The Politics of Foreign Aid

Term: Fall 2010

Subject Code: GPOL

Course Number: 5354

  As a consequence of the influence of leading international institutions, it is usually held that aid should be aimed at fostering the democratization and liberalization of developing countries. This course critically tackles the idea that redistribution automatically leads to democracy by exploring the impact of international aid on Middle Eastern politics, civil societies and states in a comparative perspective. The prism of aid serves therefore to analyze broader processes of political contestation in the Middle East, treated as an exemplary case of dynamics that can also be witnessed elsewhere in the world. 

The course (composed of lectures and class discussions) is open for first and second year MA students. It looks at the different international and regional forces that have influenced the making of politics in the Middle East in the post-WWII period. After effective independences, the type of aid given during the Cold War contributed to the creation of robust state capacities in which military became often key actors. With the shift in the 1990s from a state-centred type of aid towards support for civil society and economic actors, new perverse consequences emerged in the region (violent transnational groups, civil society incapable of reforming political structures, and scarce impact of the liberalization policies towards more democratic and pluralist systems).

We will deconstruct different discourses and practices of aid, ranging from the colonial legacy behind the first project of modernization and development, to current trends of aid for “state-building”, support for democratization & civil society, the politics of philanthropy (both western and regional), and alternative Islamic paths for development. We will contrast western policies and types of funding with regional types of resources (oil rent, Islamic networks for financial support, etc.), and try to assess what are the different local responses to such contrasting projects, highlighting conflicting models of autonomy and development. In doing so, this course will tackle crucial questions such as: what is the underlying "politics" of aid? is redistribution the road to democracy? what is the impact of international aid and attempts at "exporting democracy" upon local polities? 


This course is taught by Benoit Challand, Visiting Assistant Professor of Politics

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