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Functional Cooperation with Authoritarian Regimes: A Blessing or a Curse for Democratization?

Tina Freyburg
Universität St Gallen
Tina Freyburg
Universität St Gallen
Open Panel

Abstract

Authoritarian rulers are interested in coping with social and economic grievances as they are perceived as threats to the regime’s stability. Drawing upon this, cooperation with authoritarian regimes is generally viewed as counterproductive in terms of democratization because it helps to stabilize the regime by providing solutions to current challenges and thereby increasing its output-legitimacy. At the same time, functional cooperation might stage a site of socialization into transnational norms. Participation in policy reform projects might shape state officials’ understanding of appropriate governance. This paper endeavors to enrich our knowledge about the effects of functional cooperation on democratization processes in authoritarian regimes. Rather than exploring the effect cooperation might yield at the regime-level, it wishes to open the black box of micro-processes effectuated where cooperation is actually implemented, namely at the level of state administration. This paper examines the effect of participation in functional cooperation on the attitudes toward democratic governance of state officials. Concentrating on attitudes rather than behavior of state officials allows this study to analyze processes of democratization that may even occur in authoritarian regimes hitherto reluctant to pursue any noteworthy political liberalization, although this is not yet visible at the regime-level. The study complements regression analyzes of survey data on Moroccan state officials’ attitudes toward democratic governance with a qualitative comparison of different networks set up by the most relevant Western donors. Preliminary results point to a differential evaluation of the democratizing potential of functional cooperation. They reveal that whereas World Bank programs have a negative impact, programs undertaken by the European Union and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) positively influence state officials’ understanding of appropriate governance. The paper concludes with a discussion of the adaptability of democratic governance features to authoritarian thinking and the official modernization strategy of modern Arab regimes.