Printer Friendly

Intercessory wasta and village development in Lebanon.


THIS ARTICLE DISCUSSES THE ROLE of wasta in contemporary village life in Lebanon, focussing on its use in, and impact on, local development projects. Wasta (coll.--waseet in formal Arabic), which means either mediation or intercession, has had a long history in Middle Eastern societies. The term itself may be applied both to the person who mediates or intercedes or to the act of mediation or intercession. This paper deals with intercessory wasta, a social exchange which entails the intervention of a patron on behalf of a client or clients to obtain a service, a benefit or other resources for the client.

Cunningham and Sarayrah (1993, 1994) have written extensively about the wasta concept and the implications of the practice of intercessory wasta for economic development in Middle Eastern societies. Where wasta is the rule, a patron intervenes on behalf of a client to obtain an advantage for that client, perhaps a job or admission to a university. As a result, people with appropriate qualifications may not be appointed to positions and those that are appointed may not be able to do the job. This is obviously inefficient and may lead to poor job performance in areas important for the economic development of the country and for the social development of the people. It also results in dependence among those who obtain their position through wasta.

Cunningham and Sarayrah, acknowledging the deep entrenchment of the practice, suggest ways in which it could be used so that the people who obtain their positions though wasta could be held accountable for their own performance and ultimately fired if they prove to be unsatisfactory. This does not address the waste of human resources in the first place, however, where qualified people are unable to obtain appropriate positions through merit, and may never do so if they do not have access to a wasta. This situation is unlikely to improve while jobs and other resources are in scarce supply and hence competition for them is fierce.

Cunningham and Sarayrah point out that the economies of the Middle Eastern countries, where the practice of wasta is widespread, are influenced to a large degree by external factors over which they have no control. Surrounded by Israel and Syria, both of which maintain different degrees of physical presence, and home to a large population of Palestinian refugees, Lebanon demonstrates this to a unique degree (Ellis, 1999). The country is in a poor position economically. Unemployment is high, the value of the currency has been eroded by inflation and much of the infrastructure was destroyed during the civil war (1975-1990). Historically, the state has been weak and power has been distributed among the various confessional groups, eighteen of which are recognized by the constitution. These groups support, and in turn are supported by, different external powers. As a result, the balance of power between them has often been precarious at best, leading to instability in national life which culminated in the civil war. The status quo ante has now returned with no resolution to the underlying problem of factionalism. The Ta'if Accord of 1989, which led to the cessation of hostilities, called for the gradual phasing out of political sectarianism, but this has yet to occur (Hudson, 1999; Ofeish, 1999; Salem, 1994).

In this environment, wasta thrives. There is a widespread expectation that needs will be met more quickly through the exercise of personal relations than through the state (Joseph, 1997). A leader or zaim (pl. zu'ama) sought for wasta tends to be wealthy. Frequently he is a member of one of the prominent families which have had economic and political influence since the Ottoman era. A local leader has more contact with his followers than a national one and can take advantage of the needs of those around him to distribute jobs or to intervene in transactions on their behalf. This process can also occur between a zaim and people from outside his immediate community which allows him to gain broader popularity and power. One zaim can be the client of another zaim, exchanging support for services. The continuation of the system depends on the ability of the zu'ama to meet their clients expectations and hence to create dependency through favors (Gubser, 1974; Knight, 1992; Salem, 1973).

At the village level, wasta is used to access funds for much needed development projects. But the exercise of patron-client relationships can assume more importance than the project itself, which may not be successful as a result. Attitudes towards the use of wasta are ambivalent. While villagers recognize that it can be necessary to get things done, some deplore the dependency it creates and would prefer the intervention of the state.

This exploration of the role of wasta was part of a larger study investigating how development is viewed and experienced in rural areas. Before the civil war, many of the coastal cities, centers of trade and commerce, were prosperous and thriving. In the rural hinterland, however, large areas remained underdeveloped and lacking in basic infrastructure. The ambitious reconstruction plan which followed the ending of hostilities has been criticized for its emphasis on Beirut rather than that of the country as a whole. The plan concentrates on the financial sector rather than agriculture and industry and stresses physical infrastructure over human capital (Denoeux & Springborg, 1999; Kubursi, 1999). The paper argues that, given the continued lack of public goods and services provided by the state, and given the entrenched nature of wasta in Lebanese social, economic and political life, rural villagers have little choice but to continue to operate within the wasta system to obtain infrastructure and services, even though not all can participate and the benefits which might accrue to some are often partial and unsatisfactory.

Akkar in North Lebanon has always been, and continues to be, the least developed area of Lebanon and, hence, the receiver of much development assistance. Two Muslim villages in this region were chosen as study sites. One was given the pseudonym Dar el Lawz (House of Almonds) and the other Ain Zeitoun (Olive Spring), in reference to their principle crops. Although some development projects have taken place in these villages, they have not made a large difference to people's lives. The electricity supply, internal roads, water supply and waste disposal remain poor in both villages. Residents were asked about their views of development, what they valued about their village and their experience of development projects.

