Mandate management: a field theory approach to the EBRD’s adaptive practice in Egypt
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) was created in the early 1990s to promote the transition to a market economy and advance democracy in the post-communist countries of East Central Europe. How and why did this international organization, established for an entirely different purpose, then become an active investor in Egypt? Building on field theory, we explain the EBRD’s move to Egypt as an attempt to overcome the hysteresis effect of its anachronistic operational logic (habitus) within a changing field. Once in Egypt, the EBRD aspired to leverage its symbolic capital of technical assistance, democratic commitment and the privileging of the private sector. However, given Egypt’s increasingly autocratic and state capitalist evolution, it found delivering on its symbolic capital problematic. Its solution was to adapt to the very active European development finance field’s modalities. However, the European field’s logic ultimately de-prioritized democracy, human rights promotion, and poverty reduction and instead focused on sustainable investment, migration mitigation and containing Europe’s geo-economic rivals. In our case study, we demonstrate that the EBRD operated deftly within this field, while it also gained permission and even reward for its mandate management. It is a problematic finding for the future of the EU development policy.