Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Managing HR in the Middle East: Challenges in the Public Sector

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Managing HR in the Middle East: Challenges in the Public Sector

Article excerpt

Introduction

There is a clear neglect of investigation and reporting of Arab cases and examples in textbooks of "management," "HRM" and "international business." (1) Many such texts do not recognize the existence of the Arab world at all. However, in recent years there has been increasing interest in the HRM systems in the Middle East (2), a region characterised by extremes of wealth and poverty, instability and continuity, and high levels of illiteracy coinciding with high levels of educational achievement. The countries of the Middle East (ME) are very diverse in terms of religion (3)--for example, Sunni and Shia Islam, various Muslim sects such as Alawite and Druze, Christianity in many Eastern and Western versions, Judaism, and language--for example Arabic, Kurdish, Turkish, Farsi and Hebrew, a well as many minority languages. Further, there is a significant economic divide: whilst some are oil-rich and rely heavily on migrant labor, others lacking oil often rely on traditional markets, plus remittances from expatriate labor.

We will focus primarily on the Arab Muslim ME and the predominantly Jewish state of Israel. A recent special issue on Middle Eastern careers (4) included in their coverage Cyprus, Sudan, Turkey and Iran, which we will mostly exclude from consideration here. The most limited version of ME only includes Syria, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon and Palestine; broader versions include Cyprus, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, or even Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Oman and Yemen also. (5) Budhwar and Mellahi discuss HRM also in the North African countries, extending their definition to also include the mostly Muslim countries of Sudan, Mauritania, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia.

Geographically, we will focus primarily on the "Levant" of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel and Jordan, and the Arab heartland of Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). We will also include the North African/Mediterranean states, especially Morocco, and given the relative paucity of research in this area also draw on studies of Iran and Eritrea. Specific attention will be dedicated to the Israeli and Libyan cases within this broad context. After a discussion of the rising economic significance of ME and the need to analyze its patterns of HRM, we discuss the influence of culture and Islam on HRM, and in particular the significance of "wasta," or connections/networks in affecting HRM practices. It then analyses public sector HRM in the region, with particular reference to the challenges of corruption, integrity and nepotism. We will demonstrate our argument using the Libyan case and conclude with an analysis of the challenges facing public sector HRM in the region.

The Significance of the Middle East for HRM

The Arab World is an area of increasing economic significance not only for Western economic interests but also because it comprises a large proportion of the world's Islamic people, who account for 20 percent of the world's believers. (6) In addition, regions and city-states such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Oman, media companies such as al-Jazeera, and airlines such as Emirates have become key international players and highly successful in a globally competitive market, doing well in melding "the appropriate elements of contemporary HRM as practiced in leading-edge Western organizations to a management matrix that conforms to local customs and expectations." (7)

Dubai for example has evolved from a trading enclave to become the leading Middle East business/leisure centre, aiming to become a hybrid East/West economic, social and religious model that may act as a catalyst for change, (8) though significant difference exist between management in the ME and that in western societies. (9 Bahrain also has a national aspiration, seeking to be the financial capital and "Switzerland of the Middle East," utilizing good educational and health care systems, world-class transportation and telecommunication infrastructures, and a qualified and highly competitive labor force. …

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