The discussion of the role of wasta politics in village life is derived from the accounts of the residents of both villages, since the similarities and differences between them offer important insights into the use of wasta and development projects. A water project in Ain Zeitoun is described in some detail, because it shows how wasta works at the local level and how officials of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) can become involved. This is an important issue. During the civil war, when government was largely absent, many local and international NGOs played vital roles in Lebanon. Their work included providing emergency assistance such as food relief distribution, repairing schools and infrastructure, providing medical supplies to hospitals in war affected areas, as well as some non-war related activities in other parts of the country. Since the war ended, their role has changed from relief work to development and there has been increasing criticism of proliferating numbers and unco-ordinated activities. According to Baalbaki (1994), the number of local NGOs rose from 59 to 168 between 1960 and 1980, and this has continued since the end of the war.

The sudden shift to development projects after the war meant that many NGO staff were not well trained for this task, and training needs for both new and existing staff tend not to be met by project grants. As a result, as the case study shows, NGO officials on the ground run the risk of being co-opted into wasta networks and neglecting principles of gender awareness and community participation.

The essay begins with a brief overview of clientalism and wasta. This is followed by a description of the situation in Lebanon, a discussion of the role of wasta politics in village life and the case study. The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications of wasta for rural development.


Clientalism is a set of interpersonal relations of a hierarchical nature based on unequal exchange between patrons and clients. Patrons are powerful individuals who control distribution or access to resources while clients are individuals or groups who are less powerful and request these services for their personal gain (Eisenstadt and Roniger, 1984).

The literature describes patron-client relations as having both premodern and modern forms. The premodern form is described as traditional, built around shared kinship, religious groups or similar ethnic backgrounds. This form thrives on a shared sense of belonging and shared ideology as well as mutual benefit. Such ties are strong and have endured. They have existed in many parts of the world, especially in the Middle East, which has a history of feudal systems of landlords and peasants, as in Lebanon during the rule of the Ottoman Empire (Gilsenan, 1977; Khalaf, 1977).

Other kinds of patron-client relations continue to be found as modern forms of clientalism around the world, in Southern Europe and the Middle East as well as the USA and Asia (see Eisenstadt and Roniger, 1984 and Roniger and Gunes-Ayata, 1994). In contemporary and industrialized societies, patrons may take the shape of political parties, labor unions or militia. Members of these entities become clients who are favored in receiving resources. However, in this case, the strength of this patron-client relation is tempered by political or other ideologies and is hence exposed to change. The balance of benefits can be reassessed on both sides, the client's benefit from services and the patron's support from the client (Gunes-Ayata, 1994; Scott, 1977).

The presence of these patron-client relations in modern times is best understood by the analysis of the social contexts in which these relationships have been found to exist (Waterbury, 1977). Patronage relations flourish in cases where the state is weak, or unable to exercise its control over some parts of the country, or when its policies are unintelligible to some of the population who therefore need brokers to obtain benefits or avoid persecution (Gellner, 1977). Factors such as a lack of trust and low community cohesion, limited access to public goods, and the existence of social collectives such as religious groups have been common characteristics of these contexts (Eisenstadt and Roniger, 1984).

It has been argued that, where patron-client relations permeate the whole social structure, including the state as in the cases of Morocco and Lebanon, they are not destined to disappear (Roniger, 1994; Hamzeh, 2001; Eisenstadt and Roniger, 1984). This is contrary to the expectation that patron-client relations would be replaced by different, more egalitarian forms of civil participation in the modern world (Gunes-Ayata, 1994). If the social conditions where they thrive remain, namely social inequalities, low standards of living and monopoly over resources, patronage will be more evident than in societies where prosperity and equal opportunities for the weak and strong exist (Waterbury, 1977).

Hamzeh (2001) has identified a number of historical phases in the development of clientalism in Lebanon, as the institution responds to changing circumstances. Tracing its origins to the feudal eighteenth century, Hamzeh shows that patron-client relationships changed during the nineteenth century from a personal allegiance to a sectarian or confessional one, which has been highly influential in the modern political system. Hamzeh further argues that, with the establishment of modern independent Lebanon in 1943, new types of clientalism have appeared. He identifies zu'ama clientalism, party-directed clientalism, militia clientalism, and Islamist clientalism.

