Wasta and Clientelism: The Intersection of Social and Political Linkage in the MENA

By Ellen Lust, Kristen Kao,
Submitted to Session P4966 (Political Parties, Attitudes, and Elections, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
All Middle East;
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Scholarly research on political participation and service delivery has only implicitly examined the relationship between social ties, clientelism and outcomes. The literature on clientelism highlights how political brokers can use social relations to solve commitment problems and ensure that exchanges of material goods for votes are maintained (Auyero 2000, Szwarcberg (2012), Eisenstadt and Roniger 1984). For instance, Susan Stokes’ (2005, 318) interlocutor in Argentina highlights the importance of dense social ties in explaining why vote-buying is prevalent in his area: “Here it’s different than in Cordoba [the nearest big city]. Here they know everyone. And they know whom everyone is going to vote for.” Other scholars emphasize the interplay between social ties, the norms governing social relations, and political behavior, pointing out, for instance, that individuals are more likely to vote for coethnics because they anticipate that those with close social ties are more likely to respond positively to their demands in the future (Chandra 2004; Lust-Okar 2005; Habyamaira et al. 2009). While the assumptions underpinning these theories are that clientelism and social ties are closely linked, there has been little exploration of the relationship between reliance on social ties and political clientelism in obtaining services. This paper explores this relationship, drawing on survey evidence from 6 unique surveys conducted in Egypt, Libya, Jordan and Tunisia between 2011 and 2013. It first examines the relationships between the use of social ties and political networks in accessing goods and services. It then delves into the case of Tunisia, exploring how these relationships are key even in a country in which tribal linkages and ethnic ties are muted. Finally, it considers how the need for both social ties and clientelism creates inequalities based in gender, age, and class. The paper extends our theoretical understanding of clientelism and ethnic politics, provides insights into how these factors vary across quite different societies in the MENA region, and offers a basis for understanding inequalities and social stress in the region today.