 251-267, p252; Schlumberger, O. (2010) Opening Old Bottles in Search of New Wine: On Nondemocratic Legitimacy in the Middle East, Middle East Critique 19 (3) 233-250; p233; [2] A government can be unpopular, yet, legitimate if the ways of exercising power is considered valid. Wheatheford ,‘Mapping the Ties’, 261.; [3] Blackwell Encyclopedia: Legitimacy.

Analyzing the effects of ‘unearned foreign income’ by econometric means (sample of 97 countries between 1975 and 2004), Ahmed (2012) concludes that foreign aid and remittances led to policies that resulted in reducing government expenditures on welfare goods in order to fund patronage. Unearned foreign income is defined as “income generated from outside a country’s border than can change (either directly or indirectly) a government’s revenue base”, foreign aid is “understood as a transfer of funds from the donor government to the recipient government”, whereas remittances represent a “transfer of funds from individuals abroad to individuals (households) in the home country” (Ahmed 2012: 146). Project aid, more specifically, development and humanitarian assistance which is channeled from foreign government to non-governmental or civil society organizations (NGO, CSO) is not part of the model. However, taking into consideration such aid is mostly spent either on consumption of goods or on providing ‘public’ services (health care, education, etc), one can assume an effect similar to that of the remittances. The mechanism established by Ahmed (2012) argues for a combined effect: a fraction of foreign aid finances patronage directly (income effect), whereas the remittances (income from foreign-financed NGOs, service provided by foreign-funded organizations) permit the government to divert expenditures from the provision of welfare goods to patronage (substitution effect) due to the fungibility of money (Ahmed 2012).

Accepting the argument that ‘unearned foreign income’ can prolong regime survival by mitigating revolutionary demands, it is worthwhile to explore the role foreign aid can play in maintaining stability or promoting change in the context of legitimacy. To formulate it more clearly: if ‘unearned foreign income’ can contribute to preserving the status quo, namely to the stability of authoritarian regimes and it is explained by the combined effects of aid and remittance inflows, how can we explain the Arab Spring, the sudden outbreak of public discontent, aspirations for democratic change and decreasing legitimacy of autocratic regimes? How are foreign aid disbursements related to legitimacy? How can they contribute to relative stability (Israel), modest demonstrations against the regime (Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine), ‘revolution’ and military coup (Egypt)? The next posts will try to explore these issues.


Faisal Z. Ahmed, ‘The Perils of Unearned Foreign Income. Aid, Remittances and Government Survical’. American Political Science Review 106, no. 1. (2012): 146-165.


The substance of democracy depends to a large extent on the free and fair dissemination of information and ideas. The link between freedom of speech and expression, so to say public opinion on the one hand and democracy on the other hand was explored by Alexander Meiklejohn by analyzing the significance of the First Amendment to the Constitution (1791), namely, the legal options for restricting freedom of speech in the United States. Meiklejohn argued that the concept of democracy is that of self-government by the people. The “clearest evidence that a government is not democratic, but is essentially despotic and alien” is if those in power are able to manipulate the people by withholding information and stifling criticism “in order to keep them from becoming too rebellious” (Meiklejohn 1948: 10). Free speech – free thought – is all the more important in democracies, since manipulation and propaganda can easily lead to the destruction of the highest good, namely, the self-government of the people.

This argument can be applied to the Middle East for two reasons. First, Western donors aim at building stable and enduring, ‘deep democracies’.  Indeed, the EU’s new response formulated after the Arab Spring explicitly states that its future approach “will be developed by listening, not only to requests for support from partner governments, but also to demands expressed by civil society” and ordinary people (COM 2011a: 3). Second, self-determination and the right to self-determination, even if they are not necessarily identical to self-government [the essence of the Wilsonian concept of self-determination consisted of the notion of self-government of peoples, Nawaz 1965: 84] is one of the most frequent and strongest argument, formulated against foreign powers and economic assistance included, both by governments and citizens asked in recipient countries, the MENA included (cf. Telhami 2013 on ‘identity selection’, the importance of dignity and the difficulties of separating the ‘domestic from the international’ during the ‘Arab Spring’).

It must also be kept in mind that public opinion is not truly ‘free’ in most countries in the region. Recalling the latest Freedom House report, the Middle East and North Africa registered the worst civil liberties scores of any region (Freedom House 2014). The relations between the state and the society, the state and the public or the state and the ‘civil society’ are much more contested than in either Meiklejohn’s America or in European minds. It requires us to interpret ‘local voices’, results of public opinion polls included, cautiously.

COM (2011a) A Partnership for Democracy and Shared Responsibility with the Southern Mediterranean. Joint Communication to the European Council, the European Parliament, the Council, The European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. March 8, 2011, Brussels: European Commission

Freedom House (2014) Freedom in the World 2014. Middle East and North Africa.

