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The Politics of Foreign Aid and Islamic Charitable Giving in Kuwait - Mara Leichtman, Michigan State University

Friday, November 2, 2018 at 3:00pm to 4:30pm

McGraw Hall, 215
740-750 University Ave, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA

SpeakerMara Leichtman, Anthropology, Michigan State University

Abstract: A key provider of foreign assistance, Kuwait was named "an international humanitarian center" by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2014. With lines between “charity,” “relief,” and “development” increasingly blurred, this paper explores the politics of giving. In Kuwait, this involves coordinated efforts at multiple levels of state policy, civil society, and pious donors who fund the work of Islamic charitable organizations in the form of zakat (obligatory almsgiving) and sadaqa (voluntary donations). NGOs craft their own agendas while mediating between the specific regulations and demands of individual donors and larger national and international priorities. Kuwait, a small state very much aware that larger powerful neighbors might desire once again its oil wealth following the Iraqi invasion of 1990-1991, has given generously to other nations as part of a strategic foreign policy. Poorer friends have much to offer in return, from soldiers to votes – and Kuwait successfully campaigned for a seat on the UN Security Council in 2018-2019. Yet Middle Eastern countries are also subject to Western monitoring of financial flows. The Kuwaiti government recently adapted internal procedures for granting foreign aid in response to regular post-September 11 audits by the US Treasury Department. This additional bureaucracy unfortunately translated into less aid for international recipients most in need. Through case studies of select African beneficiaries, those partner NGOs most likely to benefit from Kuwaiti assistance are also those with already established networks to the Gulf, fluency in Arabic, and the know-how to draft proposals and submit reports catering to Gulf sensibilities.

Hosted by Anthropology

Co-sponsored by Development Sociology and the Comparative Muslim Studies Program

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Event Type

Lecture, Seminar


Development Sociology, Anthropology, Comparative Muslim Societies Program


dsoc, devsoc, Anthropology, anthro, anthro-colloquium




Contact E-Mail

Contact Name

Sarah Day


Mara Leichtman

Speaker Affiliation

Michigan State University

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