Militia clientalism, which reinforced the patron's interest with repressive force, was obviously the dominant form during the civil war. Islamist groups emerged at the same time and in response to the same crises, but Hamzeh argues that their emphasis on communitarian sharing makes them different. More than the other forms of clientalism, the Islamist groups were able to create a sense of belonging to the same community in areas where they operated. Their provision of essential public and social services meant they could bypass the politics of zu'ama clientalism. However, despite their participation in local and national elections, this form of clientalism has not developed beyond the Muslim community in particular areas and has remained sectarian or confessional

This essay is concerned with what Hamzeh calls zu'ama and party-directed clientalism, though these types are not always distinguishable in practice. As the position of the zaim is frequently hereditary and "politics is often treated like a family business" (p. 171), Hamzeh argues that zu'ama clientalism is similar in many ways to older feudal clientalism, but in contemporary Lebanon it is affected by confessional affiliation as well as kinship. Another difference with feudal times is that zu'ama are interested in gaining access to state resources. Wealth and office are important to provide clients with services, employment, contracts and capital. Hamzeh states (p. 172) that, "zu'ama clientalism has crippled the role of the legislature and eroded the power of the state. The erosion of the legislative and executive powers and the reduction of the entire political process to one of squabbles over patronage rights relegated to the zu'ama exceptional powers over the Lebanese state."

Modernization after the Second World War, with its attendent insecurities, created new needs, which Hamzeh argues were met by a new form of political clientalism, party-directed clientalism. However, the clientalistic network of the rightist parties continued to be underpinned by personal and confessional reciprocal relations, and did not lead to a new kind of identity, a sense of belonging to one nation. The leftist political parties, which had urban support, were not successful on the national stage. According to Hamzeh, "the failure of Lebanese political parties to develop national consituencies also gave the zu'ama a new lease on life" (p. 174).

It has been argued that patron-client relations play a useful role for individuals whose support networks have faded away in modern settings and who may not be able to take advantage of the opportunities created by open market economies (Gunes-Ayata, 1994). From another perspective, however, patron-client relationships are seen to be counterproductive for the nation state, because they interfere with the formation of a sense of belonging to one nation and work against any underlying notion of equality (Anderson, 2000). According to Khalaf (1977), the survival of patron-client relations has disabled the role of the legislature as a forum for national debates and consequently reduced the powers of the state.

However, although the zaim system may be seen as an impediment to establishing a national loyalty, Knight (1992) argues that it creates stability by representing a link between the people and the newly introduced bureaucracy which accompanied the formation of the state, allowing government to be more personal and less alienating to the population. According to Salibi (1988) and Salem (1973), however, not all political leaders have supported bureaucratic innovation because of their own vested interests and confessional traditions. Indeed, Salibi argues further that development is hindered by these client-patron relationships. It is not in the interests of the zu'ama to have the expectations of their followers met except through them. It is useful to be able to blaine the government for neglect and to cast themselves as the protectors of the people. Ofeish (1999, p.112) supports this opinion:
 Economically, the postwar state continues to face the same
 major problems that plagued Lebanon before 1990. Prewar
 patrons often came from the landed class and had provided the
 connections to facilitate services for their clients. Now the
 war lords-turned-business owners, along with the new
 capitalists, are providing both jobs and connections to their
 clients. This situation has made the clientalist system more
 socioeconomically entrenched and effective, facilitated by
 tight labour market conditions, which has tied the clients
 more tightly in their livelihood to the destiny and whims of
 their patrons.

In this environment, patronage interferes with the national socio-economic development because it overpowers political leadership and is associated with corruption (Jreisat, 1989).


Prior to the commencement of fieldwork, this research was approved by the Human Research Ethics Committee of the University of Wollongong, Australia. Akkar was chosen after reviewing reports on development projects in the area and available health statistics, and following discussion with employees of governmental and nongovernmental organizations who had worked there. To access the two study villages, key people such as the mayor (mokhtar), the religious leaders (sheikhs), and other prominent villagers were approached and presented with a written introduction in Arabic describing the proposed research and the procedures which would be used to gather data.

This was an ethnographic study, with participant observation and informal interviewing over a twelve month period the main methods of data collection. Some formal interviews, which were audio-taped, were conducted with some of the key individuals mentioned above. In those cases, and where formal group discussions were held, often at the invitation of the groups concerned, participants were given an information sheet about the research written in (formal) Arabic. As many villagers are illiterate, where appropriate the information was read out to the group and explained in colloquial Arabic. They were assured of confidentiality and anonymity, as were all who offered their views. The groups were all 'natural clusters' (Kitzinger, 1994), that is, people who typically interacted with each other, such as the morning gatherings of women. These data were supplemented with demographic and other statistical information, notably on the size of land holdings and income.


Very few villagers own lots of land large enough to be able to make a profit from selling their crops in the market. Many men have turned to unskilled laboring work for a living, but the opportunities the labor market offers are few and there is intense competition from foreign workers. As a result, many villagers do not have a constant income. In Ain Zeitoun, the olive crops are not as profitable as the almonds of Dar el Lawz and the average land holdings are less, so the dependence on the market for casual labour is extensive. Consequently, the villagers of Ain Zeitoun are relatively worse off than their counterparts in Dar el Lawz and many young men are leaving the land and migrating.

