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Investigating Swedish Democracy Promotion in the Middle East

Funding by Human Rights Studies, Department of History, Lund University

The ultimate aim of this project is to investigate the connection between Swedish democracy promotion policies and what is actually being implemented by Swedish aid practitioners in the name of democracy promotion in the Middle East. The empirical sources used in this study are official Swedish policy documents relating to democracy promotion, as well as interviews from democracy support policy makers and practitioners working in both Stockholm and the Middle East.

Sweden is one of the world’s most outspoken supporters of democracy. Support specifically ear-marked for democracy and human rights assistance makes up 30 percent of Sweden’s total aid budget (Sida, 2017), which is a larger proportion than any other donor government allocates.

Sweden engages with a wide variety of actors

The Middle East region is a major recipient of this democracy support in the aftermath of the Arab Uprisings in 2011. While Sweden is not alone in their democracy promotion efforts in the region, they have set themselves apart from other donors in their willingness to engage with a wide variety of actors and agents of change’ – namely human rights defenders, religious communities, party-affiliated organisations, trade unions, and youth associations.

Policies and practices in the democracy promotion agenda

This agenda has arguably strengthened Sweden’s reputation as one of the most committed international actors in promoting democracy. However, what has yet to be studied in detail is what exactly this democracy promotion agenda consists of in terms of policies and practices. The characteristically heterogeneous nature of the Swedish development assistance system is reliant on a host of Swedish aid practitioners – not least the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida), selected Swedish civil society organisations, and Swedish political party foundations - to translate government policy discourse into projects and initiatives to be implemented ‘on the ground’.

A holistic investigation

This makes attempting to investigate the substantive content of the Swedish government’s democracy promotion agenda a holistic task, one that requires moving beyond simply studying official policy texts to look at how the state's understanding of democracy promotion as a concept is interpreted by Swedish aid practitioners and translated into practice.


Research Team

Darcy Thompson, CMES Research Fellow and Doctoral Student in Human Rights Studies (Department of History, Lund University)

darcy [dot] thompson [at] mrs [dot] lu [dot] se (darcy[dot]thompson[at]mrs[dot]lu[dot]se)

Photo by Arnaud Jaegers on Unsplash