Feminist Economics published an article (Funding Pain: Bedouin Women and Political Economy in the Naqab/Negev) on experiences gained by Bedouin women in the Negev (Israel). The article deals with the “political economy of their unrecognized, officially nonexistent villages and homes” and “rectify the gap in bottom-up knowledge of political economy by investigating the institutional structures that define and circumscribe women’s lives.”

There are interesting paragraphs informing the reader about Bedouin women’s experiences gained during their interactions with various donors. As quoted by one of them: “A year ago, one of the foreign groups – a potential funder – that we usually host, visited our organization; usually I meet the groups from overseas to describe and explain the life of Bedouin in the Naqab, sometimes the group was joined by a Jewish guide. During one of these visits, the guide asked me in front of them all, to tell my personal story, and share details from my life; and I did. Following this meeting, the guide recommended to our director [that we] stop talking about the Naqab and the difficulties facing Bedouin communities and Bedouin women, and concentrate [instead] on personal stories. It was very hard and I felt very bad, because I am not asking for their sympathy. I want them to believe in my cause.” (p15)

Interpreting this and other voices, the authors conclude that “requiring Bedouin women to share their private pains in the public sphere of funding works to re-center the role of donors and thus reinforces the starkly disparate relations of power that characterize the Naqab. Bedouin culture is more often than not portrayed as inferior and backwards. Donor relationships can become a transaction in which they ‘steal the pains of others’, which, as Sherene H. Razack suggests [with reference to the Rwandan experience] (2007), institutionalizes conceptions of Western superiority” (p16).

These arguments on “stealing pain” and the citation of old, Egyptian perceptions on the “Western” gazers (p13) recall a very similar feeling described in a totally different context. A (well-known) Hungarian writer, Magda Szabo wrote a (less known) novel with the title “Szemlelok” (in the early 1970s, no English translation). The word ‘szemlelok’ could be translated as ‘bystanders’ or ‘spectators’ or indeed, ‘gazers’. The story is about a Western diplomat (from a neutral country) preparing to serve in an imagined communist CEE country. Right after they arrive to the host country, her wife dies in a fatal accident (her car crashes with a wedding carriage, the driver of which was drunk) and he gradually develops a strange relationship with a rather independent, local woman whose father was privileged enough to spend long years in the West before he was summoned home to be detained after WW II (and after a while to be “rehabilitated”… the historical context is too complicated to detail here). The woman, Anna, is the central character of the novel, for she is able to assess the developments from both (Western, Eastern) perspective due to the fact that she spent her first ten years in the West.

What she says and how she says resonates well with the experiences of the Bedouin women (and that of those cited in the paper from Rwanda). Although her real ‘enemy’ is not the donor, but a curious Western journalist – representing the Western audience – hunting for secrets in the diplomat’s private life, the arguments are the same: there are not real, everyday dangers in the West (except for the ‘dummy’ dangers of amusement parks), so the ‘audience’ has to to ‘buy stories of sufferings’ and feels compelled to send ‘butter’ and ‘chocolate’ in the summer hot to help this way…

Reading (so far only) excerpts from A. Furia’s book on foreign aid and gift-giving (Palgrave Pilot, 2015), one may find references to an ‘old’ declaration by Julius Nyerere. The Arusha Declaration (1967) deals extensively with foreign assistance (‘external aid’) which was sorted into three (basically non-desired) categories by (the early/young) Nyerere: gifts, loans and private investments. Gifts were understood as a non-reciprocated transfer: ” another government gives our Government a sum of money as a free gift for a particular development scheme. Sometimes it may be that an institution in another country gives our Government, or an institution in our country, financial help for development programmes.” For Nyerere it was the less favourable form of aid as long as he understood it as a ‘gentle’ means endangering independence and sovereignty. Regardless to the fact that foreign aid was eventually ‘accepted’ by the Tanzanian government, the reason for rejecting it may be worthwhile to recall:

Even if there was a nation, or nations, prepared to give us all the money we need for our development, it would be improper for us to accept such assistance without asking ourselves how this would effect our independence and our very survival as a nation. Gifts which increase, or act as a catalyst, to our own efforts are valuable. Gifts which could have the effect of weakening or distorting our own efforts should not be accepted until we have asked ourselves a number of questions.

Some 25-30 years later, in 1993, the Palestinian political leadership faced the same dilemma and asked very similar questions. The promise of foreign aid (at the advent of the Oslo Peace Process) was by no means generous and altruistic for many (this ‘many’ was really a ‘minority’ then). By attaching conditions to their ‘gift,’ donor countries took advantage of their material and political dominance in order to pressure them to behave in line with donor (ie. Western) political agenda. Reservations were formulated against giving up parts of Palestinian political identity in exchange for foreign aid in the early 1990s [i]. This fear was worded, right after the Oslo Accords had been signed, by Hani Hassan in the following way [ii]:

‘it is true that we will get a handful of billions of dollars and that we will build power stations in Gaza and sewage system on the West Bank. But this is not what PLO is about’.