The aili (extended family) is still an important institution in contemporary village life. Village leadership positions have traditionally been held by the heads of the ailis (sing. wajih, pl. wojaha), together with the mokhtar (elected village mayor) and the sheikhs (religious leaders). Affiliation to political parties also provides opportunities for men to take up leadership roles. Political affiliation is not necessarily familial as members of the same aili may belong to different political parties. Party membership is more common in Ain Zeitoun and, as a result, villagers are more likely to seek wasta from politicians than in Dar el Lawz.


The wasta referred to here is the act of accessing from external intermediaries material favors such as employment, permits or funds for a development project, as opposed to the wasta sought from the village leaders to resolve conflicts among the villagers (see Huxley, 1978). Wasta may come from an individual politician, such as a local member of parliament, or a government official the villagers can reach personally or through others. Wasta can play a major role in men's lives, because the state is unable to solve their problems or meet immediate needs. It is the one successful method where others have failed. Wasta cuts through barriers to build, to get a job, to get a permit, to speed up transactions or assist in initiating projects. However, the men are aware that wasta builds dependence, as it requires that the clients be loyal to the patron, especially in election campaigns.
 If there were jobs and work opportunities without referring to
 politicians, we would be very happy with that. [has to]
 slide on his stomach and be grateful all his life whether he likes
 the politician's ideology or not. It's a very difficult thing.
 (Forty four year old man in Ain Zeitoun).

Not all men who seek wasta receive it as many of them may not be important enough to the zaim. The zaim prefers to give wasta to people who are in a more advantageous position in the village, such as a wajih or any man who commands the support of others in the village. This is in pursuit of the zaim's aim of increasing his popular support for elections or increasing his control of the village generally. The villagers who are not associated with political parties describe themselves as 'small' (sighar) in comparison to the 'big' (kibar) who are allied to powerful politicians. This latter term is also applied to the politicians themselves.

The villagers who support political parties and politicians act as their contacts within the village and to some extent derive their social standing from these connections. Since there are many zu'ama and several political parties, there are many such liaisons within these villages and conflicts may result. A zaim has a vested interest in providing favors to 'his' villagers. If a zaim fails to assist them, he loses their support to another zaim. Consequently, the zaim may prefer to preserve the conditions which force the villagers to depend on his assistance and which create the need for wasta. Structural reforms, such as the regulation of employment or the reform of land ownership, could deprive the zu'ama of their influence over the communities which they control. They may, however, favor small scale change which may be linked to them in one way or another, for example a development project carrying their name or which is known to have been funded or initiated by them.

A disadvantage of wasta is that it can be a cause of dissension. Those in the village who do not know a zaim, or do not usually access wasta, can feel threatened by the men who do and who are usually more powerful than them. They have a poor opinion of those who are perceived to use wasta to shore up their personal positions.
 He [school principal] is corrupt and has been accused of stealing
 the school money and spending it. They couldn't fire him. The
 problem is not with the man but with the currents that steer
 (Male school teacher in Ain Zeitoun).

Individuals are introduced to zu'ama, who usually reside outside the village, through contacts from their education, jobs (government employment especially), links to prominent organizations and political party membership. Lacking access to these avenues and contacts, the majority of the villagers, men and women, are not part of the wasta network and, as a result, they tend to be disregarded by the village leaders in decision making. However, these more powerful individuals do not have a positive relationship among themselves either as they are affiliated with different zu'ama.

The less powerful men. who want to limit the use of wasta, express the need for the government (eddawleh) to take over development efforts from individual politicians and from the men in the village who are their clients. These people are seen to be more interested in personal gain than village development. However, in their opinion, the government is occupied in urban development and has no plans for developing the rural areas.

Women do not access wasta directly. They have less access to education than their male counterparts and rarely work outside the family home and fields. They do not join political parties. Family life is strongly patriarchal in Lebanon (Joseph, 1994, 1997) and many of the village men and women still see women's main roles as the traditional ones of housekeeping and child rearing. The state and its institutions still treat women as inferior to men and so do the sectarian laws which the state allows to govern much of personal life, including marriage and inheritance.

Although they are not directly involved, the women are affected by the clashes over power and leadership which the men play out through development projects. On the whole, they blame the older men for this situation and look to the younger men (shabab) to be less troublesome in this regard.
 They [older men] oppose [any project] as if they want this to
 come from them only. There are some people whose minds are
 still old fashioned. Anything they brought into the village,
 they fought over it. And in a little while, if all the world
 comes in, it couldn't get their mentalities together.
 (Fifty eight year old woman in Dar el Lawz).

