In collaboration with the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences (KFAS) and the Kuwait Program at Sciences Po, the Center for Gulf Studies (CGS) at AUK hosted a lecture entitled, “The Politics of Foreign Aid in the Middle East: The Gulf States Aid Donors”. The lecture, which addressed the under-examined nature of foreign aid dynamics in the Middle East was presented by Dr. Khaled Al-Mezaini, a Research Associate at Cambridge University and Kuwait Visiting Professor at Sciences Po, Paris School of International Affairs. Dr. Al-Mezaini’s unique approach to the topic of foreign aid attracted many members of AUK’s community and the public to his lecture.
Dr. Al-Mezaini commenced the lecture with a historical summary-regional states have been receiving aid since the 1950s, Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan have been the largest regional recipients, and the USA, UK, and Germany have been among the top donors. Citing vague signs of limited political and economic reform-and clear signs of increased corruption-Dr. Al-Mezaini challenged the conventional narrative about the effectiveness of foreign aid transfers over the past five decades. He argued that aid has become politicized: instead of being used for its initially intended purposes-to directly fund projects that could be beneficial to the public-aid has been perverted in order to be used to bolster and maintain the status quos of regimes. Thus, the purpose of aid has become less about state welfare, and more about aligning those regimes with the security interests of the West.
As an example, the United States has primarily offered aid to Israel and Egypt-namely military aid-in order to assist those countries’ defence efforts, and thus enable them to maintain territory or secure arms for state or non-state actors.
In addressing the future of foreign aid in the Middle East, he tackled difficult, but all the more critical, questions: whether Gulf nations can sustain aid provisions after the decline of oil prices, a possible shift from bilateral to multilateral aid, and the need for increased monitoring to ensure the effectiveness of foreign aid. He called for accountability where nations continue to provide aid despite failures to achieve its objectives.
Following the lecture, the audience engaged in a lively discussion with Dr. Al-Mezaini, which allowed him to further expand on his points regarding Kuwait’s role in foreign aid, the lack of transparency in disclosing accurate details, and UN’s non-binding role in following-up on underlying corruption within the dynamics of foreign assistance provision.
In commenting on the significance of this talk, Dr. Al-Adwani, the Acting Director of CGS, said, “The topic of foreign aid in the GCC is a topic that has not been well-researched because often the data is lacking, or the data is very difficult to get. What Dr. Al-Mezeini did today was provide a comprehensive overview of the topic, as it’s something we haven’t really seen collectively before.”
Khaled Al-Mezaini is a Research Associate at Cambridge University. Al-Mezaini received his PhD in 2009 from the University of Exeter. His doctoral thesis focused on the role of foreign aid in UAE foreign policy. His publications, research, and teaching interests also include political economy of the Gulf, international relations of the Gulf, and comparative politics. His latest publication (2017) is an edited book with Jean-Marc Rickli entitled The Small Gulf States: Foreign and Security Policies Before and After the Arab Spring. His forthcoming book is The Politics of Aid: The Foreign Aid Programs of the Gulf States.
The Center for Gulf Studies is a research center under the College of Arts and Sciences at the American University of Kuwait. We aim to promote greater cultural understanding of and increased intellectual interest in the Gulf, by facilitating free and open academic discourse on a range of issues that both shape and challenge this critical region of the world. Our goal is to enable scholars as well as political and civil society actors both within and outside the region to contribute and add value to the burgeoning field of Gulf Studies. To this end, we seek to encourage, support, and cultivate interesting and original research on the Gulf, and to create an environment in which our students and faculty can interact and collaborate with researchers and activists from around the world in creative and engaging ways.