CfP: Networks of Dependency: Re-configurations of clientelism, patronage, and corruption in the Middle East and North Africa

10 November 2014

Networks of Dependency: Re-configurations of clientelism, patronage, and corruption in the Middle East and North Africa

International Workshop organized by Mohammad Reza Farzanegan, Laura Ruiz de Elvira, Christoph Schwarz and Irene Weipert-Fenner

Date: 21-22 July 2015

In all the uprisings that took place in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in 2011, one common demand was the call for freedom, dignity, and social justice. Citizens saw in the actions of the rulers an explicit violation of tacit political and socioeconomic norms, and thereby of the old social pacts that had been concluded in the 1950s and 1960s (Harders 2003; Hibou 2001; Zorob 2013). Yet we know little about the specific norms and social orders that people in the streets actually called for in 2011. Whereas most of the attention has previously been attributed to formal institutions and their procedural norms (and to their violations: widespread corruption and lack of accountability of the state, respectively), the informal dimension of (re)distribution as well as its power relations from the local to the national level has thus far been marginalized in the literature.

This international workshop aims at filling this gap by analyzing the development and the reconfigurations of networks of dependency (i.e. based on clientelism, patronage and corruption) in the region.

In MENA societies, like in other world regions (e.g. South America), networks of dependency play an important role in the access to material and immaterial goods and for the (re)distribution of private and public resources in everyday life (Ayubi 1995; Leca and Schemeil 1983). Political change – incremental or in forms of ruptures such as the uprisings of 2011 – can thus be only partially understood if these (sometimes competing) networks, embedded in unequal vertical power relations and contributing to the reproduction of specific sociopolitical orders, are not taken into account. Therefore, this workshop suggests using the notion of networks of dependency as an original point of entry to understand both the uprisings of 2011 and the different ensuing sociopolitical and economic transformation processes. The study of these networks also provides a promising link between different disciplines that deal with socioeconomic distribution (economics, sociology, political science, or anthropology) and may generate new insights into the cross-cutting developments that are taking place in the region.

We invite theoretical or empirical papers based on single or comparative case studies, as well as cross-country analyses, which address issues pertaining to one or more of the following dimensions:

1. Re-configuring distribution: norm contestation and concepts of state-society relations

The uprisings of 2011 have often been explained as the breakdown of the authoritarian social pacts dating back to the developmentalist states in the region of the 1950s and 60s. Such pacts were, in general, based on political loyalty to the ruler in exchange for socioeconomic benefits (Desai et al 2009; Ibrahim 1996). From this perspective, because of the neoliberal reforms of the 1980s and 90s that entailed states’ withdrawal from performing social welfare functions, informal clientelistic and charitable networks regained importance, but could not compensate the loss of security for middle and low-income households (Harders 2003; Haenni 2005). A similar but distinct approach to conceptualize state-society relations and their transformations is that of a moral economy, which was originally exemplified by the English working class (Thompson 1964), but was also applied to Egyptian workers by Martha Pripstein Posusney (1997). In contrast to the social pact approach, patronage relations and their relevant norms are understood here as being group specific.

The open questions empirical studies should answer here are as follows: to which extent can these two visions help us understand the outburst of the Arab uprisings? Which norms were contested and which ones were agreed upon in (re)distributional questions? Were the calls for social justice actually challenging the norms of the existing moral economy or did they express discontent “only” with regard to the implementation of the existing norms, i.e. their lack of effectiveness? Have these norms changed after 2011, e.g. in terms of emancipation from patron-client relations? Can different normative orders be identified nowadays, or is the overarching idea of a social pact still valid?

2. Re-configuring networks of dependency: strategies and instruments

In the analysis, we would like to explore whether the new political configurations that have emerged from the Arab uprisings have really transformed the previous “networks of privilege” (Heydemann 2004) in terms of the inclusion or exclusion of new actors and the clientelist strategies and instruments practiced by those who constitute them. Are specific networks expanding or shrinking in the post-2011 configurations? Do these networks reproduce established forms of patron-client relations or do they translate into new models and mechanisms shaped by the current transformations?