In Ain Zeitoun, the women made it clear that, although they are not usually consulted about political affairs, this does not mean that they do not understand how the system works in their village. They are well aware of the links between development projects and the competition between the men.
 You go and seek and you get a little money and you install a
 couple of pipes. I go and compete with you to get some
 myself [from the same source].
 (Woman in Ain Zeitoun).


The different experiences of the religious leaders in each village illustrate some important points about the use of wasta and development projects. In some villages, such as Ain Zeitoun, political contacts are required for a person to be seen as capable and powerful in the eyes of other villagers. The sheikh in that village is the leader of the local sports club. On one occasion, the members of the club announced themselves to be the village welfare committee and presented a request to a private organization owned by a member of parliament for funds to dig a well at the top of the village. The sheikh does not belong to a political party. Men with political affiliations in the village came to know of the sheikh's project and contacted people within the same organization. These opposing villagers managed to stop the project by presenting their own request for building a bridge at the bottom of the village and another for a road. They convinced the funders that their project was more worthy. Consequently, the well project stopped and the sheikh could do nothing about it. He is still respected as a religious leader, but he is not powerful and, because his development activities have been unsuccessful, he is not likely to lead change in the village.

Business contacts may be substituted for political ones in the quest for funding. The sheikhs in Dar el Lawz, for example, have been able to use their business contacts to access funds for projects in their village. In this way, they have helped to meet medical expenses for villagers and have obtained funds to build the village mosque. These sheikhs usually condemn the resort to wasta from outside the village, but they skillfully describe their initiatives as being from within the community and hence not wasta. This explanation appears to have been accepted by the villagers, perhaps because the sheikhs' projects have been successful. However, their actions differ from other men's only in that no political dependence is involved. Sheltered by their religious intentions and rhetoric, the sheikhs are also protected against any criticism for corruption and selfish motives, which is usually directed at politicians and their village supporters. As a result, they have acquired the support of the villagers who are willing to provide manual labor and help with chores. They are able to go on to other projects.
 Now we have the health centre project after the mosque. Mind
 you, there is no outside financial support at all--not from the
 public side, not from the state or any political party. Nothing.
 Just through my contacts as a businessman in Tripoli.
 (Sheikh in Dar el Lawz).


The following case study comes from Ain Zeitoun. It should be noted that the events recorded here are from the perspectives of the villagers, as the NGO officials concerned had left the area and it proved impossible to track them down. None the less, the sentiments expressed by the villagers show how they perceive the system to work and what the consequences are for them.

Ain Zeitoun has two sources of water; a village spring (ain) and a state public water supply which brought water from the distant mountains to a reservoir at the top of the village to be distributed through pipes to the houses. However, new houses were built over the years and the old pipes needed repair. During the civil war, the pipes were tampered with by other villages to redirect the supply to themselves and, as a result, water could not reach the main reservoir. Then the ain began producing less water than before during the dry months of July to October. The village needed an alternative supply.

A man who styled himself the 'village representative,' although he had not been elected by the villagers to speak on their behalf, met a UNICEF representative through his personal contacts. This man is the head (wajih) of the dominant aili, a full-time public sector employee and part-time self-employed building contractor. He is also a member of a political party and its liaison person in the village. He is used to assuming that he speaks for others. At that time UNICEF was providing assistance for water and sanitation projects in Lebanon. As instructed by the UNICEF officer, this man prepared a written request and UNICEF agreed to assist with the cost of building a catchment tank at the village spring, together with the necessary pipes which would carry the water from the tank to the main reservoir at the top of the village. The village representative wanted the underground spring excavated to increase supply, but UNICEF would not be responsible for this. The man decided to collect the funds for this himself. As he was also involved in the distribution of Save the Children food aid in the village, he collected 1000LL (US$0.65) every time he delivered the food rations to households and gathered the necessary funds.

After the spring source was excavated, the village representative called in UNICEF for their contribution of the catchment tank. The UNICEF officer contracted the building of the tank to him, paying him US$600 in installments out of the total US$1600 allocated to that part of the project by UNICEF. For reasons unknown, the UNICEF engineer left and never came back to complete the payments. Other influential men in the village claimed that the village representative stole the money and pressured the UNICEF officer so he did not return to finalize the project. The tank was built, but the extra pipes to the households were not installed and the project remained without a pump. The village women and children continued to carry water from the ain.

Four years later, three men, the school principal, the owner of the local on press and another villager who was an engineer and worked in the city, intervened to get a pump for the ain. These three men shared the same political affiliation which was opposed to that of the village representative. They contacted a Save the Children representative, whom they knew personally, and were told to form a community committee of four or five men and present a written request. The agency assisted them with a water pump worth US$1600 and more pipes, but required that the villagers contribute to the cost, which they did. The group of three also contacted a local member of parliament, again whom they knew personally, and he successfully obtained for them 3,000,000LL (US$1900) from the Minister of Hydraulic and Electrical Resources. The project ended with the building of a room for a generator and a pump to push the water up to the main reservoir at the top of the village. From there it was distributed to the houses connected to the existing public water pipes, although the new houses were still not connected. Water trucks which also took their water from the ain supplied the needs of the new houses and some in other villages.