Meiklejohn, A. (1948) Free Speech and its Relation to Self-Government, New York: Harper Brothers

Nawaz, M. K. (1965) The Meaning and Range of Self-Determination. Duke International Law. Vol 14, No (1): 82-101.

Telhami, S. (2013) The World through Arab Eyes. Basic Books

All knows that there is ‘good aid’ and ‘bad aid’, but it is very difficult to separate them, since aid is not purely a technical term. Humanitarian aid is said to be apolitical serving only principles (humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence to mention only the most relevant ones), development aid is about belief (in economic growth and/or poverty reduction), and military aid is explicitly about common interests (making allies). Regardless to its objectives or the motives behind foreign aid, even humanitarian aid, is deeply embedded in politics. Humanitarian aid can be offered purely on ‘humanitarian’ grounds. Resource scarcity – money being at the disposal of the donors – leads to certain selectivity even in terms of the disasters and catastrophes let them be natural or man-made. The scope and magnitude of the humanitarian activities surrounding, for example, the Syrian civil war (compared, for example to similar cases in Africa) says at least as much about donor preferences in terms of being good, as about the negligence of the Syrian government or about the preparedness of the neighboring countries to manage such crises. Foreign (mainly, but not exclusively Western) commitment, competencies and professionalism is needed in order to prevent larger catastrophes (measured by higher rate of mortality, lower rate of school enrollment ratio or that of vaccination, etc).

As the Syrian case will probably show in the future, ‘conflict resolution and post-war reconstruction concerns (…) could be seen as ‘the riot control’ end of a spectrum encompassing a broad range of ‘global poor relief’ (Duffield 2001: 9). The reasons – let them be economic or political, strategic or moral, developmental or humanitarian – for participation in form of foreign aid are secondary to the fact, that foreign assistance brings the ‘establishment’ of global governance closer to the recipient societies. This ‘closeness’ leads to further tensions among local stakeholders – as well as to further opportunities to intervene – by delegitimizing indigenous leadership and by alienating leaders from their own people, even in Syria. This argument, applied in the Palestinian case too (Paragi 2012b), can be formulated this way too: ‘the [donor] policy is most effective when objectives are more or less similar on both sides – (…) – where foreign aid support reforms which the [recipient] government itself wants to carry out’ (Stokke 1995: 79). If the recipient government does not really care about its own people (regardless to the question of democratic representation) further tensions will emerge in terms of implementing donor policies. Mark Duffield formulated it in the following way: ‘the condemnation of all violent conflict by liberal peace means that the leaders of violent conflicts are automatically problematized’ regardless to their motives and acts (Duffield 2001: 128–129). It is strange enough, but people usually tend to favour their own problematic (or problematized) leaders over foreign helpers. It is the ‘foreign’ adjective which would deserve more attention – not the effects, effectiveness or efficiency of any foreign help.

Social scientists being familiar with the Middle East and IR tend to agree with recipients’ views quoted in the last post. Most researchers are equally critical towards the EU (West in general) probably because it is very easy to recognize the gaps between rhetoric and practice. Rosemary Hollis argues that the ‘Arab revolts has actually demonstrated the failure of EU policies’ the extent to which, ‘EU has favoured regimes and practices that ultimately proved intolerable to a broad stratum of Arab society’ (Hollis 2012: 81). Evaluating US and EU ‘democracy promotion’ in the Middle East Rex Brynen and his co-authors agree that ‘by polishing some of the “rough edges” of authoritarism, they might have even contributed to its persistence (Brynen et al 2012: 274). Riccardo Alcaro writes in the Introduction of Rethinking Western Policies in Light of the Arab Spring that ‘United States and Europe have for decades shown acquiescence towards, and often actively supported, Arab authoritarian regimes in return for Western-friendly policies.’ In his evaluation Western response to the Arab Spring would ‘make a perfect case study for those interested in the conflict between perceived interests and values’ (Alcaro 2012: 13). Indeed, authoritarian regimes have likely been supported – irrespective of the events taking place under the umbrella of the ‘Arab Spring’ – to serve security interests: they were seen as guarantees of stability, but to some extent, even potential facilitators of peaceful transition to democracy. In Ahmed Driss’ view ‘the European Union favoured stability … over the requirements of democratization and (uncertain) political changes’ before the Arab Spring (Driss 2012: 100). However, even the ‘new’  EU ‘approach’ (see an earlier post on its main elements) reminds to an old wine in new bottle as formulated by Natalie Tocci and Silvia Colombo (Colombo and Tocci 2012: 96). To sum up these interpretations, the West in general and the EU in particular seems to be taken hostage by itself, at least the extent to which it is unable to bridge the gap between its extraterritorial (and domestic?) interests and internal (or universal?) values.