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In chapter 5 of his book, Daniel Corstange examines in detail the political landscape of Lebanon and Yemen. Using a variety of different credible sources, the author not only demonstrates that both countries have an unprecedented level of clientelism (this fact is well-known and proved) but also outlines the primary causes and trends related to this phenomenon. Unfortunately, despite the substantial research work, Corstange’s analysis is incomplete. The author offers an overview of causes of clientelism in both countries but does not mention the dangers of this phenomenon and possible solutions to the existing situation.
In its essence, clientelism is absolutely similar to political machines that successfully functioned in American politics up to the second half of the 20th century. Both concepts suppose an exchange of voters’ preferences for material goods or services. Interestingly, Corstange (2016) mentions American political machines several times but does not draw a substantial analogy between them and clientelism in Lebanon and Yemen. At the same time, this comparison would significantly strengthen his analysis. For example, it would reveal that the primary reason for the appearance of political machines and clientelism is low quality of living conditions, economic instability, and absence of governmental support. Other details that Corstange (2016) outlines, such as religious background, unequal distribution of population between urban and rural areas, peoples’ distrust towards politicians, and the existence of extended families and clans are only secondary factors that shape the image of clientelism in the Middle East. A number of negative influences rises from the nature of this phenomenon, but Corstange ignores them almost completely at his chapter.
Firstly, from his writing one may conclude that although clientelism has certain flaws, it is still a win-win situation where politicians receive votes and ordinary people receive a material help instead of unrealistic promises. However, in reality, the situation is more complex. Like the bosses of political machines, those politicians who promote clientelism are not interested in providing goods and services to all their voters because they want to receive the majority of votes, not all of them. That is why politicians in Yemen and Lebanon focus primarily on large families and people in rural areas (Corstange, 2016). As a result, such a strategy only increases the economic disparity in local societies. Secondly, clientelism is not aimed at improving the lives of ordinary people because in this case, local politicians will spend more resources to receive the same amount of support. In other words, clientelism diminishes the value of a single vote and thus serves as an obstacle for the establishment of democratic institutions. All these details are not covered in Corstange’s chapter. In addition, the author does not mention possible solutions to the problem of clientelism. Considering the fact that this concept represents one of the forms of corruption, there are two primary ways to eliminate it. One way is to adopt a Chinese political model that successfully struggles against corruption through intensive centralization of power. Taking into account the religious landscape of Yemen and Lebanon, this model looks viable. Another way supposes the popularization of democratic values and improving the overall quality of life. In these conditions, ordinary people start to understand the real value of their votes and clientelism simply does not work effectively. Both solutions are complex and require further discussion but do not receive it in Corstange’s writing. All in all, the chapter in Corstange’s book leaves an ambiguous impression after its reading.
On the one hand, the author’s research represents a substantial explanation of the existence of clientelism in Lebanon and Yemen. On the other hand, however, it does not discuss the negative influence of this phenomenon and possible solutions to this issue. In addition, the entire analysis lacks historical parallels that could offer answers to some important questions. Thus, this chapter should be read as a starting point by those who want to get a better understanding of the current state of politics in Middle Eastern countries.
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