As these two examples probably illustrate, it is the very being – identity – of the beneficiary which is threatened by (the acceptance of) external assistance (let it be formally or informally conditional) as long as the quality of relationship between the donor and recipient (giver-receiver, helper-helped) is determined by any sort of inequality, asymmetry and unwillingness to share a particular set of norms, values and interests. Permanent or prolonged indebtedness creates enemies… but makes real gifts possible, indeed.

Notes: [i] On the critics of the Oslo peace process, see for example: R. Lentin, ed. (2008) Thinking Palestine. London: Zed Books; [ii] The full text of his speech is quoted by Laqueur and Rubin (2001): The Arab-Israeli Reader, p. 435-36.


The last post has been about the EU’s ‘perpetual’ position and argument on the necessity of keeping the peace process alive. People in the region are much less sure about the viability of this idea:

Arab Barometer, wave III (2012-2104), q708 on the future of the peace treaty/process vis-a-vis Israel (Jordan, Egypt, Palestine)

Arab Barometer, wave III (2012-2104), q708 on the future of the peace treaty/process vis-a-vis Israel (Jordan, Egypt, Palestine)

The public opinion is the most critical in Jordan and Palestine. It is interesting that such numbers (opinions) are not incorporated into foreign and aid policy decisions and aid continues to flow for sake of the ‘peace process’ – or keeping silence and stability – without interruption.

There are eight relevant questions asked by Nora Murad (posted by al-Shabaka):

1. Does aid to Palestinians help Israel evade its Fourth Geneva Convention obligations?

2. Do aid actors “give effect” to Israel’s illegal blockade on Gaza when they accommodate procedures that hinder humanitarian or development assistance?

3. Is providing military aid to Israel, which it uses to violate Palestinian rights, a violation of Common Article 1 of the Fourth Geneva Convention?

4. Does aid actors’ accommodation of discriminatory national anti-terrorism policies violate the humanitarian principle of impartiality?

5. Does aid to the Palestinian Authority entrench denial of Palestinian rights?

6. Do aid procurement policies that allow Israel to profit from its abuse of Palestinian rights actually incentivize further violations?

7. Does treating Israel as a “special case” erode the fundamental notions and universality of international humanitarian law?

8. Does international disregard for humanitarian principles send a message that Palestinians have no rights and Israel has no obligations?


One more question can be added in light of the public opinion: does aid promote something which is not desired by the majority? Or does it serves externally defined donor (Western) objectives, interests and values?


Sources: Nora L. Murad: ‘Donor complicity in Israeli violations of Palestinian rights‘ Al-Shabaka Policy Brief, October 2014; Arab Barometer Data is available at:



“The Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains the prism of pain through which most Arabs view the world” argues Shibley Telhami and concludes that “seen from the Arab side, this Israeli imperative entails exactly the sort of dominance that they reject and are revolting against; the very essence of the prism of pain through which Arabs view the world. In an era of Arab awakening, a half a billion Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa find it impossible to accept the strategic domination of a country of 8 million, especially when they don’t accept the Israeli narrative for the absence of Palestinian-Israeli peace to begin with. And they see America, and to some extent other European countries, as providing the support to make this possible. [1] Telhami’s argument is underpinned not only by his own survey data, but  by the Arab Barometer (wave II) survey too. When asked whether the Arab world should accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish state, most respondents opted for the ‘refusal’:

Arab Barometer wave II, q709

Looking at the results, it is very interesting, although not novel, that people living in those countries that signed any sort of peace agreement with Israel (Egypt 1979, Jordan 1994; Palestine/PLO 1993-1994-1995-) do not think significantly differently that people living elsewhere. The only exception perhaps is Egypt which has one of the highest rate of approval (36,8%) and lowest rate of refusal (55,8%). The distinction being made between country, nation and state is of particular interest in the Middle East [2], and polling institutes should formulate a question on the ‘existence of [Egypt, Jordan, Saudi-Arabia] as an Arab State’ in the future.

Sources and further reading [1] S. Telhami (2013). The World Through Arab Eyes, Chapter 5.; [2] B. Lewis (1998) Multiple Identities in the Middle East, Chapter 3, 4, 5. NY: Schocken

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.[1] 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.’[2] This ‘ability’ has been supported by foreign aid in the Middle East for decades.

