Egypt, Foreign Aid, and Pakistan

The recent uprising in Egypt has raised all kinds of questions about the relationship between the Western and middle-eastern governments and populations.  Among several others, the question of handling of aid from bi-lateral aid agencies such as USAID, DFID, and others has also come under scrutiny.  David Rieff, the analyst at TNR, was rather ruthless in his indictment of the work of USAID in Egypt.  He referred to UN Human Development Index and a report by Isobel Coleman of the Council on Foreign Relations on Egypt together with the claims presented on USAID’s website to describe the contradictory images these present.  Below I quote at length from the article:

Egypt ranks one hundred and first, between Mongolia and Uzbekistan. In the context of the Arab Middle East, it ranks tenth, below not just rich countries like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, but behind Libya, Jordan, and Algeria as well…[and]…over the past decade, Egypt has experienced rising income inequality while failing to address root poverty…Food prices are rising to levels not seen since the global food crisis of 2007-2008, a recent World Bank study showed that the higher educational system is doing a very poor job of producing qualified graduates, and, whatever their qualifications, unemployment among the young is well over 30 percent nationally.”  And yet, he goes on to say: “And yet, go to USAID’s website and find the Egypt page and you will read that, “For three decades, the United States and Egypt have collaborated closely on economic development and regional stability.” You will also read the grotesque claim that “USAID has helped Egypt become a “success story in economic development.” More specifically, the site claims particular success in improving the quality of education, and, grotesquely, in light of recent events, taken the credit for having strengthened “the administration of justice,” improved “access to justice for disadvantaged groups,” and promoted “decentralized governance and more competitive electoral processes.”

And this is not just an Egyptian story, or a failure of U.S. strategic thinking limited to the particular exigencies of the Middle East. To the contrary, exactly the same lack of conditionality, tolerance for corruption, and passivity before injustice marks U.S. development aid in Afghanistan and Pakistan—that is, in the central theaters of the long war. The Pentagon may talk in an updated counterinsurgency doctrine that is more focused on winning the support of the people than on kinetic operations against the enemy, and Secretary of State Clinton may argue that America’s security is best served by the deployment of civilian, rather than military power. But the reality is that development only succeeds when a poor country commits itself to development. And, without any naïve claim that only democracy can lead to durable development—China disproved that, after all—that commitment does first and foremost involve the ruling elite of a country like Egypt or Pakistan committing itself to at least creating economic opportunity for the broad masses of the country, not a privileged few.

While Egypt is its focus, this familiar story cuts across the national boundaries and the fingers point as much at the local ruling elites as they do at the US government and the working of its aid agency. That aid has not succeeded in bringing about the ‘development’ it seeks to bring is not an unfamiliar story.

The QUESTIONS this article raises are: What is the historical role of aid in bringing about development anywhere in the world?  What are the conditions of possibility of development? What role, if any, has the foreign aid played in the development of the so-called emerging markets (BRIC etc.)? What has been the role of the local political elites, the socio-economic policies, and other factors including education and human development?

What about the role played by the local intellectual resources? In this respect, Mary Furner’s history of American Social Science described in her book Advocacy and Objectivity is quite relevant inasmuch as it suggest a strong relationship between development of social science and advocacy for social changes in the early development of social sciences in the United States.  She writes: “Though ASSA [American Social Science Association] reached in many directions, two definite impulses were always present: the urge to reform and the quest for knowledge. At the beginning, reform was the dominant theme.” (Furner, 1975, p. 11) [Note: The reference to Furner’s quote is from a paper by Lynn Fendler titled Educationalising Trends in Societies of Control: Assessments, Problem-Based Learning and Empowerment].  What problems the rampant outsourcing of the work that must be done by local politicians and intellectuals may have created in Pakistan, in addition to atrophying the capacities of both?

About Irfan

I am an independent researcher and blogger interested in everything under the sun, but more so in the philosophy and history of education and education reform generally, and specifically in the so-called post colonial contexts

2 Responses to “Egypt, Foreign Aid, and Pakistan”

  1. Interesting Doctor. We have to have a debate on this one.


  1. Arguments or Policy Advocacy? | Just questions! - 08/02/2011

    […] view of academic work sounds different from the one that I referred to in an earlier post while alluding to Mary Furner’s history of the Social Sciences in the United […]

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