symbolic domination

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

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.


Two notable paragraphs from a book on gifts, corruption and philanthropy. The excerpts are from chapter 2 (the ethics of a gift):

‘Charity becomes a powerful tool for those searching for public relations kudos, or even for real power. The ambivalence of the gift re-appears: the principle of solidarity is used to access or establish a position of power in one way or another, either to be nominated as “the most generous,” or as “the biggest contributor” or to reinforce strong socio-political and business bonds between the acclaimed donor and the ‘miserable’ receiver (who might temporary escape his material deprivation only to find himself trapped in a dependent position vis-à-vis the generous donor). Philanthropy – behavior where intentions could be termed ‘good’ per se becomes a part of public relations/business conquest. Charity may be employed as a very powerful and even manipulative tool to bind people to a (spiritual) goal or mission, or even more blatantly to lock the receiver into one’s self-interested (but often disguised) political-economic objectives’ (Verhezen 2009, 60).

‘The logic of abundance does not directly aim for reciprocity but incites it. Unfortunately and ambiguously, unilateral gifts evidently generate envy and may even trigger violent reactions because the logic of social obligations has been broken as the recipient is in no position to give back’ (Verhezen, 2009, 61).

Verhezen, Peter (2009) Gifts, Corruption, Philanthropy: The Ambiguity of Gift Practices in Business. Bern: Peter Lang

In light of the ‘new’ elements in EU (aid) policies, it is worthwhile to recall Palestinian views on international assistance, support, participation, influence and/or intervention (recorded in 2010). It must be emphasized, that the cited qualitative interviews were conducted before the ‘official’ beginning of the Arab Spring. Foreign aid aimed at improving the Palestinian socio–economic conditions and building institutional system of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). Its utmost objective has been supporting the Oslo Peace Process and any related Israeli-Palestinian efforts for returning to the negotiation table in the past decade. They have become open and visible in the Palestinian case since 2006 when the donor community (the Quartet) set three infamous conditions in exchange for accepting the results of the parliamentary elections [i]. However, donors provided foreign aid, in form of official development assistance and humanitarian aid for getting something back since the early 1990a: to see their agendas and conditions to be met (in general: Duffield 2001; in the Palestinian case: Nakhleh 2004; Said 2005; Le More 2008; Taghdisi-Rad 2011; Paragi 2012b).

Foreign aid, understood as ‘symbolic power politics between donor and recipient’ (cf. an earlier post) was much less symbolic in the minds of Palestinian recipients than it appeared to be in theory. It was simply seen as non-symbolic and evident means of control. Neither was it widely interpreted as being ‘innocent’ nor ‘altruistic’ gift provided without expectations to return. Donors’ support for the peace process was primarily perceived as something which aimed at asserting their own interests, let this interest mean altruistic support for a just cause or a less altruistic move to achieve foreign policy goals. Conditions were set to ensure Palestinian cooperation needed to meet these objectives. Palestinians, by accepting foreign aid were obliged to undertake commitments and to comply with conditions in exchange for foreign aid. While our respondents (in 2010) acknowledged that the West, honestly or not so honestly, was trying to help the Palestinian people build a state, the ‘conditions’ attached to foreign aid were understood as a means for ‘controlling the Palestinian aspirations’ by ‘creating dependency.’ Perceived Western agendas covered a wide range of conditions starting with ‘not expecting’ Israel to give up ‘her positions’ within the occupied territories, through supporting the peace process, and convincing the PNA to marginalizing less moderate elements, such as Hamas. For the Western world was ’not so keen on pressuring Israel into a solution,’ their cooperation with the Palestinians became ‘conditional on the [domestic, Palestinian] support for the peace process’ and ‘survival of PNA/Fatah’. It is worthwhile to note, that this argument was diametrically opposed to the one suggested not just by the Western diplomats and international press, but also by the academic literature emphasizing that it was the peace process – the Oslo Accords – which required financial support.

Palestinian respondents agreed that the PNA and the Palestinian people were obliged to pay the price of getting access to official development assistance. And the price to be paid was giving up elements of their national identity by means of complying with donor-set conditions. Conditionality, as an NGO leader put it: ’[r]esults in more division in the society. (…) If one wants to work with a certain donor, one will need to comply with certain policies, the donors’ policies. PFLP and Hamas will not get money from donors. (…)This creates an ‘imbalance’ between the people that receive funding from donors and all others’ [ii].

Cooperation, solidarity or cohesion between the donors and the Palestinian recipients (PNA and official bodies, NGOs benefiting from aid) prevailed at the expense of unity and agreement among the main beneficiaries, namely, Palestinian subgroups and individuals. This conviction was clearly shared by other respondents too: ’as long as we achieve their [donors’] interests, we are moderate. It diminish[es] [hurts] our national values’ [iii], or ’[t]hese donations … are the price of our [moderate] political stands’ [iv], or ’aid is a method [a means] to pressure the PNA to accept certain things. This happened when the international community forced the PNA to form a new government after the elections [in 2006]. Since the Palestinians are fully dependent on this aid, most of them became unemployed or poor [after the elections]. All this helps Israel and harms the Palestinian national aspirations’ [v].

More about the Palestinian perceptions on conditionality: Paragi 2012b.

Notes, sources and references:

[i] Two legislative elections were held in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since the beginning of the Oslo Peace Process, the first in 1996, the second in 2006. At the January 2006 parliamentary elections, Hamas (List of Reform and Change) won a decisive majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council (it gained 74 seats of the 132) defeating the PLO-affiliated Fatah party, the main partner for peace with Israel and partner for cooperation with the donor community. Reactions from Israel and the Western (OECD DAC) donor community led to governmental crisis and the split between Hamas (gaining control over the Gaza Strip) and Fatah (keeping its position in the West Bank). In June 2007, Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the government led by Ismail Haniye, and appointed Salam Fayyad as a prime minister. This move and the reforms implemented by Fayyad (and financed by the donor community) led to further rifts between the leadership sponsored by the international community and the PLO/Fatah.

[ii] Interview with the Palestinian leader of an international NGO, Ramallah, August 3, 2010

[iii] Interview with a tribal judge, hamula (extended family) leader and PNA official, Bethlehem, August 1, 2010

[iv] Interview with a former PLC member, Bethlehem, August 7, 2010

[v] Interview with the director of a Palestinian NGO, Gaza City, August 12, 2010