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GIGA Focus Nahost

Corruption in the Middle East and the Limits of Conventional Approaches

Number: 5 | 09/2017 | ISSN: 1862-3611

Popular discontent over perceived widespread corruption was at the root of the Arab uprisings of 2011/2012 and of other upheavals worldwide since the turn of the millennium. However, the case of Jordan illustrates that conventional approaches to tackling corruption are insufficient. In order to be adequately addressed, corruption must be understood as a problem of distributive rather than criminal justice.

  • Like all other Arab countries, popular discontent over perceived corruption runs high in Jordan. However, what people refer to normally are not the usual cases of bribery and extortion, which remain relatively low. Rather, they refer to local practices of political patronage and favouritism known as wasta.

  • Diagnosing wasta as a form of corruption and a problem of legal justice has led to generally ineffective approaches to curbing it. Because wasta usually does not involve legal infringements, but instead takes place within formal legal procedures, conventional approaches to fighting corruption that stress the rule of law and transparency fail to address it.

  • Democratisation as such also does not solve wasta as a problem. In parliamentary politics, 

    wasta constitutes the bulk of the activities of any member of parliament. This contributes to the perception of members of parliament as providers of highly personal services to their constituencies rather than as le­gislators. It also contributes to popular perceptions of the parliament as a deeply corrupt institution.

Policy Implications

Wasta constitutes a problem when it provides differential access to common resources managed by the state. Therefore, instead of concentrating only on polit­ical and administrative reforms, development efforts should focus on rebuilding welfare-state infrastructure that provides universal access to citizens.


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The German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA) – Leibniz-Institut für Globale und Regionale Studien in Hamburg publishes the Focus series on Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and global issues. The GIGA Focus is edited and published by the GIGA. The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the institute. Authors alone are responsible for the content of their articles. GIGA and the authors cannot be held liable for any errors and omissions, or for any consequences arising from the use of the information provided.

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