After a year, the pump ceased to work. Each man involved blamed the others belonging to opposing political parties for the pump's malfunction. The group of three pointed to intentional vandalism on the part of the village representative. The 'community committee' which initially signed the request for the project was not responsible for managing its operational costs and maintenance. As with previous committees formed for social or recreational activities in the village, it was incapable of long term operation because its members belonged to opposing political factions.

The villagers resorted to different methods of drawing water for their households. Most installed a private pump into the catchment tank connected to their own pipes, which meant there may be at least twenty pumps working at the same time. Other villagers who could not afford this solution carried water in plastic or pottery urns on their shoulders or on donkey back or they bought loads from the water trucks. These trucks, profitably owned and operated by men from the village, were a cause of much noise and damage to the roads. After emptying the water in nearby villages or local households, they came back for more all day long. The villagers who collected their water themselves, mainly women and children, had to wait for the tank to fill up again at the spring after the private pumps and the water trucks had taken their share.
 They send a small child [to the tank] to fill water for them to
 drink. They find a thousand trucks have sucked it and it's dry.
 They sit there for an hour in the sun for the water to come...
 (Woman, 40s, in Ain Zeitoun).

The village women had been excluded from the project planning, although they were most affected by its outcome. The women in the ain neighborhood in particular considered the project to be unsuccessful as it changed the traditional structure of the ain and made it more difficult for them to access water. Apparently, the development agencies did not require that women be involved.


The role of the NGO officials in the water project is an interesting one. They did not assess the projects and their feasibility, but only asked for written requests for assistance and, in one case, the formation of a community committee, which was not responsible for operational costs and maintenance. The projects were not evaluated after completion. The officials interacted with just a low men already known to them whose views were not necessarily representative of the village. Their main function was to provide funds. It could be argued that their role was no different from that of any other zaim.

It should be recognized, however, that development professionals operate in a difficult climate. Baalbaki (1994) argues that coordination of development activities is difficult due to conflicting political and program prorities. Several NGOs in Lebanon have been established by political leaders in order to benefit their confessional or political groups and to enhance their own popularity through the implementation of projects by 'their" organizations (Mhanna, 1997; Sayyah, 1997). Mhanna (1997) argues that conflicts over political and geographical control continue to influence the type and number of local projects implemented, just as these conflicts similarly interfere with state attempts in development planning. Nonetheless, it should be pointed out that a majority of non governmental agencies functioning in Lebanon are non-political (Wehbeh, 1997).

Another restraint on the functioning of domestic NGOs has been fluctuations in funding. Securing scarce funds has become time consuming but necessary in a competitive environment. However, this has had the beneficial effect of driving some organizations to form collective assemblies of various kinds to coordinate their work and to maximize funding efforts (Mhanna, 1997). There are less beneficial effects too. Donors determine the work of agencies by promoting the project mentality, and this reduces the motivation for innovation and long term planning (Mhanna, 1997). In general, because funding agencies receive more money for money spent, their interests lie in the number of projects rather than their quality, or the approach used to implement them (Tisch and Wallace, 1994).

Haddad (1997) argues that foreign money, which fluctuates according to the policies of donor countries, has been more often than not barely enough to cover the administrative costs of agencies and hence has diminished their programs. It is difficult to instigate long term change through short term assistance and the temptation is to produce project proposals which reflect donor strategies rather than local needs. For example, even though many funding agencies now require that women be included, it has been argued that NGOs develop proposals targeting women in order to attract grants rather than to improve women's conditions (Carapico, 1997).

Funding bodies naturally desire to hold NGOs accountable. It is argued that this ensures that issues such as gender awareness, participation and sustainability are built into projects. In practice, accountability tends to be reduced to financial accountability. The fact that auditors are the primary evaluators means that recipient agencies concentrate more on getting right their administrative procedures than they do on staff learning and institutional growth (Shepherd, 1998).

Many of these issues were reflected in the discussions with NGO employees held prior to entering the field. They were engaged in writing proposals which, they knew, had to reflect the priorities of the funding bodies to be successful and they found this a difficult and frustrating process. Futher, some expressed their awareness of a lack of expertise in key areas such as needs assessment, community participation and gender issues, which would be crucial to achieve project aims. Given these circumstances, it becomes easier to understand how individual projects, such as that at Ain Zeitoun, fail to live up to community expectations.


In villages like Ain Zeitoun and Dar el Lawz, wasta allows any man pursuing community leadership a chance to gain it by accessing development funds and initiating projects in the village. This entails contacting development personnel or politicians whom the men know personally. If the projects are successful the initiator wins support from other villagers. If the projects are not successful, on the other hand, the initiator may lose credibility. It is usually men's perceived needs which spur them to access wasta to undertake development activities, such as mosque construction, sewer lines and roads. Other issues, which they see as women's responsibilities, for example health services for the children, are not among their pressing priorities.

