August 30, 2015


One country's trash could be Hezbollah's treasure (AVI ISSACHAROFF, August 30, 2015, Times of Israel)

Tens of thousands of young Lebanese: Sunnis, Christians, Druze and others take to the streets of Beirut and demand the removal not only of trash but also of the old political elite.

"Change the system," they call.

It's the same demand that Hezbollah has been making for more than two decades -- a demand long written off by Lebanese, who attributed sectarian intentions to the Shiite organization's call for reform and viewed it as influenced by Tehran.

But the garbage crisis overwhelming the streets of the capital, spotlighted by all those young demonstrators hailing from a broad spectrum of Lebanon's ethnic and religious groups, points to just how bulky and corrupt the old system of governing is.

The system is based on the 1943 National Pact and further propagated by the Taif agreement of 1989 that ended the civil war there.

How Hezbollah helps (and what it gets out of it) (Melani Cammett, October 2, 2014, NY Times)

The provision of social welfare by Hezbollah and other Islamists is not merely founded on a material exchange of services for support. A variety of non-political motivations coexist with more overtly political goals in shaping Islamist welfare activities. A long tradition of charitable work as well as an enduring history of non-state welfare provision in Lebanon have compelled Hezbollah and other Lebanese sectarian and Islamist groups to offer social goods as part of their organizational mission. Visions of social justice undoubtedly also motivate these organizations to provide social assistance. Hezbollah may distribute or facilitate access to social services to fulfill altruistic commitments, present itself as the protector and guarantor of well-being, gain supporters or consolidate control over territory and people. In short, specific political goals as well as charitable motivations likely underlie the provision of social services by Hezbollah and other groups in Lebanon.

"Buying support" through service provision is not necessarily an economic or material transaction, nor does it always occur through direct exchanges. As in-depth interviews with citizens in Lebanon reveal, the receipt of services directly or by family members or neighbors may compel some citizens to vote for the political party associated with the provider or to participate in demonstrations organized by the party. Even for these informants and other citizens, however, service provision is usually more than an instrumental exchange. Welfare engenders a sense of belonging to a community, which has enormous psychological benefits, particularly in the context of underdeveloped and unstable national state institutions. The provider organization establishes itself as a source of social protection or a guardian of the community, however defined, which may garner popular allegiances. "Bricks-and-mortar" welfare programs, which operate from fixed physical locations in specific neighborhoods and villages, are particularly effective in establishing the provider as a community guardian because they signal a long-term commitment to a geographical space and its inhabitants. The provision of social services from bricks-and-mortar agencies as well as long-term relationships of social provision are distinct from cash payments or one-shot food distribution efforts, which predominate during electoral contests.

Welfare programs may also inspire support by individuals and families who have not received services themselves but who have observed or heard about the actions of providers in their communities and beyond. Service provision projects an image of organizational capacity and efficiency as well as a commitment to protect, which may garner the admiration or respect of observers and not just the direct beneficiaries. This is especially valuable for a political organization that aims to build a reputation as a reliable and capable actor - one that is qualified to govern. The importance of building a strong reputation cannot be overstated, particularly because it enables Islamists to cultivate a much broader range of supporters, potentially even among non-supporters or those who are ideologically distant.

The provision of social services is not the sole means that Hezbollah uses to mobilize support, but it plays an important role, particularly in a national context in which alternative sources of social protection are underdeveloped or absent. So does it work? Hezbollah and other sectarian parties in Lebanon clearly calculate that welfare activities engender political support, even if this is not their sole motivation for distributing social goods. Thus far, my own research on the impact of services on the recipients (the demand side) has been far less systematic than my work on the politics of provision (the supply side). However, extensive qualitative interviews with recipients and non-recipients of social services from Hezbollah and other groups, as well as circumstantial evidence from electoral returns, indicate that social welfare has political payoffs. Furthermore, Lebanese citizens have come to expect that officials and political parties distribute social benefits on a discretionary basis. Survey data indicate that voters themselves prioritize the provision of social services by their elected representatives in their voting calculus. In 2001, a national poll asked citizens who voted in the 2000 national elections to list the two most important factors shaping their vote choices. Over 50 percent of the respondents listed the social service activities of the candidate as one of the two most important reasons for their vote.

For Hezbollah, which has largely prioritized non-electoral political mobilization, appropriate data for assessing the political effects of welfare distribution are not readily available. Extra-state political strategies entail forms of political engagement that are inherently difficult to measure, such as participation in demonstrations and riots and service in a militia, and therefore electoral data are less illuminating. That said, a look at electoral returns from the 2005 elections yields some suggestive insights given that Hezbollah stepped up its participation in mainstream, electoral politics and increasingly sought executive offices at this time. In the Lebanese context, shifts in the degree to which sectarian parties attract support from out-group members is an indirect indicator of the political efficacy of welfare outreach for parties that participate in elections. Although data on sectarian trends in voting patterns are difficult to obtain given their political sensitivity, local analysts have generated data on party vote share by sect for the 2005 and 2009 national elections. Thus, it is useful to examine the degree to which parties, including Hezbollah, garnered out-group support in these elections, with the rather large caveats that the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and mounting regional Sunni-Shiite tensions undoubtedly shaped voter behavior. The attendant fear-mongering and intergroup conflict muted the effects of clientelism on electoral trends in recent electoral cycles.

The turnout rates for the 2005 and 2009 elections provide some insights into the political effects of welfare outreach, although the linkages between social provision and electoral behavior are tenuous for the aforementioned reasons. A comparison of the returns of the two elections indicates that Hezbollah increased its share of Christian support substantially in all districts where the party fielded candidates. This is probably due to the alliance between Hezbollah and Michel Aoun's predominantly Christian Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) beginning in 2006. Many Christian FPM supporters undoubtedly voted for Hezbollah to express their endorsement of Aoun's decision to ally with the Shiite party; however, the receipt of social benefits from Hezbollah, which placed more emphasis on a state-centric political strategy after 2005, may have reinforced this trend. In particular, in the aftermath of the 2006 war and the alliance with the FPM, Hezbollah embarked on an extensive effort to distribute social assistance to Christian families affected by the conflict. (At the same time, in the context of rising regional and domestic tensions, Hezbollah lost Sunni vote share.) The observable trends are consistent with the claim that state-centric political strategies garnered support from out-group voters for Hezbollah, particularly across Muslim-Christian lines, although other explanations cannot be ruled out.

Anecdotal evidence (and, for the education sector, test score results) indicates that Hezbollah is indeed an effective supplier of social services, as are other Islamist groups. I suspect this is due primarily to features of organizational culture, such as internal discipline and hierarchical structure, rather than to the faith component of their missions per se. Some studies of faith-based contend that religious organizations tend to attract personnel who are committed to their missions on spiritual grounds, making them willing to put in long hours, often for relatively minimal compensation. High levels of motivation among staff members therefore enable faith-based organizations to offer comparatively high quality services at low cost. Although Koranic injunctions to serve the community and engage in charitable works undoubtedly serve as a key motivation for many staff members of Islamist welfare agencies, the alleged Islamist governance advantage likely has less to do with religious commitments. Many religious institutions from Muslim and other faith traditions operate social service programs in the Middle East, yet do not all appear to offer services of equal caliber. Arguably, staff members at non-Islamist institutions are no less committed to religious principles than Islamists, yet do not have reputations for providing high-quality services. Furthermore, Hezbollah offers noticeably higher quality services on multiple dimensions than most other non-profit health networks, even when compared with co-religionist organizations.

Specific features of Hezbollah's organizational culture are amenable to the provision of high-quality social services. In particular, its coherence and hierarchical structure facilitate the dissemination and standardization of practices and protocols as well as procedures for staff training and management.

Posted by at August 30, 2015 7:50 AM

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