International Relations

Abstract only
Zoltán Gábor Szűcs

The introduction explains how the book has grown out of two interconnected concerns: empirically, a current global wave of de-democratization that led to the emergence of a new generation of authoritarian regimes hiding behind the façade of liberal democracies and, theoretically, the need for a theoretical framework that is capable of capturing this phenomenon in a way that does justice to the circumstances of politics. Hence the main ambition of the book is to offer a realist political-ethical exploration of the experience of people living in illiberal regimes. The challenge here is to avoid the apology of these regimes while appreciating the ethical seriousness of the experience of people living in them. The basic idea is that every form of political rule, in order to survive, has to provide people with plenty of political-ethical reasons to accept their terms of rule, and illiberal regimes are no exceptions. As a consequence, people are given plenty of political-ethical reasons to acquiesce to the terms of these regimes, and if we overlook this aspect of political rule, we will fatally misunderstand the nature of the political-ethical experience of the people living in various forms of political rule. Among other things, we will misunderstand why even the sincerest and the most passionate opposition to illiberal regimes is necessarily an uphill battle in a political-ethical sense. The chapter briefly presents how this problem has long been a recurrent theme of realist political thought as a reason why other approaches to politics are fundamentally unsatisfying.

in Political ethics in illiberal regimes
Zoltán Gábor Szűcs

The chapter explains what an illiberal regime is. It starts with an overview of the comparative politics literature on the gray zone between liberal democracies and fully authoritarian regimes, shows where we can find illiberal regimes in real life, and gives closer attention to the works of Anna Lührmann et al., Steven Levitsky and Lucan A. Way, and Andreas Schedler, who try to conceptualize the gray zone in terms of electoral democracies, competitive authoritarianism, and electoral authoritarianism. The chapter points to the lower tiers of electoral democracies and upper tiers of electoral authoritarian regimes (in terms of Lührmann et al.’s terminology) as the typical examples of illiberal regimes and then explains why it seemed indispensable, at least for the purposes of the present work, to coin a new term to describe these cases. The main argument of the chapter is that the normative background assumptions of comparative politics have a strong resemblance to the justificatory model, making the realist critique of the latter applicable to the former too. After examining the most problematic points of the normative background assumptions of the comparative politics literature, the chapter proposes a neo-Aristotelian alternative to it emphasizing the impossibility of justifying any regime type in terms of a single, coherent ethical theory of democracy. This is an exercise in genealogy in a realist sense because it traces back the normative assumptions of modern comparative politics to classical regime theory and shows how the latter’s normative assumptions were replaced with the justificatory model.

in Political ethics in illiberal regimes
Zoltán Gábor Szűcs

The main aim of the chapter is to put the theoretical framework of the previous chapters to use and provide the ‘big picture’ about the political-ethical experience of living in illiberal regimes. The chapter starts with the operationalization of the neo-Aristotelian regime theory by translating its general characterization of illiberal regimes into five (egalitarian, competitive, authoritarian, oligarchic, and self-preservative) principles of action that will appear in the everyday considerations of people living in illiberal regimes. The goal is to make the ethics of politics as playing hardball (a constitutive experience of living in illiberal regimes) more accessible to the readers. Then the chapter proceeds with the explication of some important metaethical implications of political realism that are also relevant to the problem of playing hardball, notably: value pluralism, the dirty hands problem, moral dilemmas, and political compromise. The next part of the chapter turns to the question of how various normative contexts (among which political regimes stand out as especially important) shape political agency: after explaining why neither abstract individualism nor social constructivism is a good starting point for understanding the political-ethical experience of actual people in normative political theoretical terms, the chapter examines five types of primary normative contexts that shape political agency and will play an important role in the analysis of the political-ethical experience of living in illiberal regimes in the second part of the book: ad hoc and general reasons for action, political rule, membership in various political associations, political regimes, and political offices, and political virtues.

in Political ethics in illiberal regimes
A realist interpretation

The book offers a novel – Williamsian liberal realist – normative political theoretical examination of the political-ethical experience of living in illiberal regimes. Starting with a critique of the predominant mode of normative political theory (the justificatory model), the first part of the book explains why such an examination should focus on the various normative contexts which shape political agency by providing people with reasons for action (e.g. ad hoc and general reasons, political rule, membership, political regime types, political offices, and political virtues). It also explains why the main concepts referring to various regime types in comparative politics are not perfectly suitable for such an examination. It is because their normative background assumptions of comparative politics show eerie resemblances to the justificatory model. Therefore, the book offers a neo-Aristotelian alternative to them which is more compatible with a realist enterprise. The second part of the book turns to the examination of three families of political offices and how they shape political agency in an illiberal regime in their own way: the office of elected magistrates, the office of people having some independent source of authority (civil servants, policy experts, judges), and the office of citizens. The main tenet of the book is that it is possible to be critical of illiberal regimes without insisting on the justificatory model and also that it is possible to appreciate the ethical seriousness of the experience of living in illiberal regimes without finding those regimes justifiable.

