№ 4, 2021
Wasta as Social Capital and Legitimate Conservative Order
The article examines the relationship between the traditional group relations (intrafamily, clan, etc.) in the Arab society, which provide access to the political rent, and the processes of socio-political modernization and the building of civil institutions. The Arab governments usually explain the inefficiency or “deviations” in the work of such institutions by national characteristics, adherence to the idea of nation-building, etc., but never by the desire to preserve power and assets of the traditional elites that are based on group loyalty. One of the most common ways of accessing power in order to acquire and redistribute tangible and intangible benefits in the Arab world is Wasta, or a system of connections, based on group loyalty and client-patronage relationships. Loyalty to one’s group that almost everyone belongs to by birth or due to certain life circumstances ensures the interests of the individual in the broadest sense. Wasta’s network and group ties, based on the principles that are at odds with those that the civil society is built upon, impede the development and modernization of social and political institutions.
While researchers have studied Wasta relations as such rather structurally, both at the micro-level (from the social network point of view) and at the macro-level (from the institutional point of view), the attempts to build a holistic model that considers Wasta simultaneously from both viewpoints have not yet been crowned with success. The article proposes the conceptualization of Wasta as social capital, which makes it possible to represent this type of relationship as one actor’s “investment” and the other actor’s “loan”. One can also use this holistic model in the analysis of other informal ties inherent in other cultures but also based on group loyalty and client-patronage relationships and provide fertile soil for maintaining conservative order.
Grafov D. B.
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