Wasta in the mena region

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  • Publié le : 28 mars 2010
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"Wasta and corruption are not nice, but without them some MENA countries would not function at all."

Informal intermediation and corruption are, regardless the nature of the political system of a country, widely spread all over the world. Regarding the MENA region, they are quite important thus playing an important role in the lives of most people. Getting something through someone, thewasit, who knows someone else, as in wasta and fasad, are found in all forms of the segmented societies of the MENA region, ethnic groups, ‘assabiyahs, tribes, patron-client relations, etc. Wasta is also expressed in different ways. Cronyism, defined as preferential treatment of friends or colleagues on the part of public officials, can be found in almost all countries of the MENA. Other forms ofwasta are more specific to certain countries. Nepotism, for instance, can largely be found in Syria. Tribalism, on the other hand, is more pronounced in countries based on tribal societies such as Libya or many other Gulf countries. The first part of the statement “Wasta and corruption are not nice” can be applied to any country in the world. In a certain way it is naïve because it understates thecosts of wasta and corruption in the MENA region. On the other hand, the second part of the statement “but without them some MENA countries would not function at all” underlines the particularity of the relation between the regimes and wasta and corruption, the dependency in order to survive. My argument in this paper is that wasta and corruption, by creating dependencies, have two oppositeeffects, a destabilizing and stabilizing effect, but that the latter is stronger than the former. First of all, I will discuss the costs of both mechanisms, showing why the negative effects are stronger in this part of the world. In the second part of my essay, I will argument why wasta and corruption are mechanisms of regime maintenance, thus showing not only why they might be useful but crucial tothe survival of these regimes. To show the opposite effects, I will try to discuss, in each part, the social, economic and political impacts of both mechanisms in this region.

When evaluating the costs of wasta and corruption in the MENA region, in my opinion, the costs are much more important because of certain particularities related to the region.

Concerning the political effects,wasta and corruption can create or perpetuate dependencies thus undermining the formal institutions. In accordance to Cunningham and Sarayrah’s work, people conclude that each service provided by these formal institutions is a favor, even though each one has the right to access them. These mechanisms weaken even more the fragile and opaque formal institutions in the MENA region.

When we look attheir social impact, both mechanisms tend to deepen the segmentation of the society. First of all, they increase the cleavages between kinship groups, tribes, ‘assabiyahs which can result in an obstacle to nation-building. Because of uneven and exclusive access to wasta, certain groups gain more power than other ones. Second of all, they add to the already existing vertical segmentation, a morepronounced horizontal stratification by intensifying the socio-economic disparities. Those who come from lower social strata are not acquainted with the right persons who might help them by doing them a favor, they are not well-connected nor do they have the means, financial assets, to ask for a favor, leading to discrimination. Even though in some countries wasta and corruption are planned anddesired, as Waterbury shows in the case of Morocco where the monarchy itself constantly builds new relations of dependencies, both mechanisms are leading to what Andreski considers “relations of parasitism”. “Once a society is pervaded by parasitic exploitation, the choice is only to skin or to be skinned”, in other words, belonging to the right network, the right ‘assabiyah, is crucial to escape...
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