Unlike the professional development project process, wasta does not involve planning and no meticulous analysis of the budget is required, because further funds can be accessed in the same way. Time is not an issue of concern as long as the outcome is eventually achieved. The chance to gain or improve credibility and prestige is part of the motive. If development agents are not aware of these issues of power, their projects are unlikely to be successful. Indeed, one of the interesting aspects of this study was seeing how NGOs can be co-opted by powerful, pre-existing structures.

The development activities of these village men are a top-down process. They do not entail or require other people's participation unless it is required by a development agency from which the men are seeking funds. The men are familiar with NGO requirements: the formation of a local project committee (often themselves) and a written request. Only the more powerful men are involved in the development process and play a role in decision making. Participation of the other villagers, less powerful men and the women, tends to be reduced to financial contributions. Giving a proportion of one's earnings to the less fortunate or to promote works of public benefit is a religious duty for Muslims (Sardar, 1997).

While wasta can solve pressing problems and lead to funding for much needed development projects, it also produces dependency for those who use it and can intensify internal village conflicts. The success of the project can be jeopardized as a result. This is one of the reasons why projects are not completed or are not sustained in the long term. The absence of state development initiatives in rural areas encourages the continuation of wasta, which allows some men to further their ambitions by influencing project outcomes.

There is a need for integrated infrastructure development for villages. Adequate water supplies and sanitation have still not been achieved and these are basic for health. Long term planning to accommodate changing needs as the villages grow and including plans for maintenance is necessary for sustainability. It is clear that ad hoc programs, which currently predominate, are open to manipulation by individuals with their own agenda. That change will occur in the short term appears unlikely. As Denoeux and Springborg (1999, pp. 171-172) put it.
 The state is not dedicated to the provision of public goods and
 services. It is not geared toward enabling Lebanon to meet the
 daunting developmental challenges that still lie ahead. Instead,
 its primary function remains the allocation of patronage along
 confessional lines ... Compounding the impact of this
 overarching struggle [between key political players entrenched
 in state structures] are rivalries among the sectarian leaders as
 they constantly seek to expand the boundaries of their

These struggles are played out at the village level. It is clear that village people are concerned about who is responsible for projects and who undertakes them. The majority have witnessed project failures and have therefore become skeptical. There is a natural desire to see their lives improved, but the less powerful are not able to take the initiative. Ideally, they would prefer development projects which did not require the use of wasta but, without significant political change, the powerful minority are unlikely to give up the benefits which come from their ability to access it.


Anderson, L. "Dynasts and nationalists: why monarchies fall: an analysis of old and new explanations" in Kostiner, J. (Ed.), Middle East Monarchies: The Challenge of Modernity. Boulder, CO.: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., 2000.

Baalbaki, A. [Arabic] Attempts in Studying Rural Development and the Local Community in Lebanon. Beirut: Dar el Farabi, 1994.Carapico, S. "Gender, politics and the state: what do middle eastern women want?" Middle East Policy, 5 (3), 1997, pp. 155-190.

Cunningham, R.B., & Sarayrah, Y.K. Wasta: the hidden force in middle eastern society. Westport and London: Praeger, 1993.

Cunningham, R.B., & Sarayrah, Y.K. "Taming wasta to achieve development." Arab Studies Quarterly, 16 (3), 1994, pp. 29-41.

Denoeux, G., & Springborg, R. (1998). "Hariri's Lebanon; Singapore of the Middle East or Sanaa of the Levant?" Middle East Policy, October 1998, pp. 158-173.

Eisenstadt, S.N and Roniger, L.(Eds.), Patrons. Clients and Friends: Interpersonal relations of trust in society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

Ellis, K. C. "Lebanon; the struggle of a small country in a regional context." Arab Studies Quarterly, 21 (1), 1999, pp. 5-25.

Gellner, E. "Patrons and clients" in Gellner, E. and Waterbury, J. (Eds.), Patrons and Clients in Mediterranean Societies. London: Gerard Duckworth and Co. Ltd., 1997, pp. 1-6.

Gilsenan, M. "Against patron-client relations" in Gellner, E. and Waterbury, J. (Eds.), Patrons and Clients in Mediterranean Societies. London: Gerard Duckworth and Co. Ltd., 1977, pp. 167-183.

Gubser, P. "The zu'ama of Zahlah: the current situation in a Lebanese town." Middle East Journal, 27, 1974, pp. 173-189.

Gunes-Ayata, A. "Clientalism: premodern, modern, postmodern" in Roniger, L. and Gunes-Ayata, A. (Eds.), Democracy, Clientalism and Civil Society. Boulder, CO.: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., 1994, pp. 19-28.

Haddad, A. [Arabic] "An example of coordination: collection of popular voluntary organizations in Lebanon," Hurriyat, Fall, 9, 1997, pp. 12-19. Hamzeh, A.N. "Clientalism, Lebanon: Roots and Trends" Middle East Studies, 37 (3), 2001, pp. 167-178.

Huxley, F. C. Social Exchange Among Villagers and Outsiders. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1978.

Hudson, M. C. "Lebanon after Ta'if: another reform opportunity lost?" Arab Studies Quarterly, 21 (1), 1999, pp. 27-40.

Joseph, S. "Brother/sister relationships: connectivity, love, and power in the reproduction of patriarchy in Lebanon." American Ethnologist, 21 (1), 1994, pp. 50-73.

Joseph, S. "The public/private--the imagined boundary in the imagined nation/state/community: the Lebanese case," Feminist Review, 57, autumn, 1997, pp. 73-92.

Jreisat, J. E. "Bureaucracy and development in Jordan," Journal of Asian and African Studies, 24,1989, pp. 94-105.

Khalaf, S. "Changing forms of political patronage in Lebanon" in Gellner, E. and Waterbury, J. (Eds.), Patrons and Clients in Mediterranean Societies. London: Gerard Duckworth and Co. Ltd., 1977, pp. 185-205.

Kitzinger, J. "The methodology of focus groups: the importance of interactions between research participants," Sociology of Health and illness, 16 (1), 1994, pp.103-121.

Knight, C.E.A. "Traditional influences upon Lebanese politics," The Journal of Social. Political and Economic Studies, 17 (3 & 4), 1992, pp. 327-343.

Kubursi, A. A. "'Reconstructing the economy of Lebanon," Arab Studies Quarterly, 21 (1), 1999, pp. 69-95 .

Mhanna, K. [Arabic] "Networks of nongovernental agencies in Lebanon," Lebanese Studies, Fall, 7/8, 1997, pp. 61-90.

Ofeish, S. A. "Lebanon's second republic: sectarian talk, sectarian Application," Arab Studies Quarterly, 21 (1), 1999, pp. 97-116.

Roniger, L. "The comparative study of clientalism and the changing nature of civil society in the contemporary world," in Roniger, L. and Gunes-Ayata, A. (Eds.), Democracy, Clientalism and Civil Society. Boulder, CO.: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., 1994, pp. 1-18.

Roniger, L. and Gunes-Ayata, A. (Eds.), Democray, Clientalism and Civil Society. Boulder, Co.: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., 1994.

Sardar, Z. "Beyond development: an Islamic perspective" in Tucker, V. Cultural Perspectives on Development. Frank Cass, London, 1997.

Salem, E. Modernisation Without Revolution: Lebanon's experience. Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1973.

Salem, P. E. "The wounded republic; Lebanon's struggle for recovery," Arab Studies Quarterly, 16 (4), 1994, pp. 47-63.

Salibi, K. A House of Many Mansions. the history of Lebanon reconsidered. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988.

Sayyah, G. [Arabic] "Organizations and the state," Hurriyat, Fall, 9, 1997, pp. 20-25.

Scott, J. "'Patronage or exploitation" in Gellner, E. and Waterbury, J. (Eds.), Patrons and Clients in Mediterranean Societies. London: Gerard Duckworth and Co. Ltd., 1977, pp. 21-39.

Sheperd, A. Sustainable Rural Development. New York: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1998.

Tisch, S. J. and Wallace, M.B. Dilemmas of Development Assistance: the what, why and who of foreign aid. Oxford: Westview Press Inc., 1994.

Waterbury, J. "An attempt to put patrons and clients in their place" in Gellner, E. and Waterbury, J. (Eds.), Patrons and Clients in Mediterranean Societies. London: Gerard Duckworth and Co. Ltd., 1977, pp. 329-342.

Wehbeh, M. [Arabic] "A guide to agencies," Hurriyat, Fall, 9, 1997, Appendix: 1-4.

Jihad Makhoul is with the Faculty of Health Sciences, American University of Beirut and Lindsey Harrison is with the Graduate School of Public Health, University of Wollongong, Australia.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Association of Arab-American University Graduates
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Harrison, Lindsey
Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Geographic Code:7LEBA
Date:Jun 22, 2004
Previous Article:Representations of Jerusalem in the modern Palestinian novel.
Next Article:"Jordan first": Jordan's inter-Arab relations and foreign policy under King Abdullah II.

Related Articles
Taming wasta to achieve development.
ARABS-ISRAEL - Aug. 10 - Israeli Teenager Killed By Hizbollah Fire.
LEBANON - Apr 2 - Bomb Blast Injures 4.
Lebanon's Aoun Returns.
Israeli Fence At Ghajar.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters