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The Paradoxes of Political Aid in the Arab World

  • Sheila Carapico


European and US-based scholars and practitioners have debated the purposes and sometimes the (limited) macro-effects of programs designed to promote transitions from authoritarianism to democracy in Middle East countries. Yet this discussion often lacks analysis of on-the-ground experiences or ignores the cumulative wisdom of local counterparts and intermediaries. This seminar is based on Carapico’s ground-breaking study Political Aid and Arab Activism: Democracy Promotion, Justice, and Representation (Cambridge University Press, 2013) which explores two decades’ worth of projects sponsored by American, European, and other transnational agencies in four key sub-fields: the rule of law, electoral design and monitoring, female empowerment, and civil society. Specifically in the seminar Carapico will discuss controversies and contradictions surrounding projects in Egypt, Palestine, and Iraq (the three main cases) and Jordan, Morocco, Yemen, Algeria, Tunisia, and Lebanon (where democracy brokers also work) to help explain why so many feminists and other advocates for justice, free elections, and civic agency concluded that foreign funding is inherently political and paradoxical.

Speaker Bio

Sheila Carapico, Professor of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Richmond, has been exploring Arab activism since studying in Cairo and traveling around the region in 1971/72. She lived in Sana’a from 1977 through 1980, mainly researching community development initiatives and foreign aid interventions. Subsequently she worked as a consultant for the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the Netherlands Embassy, Human Rights Watch, and several other agencies in Yemen, Egypt, and Lebanon. She was a Fulbright research scholar and visiting fellow at the Sana’a University Women’s Studies and Social Research Center for two years during the ‘democratic opening’ in Yemen in the early 1990s. She served as Visiting Chairperson in the Department of Political Science at the American University in Cairo for all of 2010 and the ‘Arab spring’ semester of 2011, and returned to AUC as a visiting faculty member in the spring of 2013. In addition to Political Aid she is the author of Civil Society in Yemen: A Political Economy of Activism in Modern Arabia (Cambridge University Press, 1998) and other works on the comparative and international politics of the Arabian Peninsula and the Arab world. She is a contributing editor of Middle East Report.