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Customary Governance

The Arab League has 22 member states, 14 of which have political parties. With the exception of Libya, all countries have either presidential or parliamentary elections. Parliamentary membership is secured in one of three forms: by election, appointment or a combination of the two—Egypt is an example of the latter category. Except in Lebanon, and for previous short periods in Algeria and Sudan, citizens are not able to change the government. The judiciaries in the region are not independent, which among other things has a significant impact on citizenship issues. Elected parliaments can be dissolved, as happened in Jordan earlier this year. Throughout the region political systems are able to limit political reform, and over the last 50 years peaceful transfers of power have been all too uncommon.
With regard to customary institutions, Arab countries display a wide variety of tribal, religious and sectarian affiliations. Sectarian and tribal considerations play a significant role in the selections of government ministers in many countries of the region. In Lebanon, for example, the state has adopted a system of allocating presidential, governmental, parliamentary and army positions according to sectarian religious affiliation; each religious group has a specific quota. For example, the president must come from one Christian faction, the head of parliament from another, the prime minister from another and so on. Loyalty to religious and tribal groups is stronger than adherence to the rule of law.
Relations between customary institutions and the state are also based on differing models. In the first model
traditional institutions control the political regime, as is the case in Yemen. Yemeni traditional institutions enjoy significant power, and tribes play a central role in running local communities throughout the country. President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who came to power in 1978, represents the largest and most important tribe. A year after his accession to power, Saleh appointed a number of other tribal chiefs. Some of them are engaged in business and are extremely rich as a result, other receive monthly salaries. In this sense the head of the tribal chief is organically linked with the regime, and in a different sense this is also what has happened in Jordan.