Zoltán Gábor Szűcs

The chapter explores the political-ethical experience of living in illiberal regimes through the prism of the office of elected magistrates. It examines how the ambition of politicians to seek power and glory through electoral success in illiberal regimes shapes the political-ethical experience of certain people within such regimes. Given that illiberal regimes are built on unfair but real multiparty electoral competitions in order to secure real popular support and that elections in illiberal regimes are always as much about the survival of the regime as about winning elections, the office of elected magistrates plays a uniquely distinguished role in illiberal regimes which provides people who hold or seek elected offices with plenty of reasons to come to terms with the regime. The chapter explains how illiberal ambition is formed by a great variety of potentially conflicting demands of the constitutional purpose of the office, the demands of linkage, and the demands of integrity and carefully examines how these three kinds of demands raised by holding elected office in illiberal regimes are deeply affected by the various principles of action that define illiberal regimes in neo-Aristotelian terms (egalitarian, competitive, electoral, oligarchic, and self-preservative). The chapter pays due attention to the differences between those who are supporters and opponents of the regime and also those who are incumbents and those who only seek to hold an elected position. The specific problem associated with those who are opponents of the regime but hold some elected office (‘incumbents-in-opposition’) is also briefly addressed.

in Political ethics in illiberal regimes
Open Access (free)
Digital Work and Fragile Livelihoods of Women Refugees in the Middle East and North Africa
Dina Mansour-Ille
and
Demi Starks

In the advent of the coronavirus pandemic and the push to digital work, this op-ed argues that the emerging digital economy can be vital for enabling refugee women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to overcome existing livelihood barriers. Since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis in 2011, over 6.5 million Syrian refugees have been registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) globally. Neighbouring countries across the MENA region continue to carry the largest share of the burden. Across the region, refugees live on the margins, in camps, as well as urban and peri-urban communities, and other informal settlements. Existing gender disparities coupled with other social and logistical barriers, as well as restrictive legal and economic structures, exacerbate livelihood challenges for refugee women in MENA. Research demonstrates that the digital economy, particularly crowd and ‘on-demand’ work, could provide opportunities that would enable women refugees to overcome these barriers to work. As it stands, however, the digital economy is still in its infancy, especially in host countries in MENA, and it is still fraught with challenges, including barriers to entry, employee protections and the lack of guarantees to decent work, especially for vulnerable and marginalised communities. We therefore argue that there is a need to direct efforts to maximise the benefits that the digital economy could offer, especially to refugee women – a need that has become even more pertinent since the coronavirus pandemic.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Intermediating the Internet Economy in Digital Livelihoods Provision for Refugees
Andreas Hackl

The global spread of online work opportunities has inspired a new generation of market-based aid that connects forcibly displaced people to a transnational internet economy. Because refugees face barriers to making a livelihood online, aid organisations and private enterprises support them by building bridges across digital divides, connectivity problems or skill gaps. They thereby become intermediaries and brokers that facilitate connections between refugees and online income opportunities, which often lack decent working conditions and adequate protections. Because digital livelihood initiatives lack the power to reshape these conditions and the value of work in the internet economy, they fail to become mediators with a transformative impact. The result is that the internet economy reshapes livelihoods provision far more than aid can reshape its disempowering effects, despite successes in driving forward refugees’ digital inclusion. Based on more than three years of research including interviews, field visits and surveys, this article foregrounds the current risks that result from the inclusion of refugees into precarious forms of online gig work. To ensure a decent future of work for refugees in the internet economy, the current push for digital livelihoods will require an equally strong push for stronger protections, inclusive regulations and rights.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Digital Skills Training and the Systematic Exclusion of Refugees in Lebanon
Rabih Shibli
and
Sarah Kouzi

A decade into the Syrian war, Lebanon remains the country hosting the largest number of refugees per capita worldwide, limiting their work to three sectors of the economy. Most of the employed refugees have therefore been active in the informal market under indecent and insecure working conditions. One solution currently being promoted by humanitarian and development organisations and the private sector is that digital work in web-based labour markets can provide an alternative that circumvents these local restrictions, offering refugees a way to make a livelihood online. This field report contests this assumption, based on analysis of the impact and experience of a digital skills training programme that reached some 3000 beneficiaries by 2021. The report critically examines how a context of regulatory restriction and economic crisis in Lebanon undermines the feasibility of digital refugee livelihoods, thereby offering a critique of the idea that web-based income opportunities transcend local markets, policies and regulations. Due to discriminatory policies, ICT-related exclusion, and financial exclusion, the programme’s objective shifted from online work to local work. Ironically, most of those graduates who found work did so in the local informal labour market once more, having failed to secure any form of sustainable online income opportunity.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Open Access (free)
Bridging Ethical Divides in Digital Refugee Livelihoods
Evan Easton-Calabria

This op-ed outlines key issues humanitarians should consider when assessing their ‘digital responsibility’ to foster digital refugee livelihoods. This includes in particular the need to develop robust monitoring and evaluation frameworks of outcomes of digital livelihoods trainings for refugees – and spaces for critical engagement with the results of such evaluations, including stopping digital livelihoods programming when risks outweigh benefits. It argues that ethical humanitarian engagement in technology must include the development of coherent, contextualised sets of norms and frameworks for responsibility and protection in the digital sphere, including those that address humanitarian efforts to assist refugees to enter the digital economy.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Swati Mehta Dhawan
and
Julie Zollmann

Humanitarian actors touting financial inclusion posit that access to financial services builds refugees’ resilience and self-reliance. They claim that new digital financial tools create more efficient and dignified pathways for humanitarian assistance and enable refugees to better manage their savings and invest in livelihoods, especially during protracted displacement. Our in-depth, repeat interviews with refugees in Kenya and Jordan refute this narrative. Instead, self-reliance was hindered primarily by refugees’ lack of foundational rights to move and work. Financial services had limited ability to support livelihoods in the absence of those rights. The digital financial services offered to refugees under the banner of ‘financial inclusion’ were not mainstream services designed to empower and connect. Instead, they were segregated, second-class offerings meant to further isolate and limit refugee transactions in line with broader political desires to encamp and exclude them. The article raises questions about the circumstances in which humanitarian funding ought to fund financial service interventions and what those interventions are capable of achieving.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs