Clientelism is pervasive in Lebanon and Yemen. Despite a veneer of party politics and an abundance of ideological rhetoric, day-to-day politicking in both countries centers on clientelistic rather than programmatic linkages. Patrons and clients do not link up haphazardly, however. Instead, they seek each other out largely from within their communal groups rather than across them.
People in both societies often lament this emphasis on communalism. One respected religious figure in Lebanon, for example, complained that:
We don't have Lebanese in Lebanon, we have Maronites working on behalf of Maronites, Orthodox on behalf of Orthodox, Druze, Shiites, Sunnis, and so on. They know they're not getting anything except via their sects.
Analogously, a senior opposition party leader in Yemen bemoaned how political competition in his country revolved around:
[It's] all the old divisions: mountains versus cities, Zaydi versus Shafai, North versus South. Everyone's searching: where's the money? … They're not interested in good government or the good of the country.
These two statements, and many others like them, illustrate a pervasive and much-lamented phenomenon found in both countries: people rely on their community links to facilitate access to scarce material resources.
This chapter elaborates on the linkage strategies that elites and their constituents use in Lebanon and Yemen. Consistent with findings from many other parts of the developing world, ideologies and programs fail to animate most politicians or inspire their supporters. Parties and leaders lack programmatic brand names; instead, they cultivate reputations as credible sources of patronage. Moreover, they use their community links to facilitate clientelistic exchange with their supporters. In doing so, they rely on intermediaries such as local notables, family heads, and shaykhs to dispense rewards and monitor voters.
PARTIES AND PROGRAMS
Party programs in Lebanon and Yemen are, for the most part, hypothetical: documents consisting of dubious promises to the electorate that few people take seriously. Parties typically couch their platforms in generalities about valence issues such as “good governance” that are light on implementation details,with the result that programs on paper do little to distinguish one party from another. Given their lack of content, few voters pay attention to platforms, which in turn gives politicians little incentive to invest in programmatic linkages. Instead, politicians cultivate reputations as reliable patrons in order to attract and service their constituencies.