In the Tunisian case, for instance, the al-Nahda party has been accused of expanding and strengthening its own clientelistic networks upon gaining power, using the same old state clientelism that Ben Ali’s (and even before him, Burguiba’s) party had established. Interestingly, in the very different Syrian context, old families of notables that had been marginalized by the Ba’th party from the 1960s onward are now trying to regain a footing in society via patronage politics with NGOs and charities linked to the opposition. Are such examples an exception, or are post-2011 politics of the region more than ever entangled with networks of dependency?

3. Re-configuring relations between networks of dependency: competition, cooperation, and conflict

Studying social networks also entails analysis of “social entities or actors in interaction with one another and how these interactions constitute a framework or structure that can be analyzed in its own right” Heydemann (2004:25). Networks can be interconnected, leading

to situations in which they may cooperate, compete or even struggle over resources and supporters.

In most MENA countries, major shifts in these networks of dependency seem to be bound up with processes of privatization and economic liberalization that were launched in the 1970s and 80s, generating losers and winners. Did these processes create new networks that contributed to the destabilization of the established social and political order? Moreover, have new networks appeared in the post-2011 context? Do old and new networks interact, compete or fuse to create new networks? How are the changes between these networks related to center-periphery dynamics?

We are particularly interested in the interplay of specific networks, related to both state actors (politicians, state officials, military and security personnel) and non-state actors (private businessmen, NGOs) and how they negotiate their role in society and national economies in order to ensure their benefits in a changing world.

The papers may reflect different practices, discourses, organizational forms, etc., both in a synchronic and in a diachronic fashion. These questions should be discussed from a conceptual perspective as well as by contrasting empirical case studies.

Proposals (max. 300 words) are to be sent by 10 January 2015 to

We invite contributions by experienced scholars, early career researchers and PhD candidates. Selected participants will be notified by mid-February 2015 and will be expected to submit their papers (approximately 7.000 to 12.000 words) by mid-June 2015. Travel and accommodation for the authors will be covered by the research network “Re-configurations.”

Plans for a joint publication will be discussed among the participants of the workshop.


Beatrice Hibou 2011. Tunisie. Economie politique et morale d’un mouvement social. Politique africaine 21, pp. 5-22.

Desai, Raj; Olofsgard, Anders; Yousef, Tarek 2009. The Logic of the Authoritarian Bargains. In Economics & Politics 21 (1), pp. 93–125

Haenni, Patrick 2005. L’ordre des caïds. Conjurer la dissidence urbaine au Caire. Paris: Karthala-CEDEJ.

Harders, Cilja 2003. The Informal Social Pact. The State and the Urban Poor in Cairo. In Eberhard Kienle (Ed.): Politics fromAbove, Politics from Below. The Middle East in the Age of Economic Reform. London: Saqi, pp. 191–213.

Heydemann, Steven 2004. Networks of privilege in the Middle East. The politics of economic reform revisited. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Ibrahim, Saad al Din 1996. Egypt, Islam and Democracy. Twelve Critical Essays, Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press.

Leca, Jean and Schemeil, Yves 1983. Clientélisme et Patrimonialisme dans le Monde Arabe. In International Political Science Review, Vol. 4, No. 4, pp. 455-494.

Posusney, Marsha Pripstein 1997. Labor and the state in Egypt. Workers, unions, and economic restructuring, 1952-1996. New York: Columbia University Press.

Thompson, E. P. 1964. The making of the English working class.New York: Pantheon Books.

Zorob, Anja 2013. Der Zusammenbruch des autoritären Gesellschaftsvertrags. Sozio-ökonomische Hintergründe der arabischen Proteste. In Annette Jünemann, Anja Zorob (Eds.): Arabellions. Zur Vielfalt von Protest und Revolte im Nahen Osten und Nordafrika. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, pp. 229–256.

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