The New Politics of Patronage: The Arms Trade and Clientelism in the Arab World

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Marshall, Shana R.
Telhami, Shibley
In states without robust democratic institutions, public resources are often allocated on the basis of patronage. This distribution of patronage, along with the manipulation of official institutions (such as electoral systems and the judiciary) and the deployment of the coercive arms of the state provided the formula for authoritarian longevity in the Arab World. However, much regional scholarship continues to focus on the process through which patronage is distributed with little reference to how the underlying resources accrue to Arab regimes in the first place. Such studies fail to interrogate the organizational and financial interests of the external institutions (such as oil markets and aid organizations) that mediate this transfer of resources, and how those interests shape methods and patterns of resource distribution within Arab States. This paper is an attempt to identify some of these institutions and patterns by focusing on the array of patronage resources made available through the arms purchases executed by regional governments. The specific class of resources examined here is reciprocal investment contracts that U.S. defense firms negotiate with procuring country governments in order to facilitate arms sales, known in industry parlance as `defense offsets.' Procuring states design their own offset policies, including the amount of investment that foreign arms manufacturers are required to make and the domestic enterprises where those funds must be allocated. The procuring state's discretion over the process allows us to draw some conclusions about how these governments distribute offset investment to strengthen incumbents' patronage-based support networks. This analysis also reveals how U.S. defense firms are able to influence the negotiation process in order to secure their own financial benefits. By examining how defense firms and their customers in the Middle East collude to structure weapons contracts in order to generate offset agreements that are mutually beneficial, we gain a better understanding of how patronage politics operates in the contemporary regional context. We are likewise alerted to the subtle ways in which influential external actors can insinuate their own interests into the process, and how the interactions between these groups create ever-evolving new opportunities for patronage politics.