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Final Report Summary - AIDINMENA (Foreign aid and stability in the Middle East)

Summary description of the project objectives
AIDINMENA research, conducted at Fafo AIS (Oslo), focused on the exchange and reciprocity dimensions of Western foreign aid vis-à-vis Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries being close proximity to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Jordan, Egypt, Israel, Palestine). It aimed 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 tried 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 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) have been explored by applying the anthropological theory of gift to contemporary donor-recipient relations in the Middle East context. The main argument – built on the core concept of ‘gift’ developed by Marcel Mauss – have been sporadically discussed in the context of foreign aid. In line with the literature foreign aid was conceptualized, throughout the project, as gift, a unique, albeit imperfect form of international social exchange between states (or between actors in general).The gift-theory and its criticisms were instrumental in investigating how international social bonds between the donor and the recipient are 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.

Description of the work performed since the beginning of the project.
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.
Description of the main results achieved between 2013-2016. The research has yielded three conference participation (Brismes 2014, Eadi 2014 and NTU 2015) and six papers: three published, one accepted for publication (Current Anthropology) and two other papers that are currently being reviewed. Moreover, a book contact has been secured by I.B. Tauris, the manuscript of which will be submitted in January 2017 (and a real baby born in August 2015). 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) 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 dataset, the fifth and the sixths papers (under review) explore local, perceptions on ‘shame’ and on the ‘power of solidarity’ in Palestine.

(in progress) Foreign Aid in the Middle East: In Search of Peace, Stability and Democracy. Contract signed with IB Tauris, manuscript to be submitted in January 2017.
(under review) Cultures of (dis)trust: shame and solidarity from recipient NGO perspectives. International Journal of Cultural Studies (IF: 0.459)
(under review) Hegemonic solidarity? Palestinian NGO perceptions on power and cooperation with their donors. Alternatives (IF: 0.275)
(forthcoming, 2017) ‘Contemporary gifts. Solidarity, compassion, equality, sacrifice and reciprocity from the perspective of NGOs’ Current Anthropology (IF: 2,56). Accepted for publication (May 2016)
(2016) ‘Foreign aid, international social exchange and reciprocity in the Middle East’ 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 72-87.
(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.
Papers presented at conferences:
(2015) Foreign aid, international social exchange and reciprocity in the Middle East’ paper presented at a conference titled ‘Regional Integration vs National Disintegration in the Post-Arab Spring Middle East and North Africa’. April 9, 2015, Nottingham Trent University
(2014) ‘Weakening stability by providing aid? Western interests and aid policies in the Middle East’, paper presented at BRISMES Annual Conference 2014, The Middle East in Global Perspective: Interactions Across Time and Space. June 16-18, 2014, Brighton
(2014) ‘More for more: conditionality in the EU aid policies towards the Middle East’, paper presented at the 14th EADI General Conference “Responsible Development in a Polycentric World: Inequality, Citizenship and the Middle Classes” 23-26 June, 2014, Bonn

In addition to a number of scientific publications, the project publishes a website that comments and informs of developments relating to the project topic (
Expected final results and their potential impact and use (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far). Only a few, but very important studies have explored the contemporary aid relations within the analytical framework of social exchange theories and the 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.

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