Arab Reform and Foreign Aid: Lessons from Morocco

Mauro De Lorenzo reviews Arab Reform and Foreign Aid: Lessons from Morocco, by Haim Malka and Jon B. Alterman.

Resident Fellow Mauro De Lorenzo
Resident Fellow Mauro De Lorenzo

Morocco has emerged in recent years as the most reform-minded Arab country, as King Mohammed VI accelerated the political liberalization initiated under his father, Hassan II. He modernized family law in women's favor, allowed past human rights abuses to be publicly investigated, and granted more freedom to the press--all while ensuring that royal authority in Morocco remained undiminished. Indeed, because the king controlled the pace of reform, the authority of the established order was enhanced.

Malka and Alterman's study offers a serviceable, if unoriginal, potted history of foreign aid trends and of Morocco's internal changes. Nowhere, however, does Arab Reform and Foreign Aid live up to the promise of its title, which implies a relationship between the two. The authors proceed in parallel, as if the money the West spends to reform Morocco had no connection to the reforms that actually took place. The chapter on reforms does not even refer to any related aid programs, while the chapter outlining aid programs does not suggest that they had a measurable impact on reform, just that they are "potential contributors to the process." In fact it is hard to find descriptions of specific aid projects anywhere in the book.

The study's main lesson is, strangely, undeclared. What if Morocco's reforms have nothing to do with the aid programs? But Malka and Alterman venture nothing so bold or risky, but rather remain content to urge that donors "seek coordination more than cooperation."

The volume's most useful element is its account of the philosophical differences between the European and U.S. aid programs. In the 1990s, the Clinton administration's vain pursuit of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians precluded putting pressure on Arab regimes to reform. Nor did the Europeans ever exercise pressure, believing that political reform would follow from economic reform and increased trade. But in the aftermath of 9-11, Western governments seemed to absorb the lesson that the democratization of Arab countries is an essential part of a global anti-terrorism strategy.

In this spirit, the State Department's Middle East Partnership Initiative added to the U.S. Agency for International Development's paltry programs, with US$300 million between 2002 and 2005 in new funding for bottom-up democracy promotion and education among civil society groups. Europe's financially even more substantial aid programs targeted infrastructure. Where Washington tried to "energize the grassroots," Europe preferred "government-to-government dialogue."

The authors clearly consider the Europeans to have more "nuance," and to be wiser and better. "Europe values constructing things one can see while the United States prefers to promote more intangible outcomes." But their study does not provide specifics by which to judge this assessment.

Mauro De Lorenzo is a resident fellow at AEI.

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