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International Donor Projects, Authoritarianism and Civil Society: Municipal Politics in Jordan

Janine Clark
University of Guelph
Janine Clark
University of Guelph
Open Panel

Abstract

In recent years, international institutions have been increasingly pressuring authoritarian regimes in the Arab World to decentralize. According to the World Bank, decentralization entails the transfer of decision-making powers to the sub-national level and the institutionalization of greater opportunities for civil society to participate in decision-making. Inherent in decentralization are the democratic values of public participation, accountability and transparency. Towards these ends, international donors are implementing projects that aim to strengthen the capacity of municipal governments and to encourage political participation through the creation of channels by which civil society and the general public can participate in decision-making. Examining the case study of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, this paper questions the degree to which these international donor projects serve to legitimate authoritarianism. To what extent do municipal development projects and increased political participation serve to support authoritarianism? Based on fieldwork conducted in 22 of Jordan’s 93 municipalities in 2010, the paper argues that, by focusing on the development and income-generating role of municipalities, international donor projects serve to support strategies of authoritarian state control by reinforcing the de-politicization and technocratization of municipal politics. International donor projects do so by: aiding a shift in discourse to one of efficiency, economic growth and development; reinforcing the income-generating role of municipalities; and elevating the role of technocrats within municipalities. Most importantly, donor projects aid in the depoliticization and technocratization of municipal politics by encouraging political participation and policy ownership while funneling this participation into a narrow range of economic and technical decisions.