Cultural Challenges Facing Military Operations in Pan Arab States

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For this assignment the cultural manifestations I selected to discuss as being important to our Unit’s success are Wasta, Deference to authority, and Tendency to seek compromise. Of course understanding all of the cultural manifestations are important to our unit’s success, but each region within the Middle East-North African (MENA) region will have their own variations based upon which branch of Islam is dominant in the region, what that region’s experience has been with the U.S. or a Western presence in general and numerous other factors such as the prevailing socio-economic factors of the region. By way of back ground, I thought it would be helpful to point out that the MENA region is a pretty diverse area comprised of “have’s” and “have nots”. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are heavily vested in the region as they see the entire region as an emerging market with a gold mine of potential. The World Bank describes the region as “… an economically diverse region that includes both the oil-rich economies in the Gulf and countries that are resource-scarce in relation to population, such as Egypt, Morocco, and Yemen. The region’s economic fortunes over much of the past quarter century have been heavily influenced by two factors – the price of oil and the legacy of economic policies and structures that had emphasized a leading role for the state.”  The World Bank’s home page cites a statistic that says that “With about 23 percent of the 300 million people in the Middle East and North Africa living on less than $2 a day, empowering poor people constitutes an important strategy for fighting poverty”. And I would submit that it is an important strategy for winning the hearts and minds of the locals as well. For the purposes of this scenario I elected to choose a specific location within MENA, and that is the “resource scarce” region of Yemen. While we do not currently have boots on the ground in Yemen, recent events have shown that it is a veritable hotbed of insurgent activity and the U.S. government is actively engaged in assisting the Yemeni government to mobilize against the threat. With things not going well, for the Yemeni government, it is not too farfetched to imagine we could end up with forces on the ground there in just this type of scenario. Assumptions for this scenario include the assumption that your unit has been there long enough to establish a rapport with the village elders and that you have been in your position as the Team Leader for continuity and trust building purposes for that entire time. It is also assumed that your interpreter has been properly vetted and someone who will not have a negative impact on any negotiations you might engage in due to personal interests or considerations, social caste or tribal affiliation. Wasta: Wasta refers to third parties who can influence the outcome of events otherwise known as mediators or your “local connection”. "Wasta" may mean either mediation or intercession. It denotes the person who mediates/intercedes as well as the act of mediation/intercession. Wasta as mediation has a long and honorable history in the MENA region. In a tribal setting, wasta mediation binds families and communities for peace and well-being in a hostile environment. This face of wasta benefits society as a whole, as well as the parties involved. Intercessory wasta involves a protagonist intervening on behalf of a client to obtain an advantage for the client - a job, a government document, a tax reduction, admission to a prestigious university, or in our case serves to circumvent the lack of trust borne of unfamiliarity – often with suitcases full of cash. The problem with wasta that results in headaches for those trying to improve the economic conditions of a region overall (not for us) is that success or failure in a particular endeavor depends on the power of the Wastas more than on the merits of the seekers. This can be very counterproductive for entire...
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