This article examines the notion of empowerment as it has been conceptualized, operationalized, and applied through various programs and projects by some donors funding women- and gender-related projects in the Middle East between 1998 and 2008. The main argument put forward is that many projects claiming empowerment as their objective showed a support for the concept that is stripped of its original political underpinnings. The article argues that this depoliticization of empowerment aid is not coincidental but is the outcome of a series of policy concerns shaping the donor agenda. These concerns include placating authoritarian regimes, promoting economic liberalization, and finding progovernment institutions capable of absorbing (and channeling) large amounts of aid in short periods of time. The outcome is a re-reinforcement of the status quo domestically, while giving the international audience the facade of progressive, gender-sensitive regimes.

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