Democracy Without Social Justice: Marginalization of Social and Economic Rights in EU Democracy Assistance Policy after the Arab Uprisings

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Although EU democracy assistance (DA) policy has been criticized both before and after the Arab Uprisings for reflecting a one-size-fits-all (neo) liberal script, there is little detailed exploration of how exactly EU policy is ‘liberal’. With this objective, this article examines the conceptual structure of ‘democracy’ in key policy documents. It finds that the ideas of democracy and its promotion remain virtually unchanged after the uprisings. Specifically, the analysis shows that, first, democracy is understood as involving a balance between state and civil society. Second, that while the indivisibility of human rights—particularly civil, political, social, and economic—is proclaimed, civil and political rights far outweigh social and economic rights in their importance vis-à-vis democracy in EU policy. Third, that the role of socio-economic rights progressively is being marginalized as individual policy documents develop. Fourth, that conceptions of civil society in these documents marginalize trade unions and other actors focusing on socio-economic rights. Finally, that socio-economic issues gradually are being redefined as matters not of rights but of trade and aid. This fundamentally reverses the moral economy of obligations attached to socio-economic issues: from a focus on would-be democratizing populations as right-bearers to their reconceptualization as morally and financially indebted recipients of charity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-25
Number of pages16
JournalMiddle East Critique
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 6 Feb 2015


  • EU
  • democracy
  • social right
  • economic rights
  • ENP
  • Middle East
  • Arab Uprisings
  • Arab Spring
  • human rights
  • European Neighbourhood Policy
  • democratization
  • Critical Discourse Analysis

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