Legitimacy in the Middle East cannot be understood without referring to the region’s historical interaction with external powers on one hand and the internal sources of legitimacy on the other one. Colonialism, the mandate period (League of Nations), independence movements and the gradual process of decolonialism added various layers (nationalism, ideology) to the traditional concept of legitimacy being based mainly on religion and tradition. Even if it has been considered surprising that ‘legitimacy in the nondemocratic Arab world has not been studied in any encompassing manner for more than 30 years’ with the exception of Hudson’s Arab Politics: the search for legitimacy,[3] the role of religion and nationalism were proposed to be studied in order to demonstrate the significance of legitimacy for regime maintenance (stability) at the beginning of the 1990s.[4] Not only modern nationalism, but religion also has clearly influence political attitudes on such matters as identity, concept of justice, the nature of a legitimate political system, obedience, obligation and rights, to mention only a few.

According to Schlumberger, there are four components being the main sources of domestic ‘nondemocratic’ legitimacy in the Arab world: religion, tradition, ideology and the provision of welfare benefits to their populations. Welfare benefits – material or economic legitimacy are –seen as a main source of nondemocratic legitimacy. It cannot be understood without the ‘rentier state’ approach that is based on the conviction that ‘even limited resources from abroad can buy an enormous amount of legitimacy’.[5] Regime legitimacy is maintained either by ‘political petrolism’ (using oil income or financial transfers from oil-rich neighbours to buy legitimacy with subsidies and government jobs) or by Western foreign aid, which effectively prevented destabilization by enabling Arab governments to provide welfare benefits to their populations. Schlumberger concludes that religion plays a less important role than either traditional or material legitimacy, whereas ideology (nationalism, Islamism, globalization and neoliberalism, democracy-promotion and their unique combination alike) has become more and more relevant category. By delegitimizing ruling elites emerging societal actors draw attention to the ‘reciprocal nature’ of legitimacy and its procedural, non-static character too.[6]


Sources and further reading: [1] A government can be unpopular, yet, legitimate if the ways of exercising power is considered valid. Wheatheford ,‘Mapping the Ties’, 261.; [2] Blackwell Encyclopedia; [3] Cited by Schlumberger, ‘Opening Old Bottles’, 233.; [4] Religion and nationalism serve as main sources of macroloyalty, whereas the family, clan, various sects, associations, occupations constitute the main sources of microloyalty. These latter, in the absence of strong and shared religious or nationalist values may generate social conflicts. Razi, ‘Legitimacy, religion’. On identity in the Middle East: Bernard Lewis, The Multiple Identities of the Middle East (New York: Schocken, 2001); cited by Schlumberger, ‘Opening Old Bottles,’ 245.; Schlumberger, ‘Opening Old Bottles’.

‘All that happened thanks to financial and other assistance from Arab regimes loyal to the US, in the hope that this Islamic input would keep Arab society free of socialist ideas and progressive projects that called for emancipation in all spheres, beginning with liberation from Western influence and extending to the unleashing of the creative energies in society’ argues Sahar Khalifeh, a Palestinian, Arab writer. The word ‘all’ refers not only to the return of mandatory veiling for women in the Islamic world but, in more general terms, it also applies to rise of the politically motivated Islamic organizations being interested in exerting ideological influence over the others. As long as the West is seen to be responsible for the gradual emerging of political Islamism (in particular Salafism) since the early 1970s and is held responsible for supporting oppressive and authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and North Africa (anywhere within its sphere of interest) simultaneously, it seems to be uneasy for cooperating with it. Any potential cooperation is difficult, even if ‘the 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’ (Khalifeh 2011).

The question on the necessity of cooperation with the West is less and less philosophical due to the fact that the West – the EU in particular – has been interested in revising former foreign and aid policies and is overly in favour of supporting transition to democracy, at least in those sixteen countries lying in its close neighbourhood. Official documents describing the EU’s new approaches since the ‘Arab Spring’ take some sort of implicit responsibility for the mistakes committed in the past – ‘Recent events and the results of the review have shown that the EU support to political reforms in the neighbouring countries has met with limited results’ (COM 2011b: 1) – whereas the EU explicitly calls for cooperation in forms of mutual accountability, shared commitment and compliance with conditions set in order to promote democracy, human rights and good governance in its neighbourhood. Moderate people being interested in politics living in the MENA as well as in the wider EU neighbourhood have chance to choose between (i) siding with their own fellows, community, religious and political leadership by likely betraying democratic values, or (ii) cooperating with the West, EU included, in promoting democracy and human rights – by risking their own lives and challenging (questioning) the legitimacy of their own community. The choice is much less about democracy and co: it is purely about opting for the self (over the other) or for the other (over the self), which will explain (the lack of) success in the longer run.

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

COM (2011b) A new response to a changing Neighbourhood. Joint Communication to the Parliament, the Council, The European  Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. May 25, 2011, Brussels: European Commission

Khalifeh, Sahar (2011): Who is Hidden Beneath the Burqa? An Appeal to the West., Goethe Institute.

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.