Wasta is an Arabic term that can best be translated into English as “clout, connections, influence, or ‘pull’.” The use of wasta is a form of corruption that involves using of one’s connections and influence in places of power to get things done outside of the normal procedures. Wasta often goes by the nickname “vitamin waw” because waw(و) is the Arabic letter equivalent to the English letter “w.” This nickname also highlights the way wasta gives the user power (1). John Slattery, an American who lived in Saudi Arabia for nineteen years, described wasta as such: “With enough wasta, anything can be done: any lawful punishment can be escaped, any employment can be attained, any problem can be brushed aside. Perhaps the worst situation a Saudi citizen could find him/herself in would be to be ‘wasta-less.’ For those who have no wasta, even simple daily tasks, such as opening a bank account or getting a driver’s license, can become obstacle courses that require considerable time and effort to achieve.” (2)
How about this…WASTAS are people who—-> Waste All Saudis’ Time And Sources? Can they be split into two camps: one set of wastas that help people only for worldly gains and the other set who only want to help others beat a corrupt system and ask for nothing in return?
Abdulla Faisal and Mukhtar Abdella are two professors from the Department of Social Studies at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. They carried out a study on 482 King Saud University students which is titled, A Methodological Analysis of Wasta: A Study in Saudi Arabia. According to them, there are five concepts of favoritism: exchange of benefits, fazah [tribal help], shafaah [charitable favor], personal relations, and shafagah [recommendation]. The results of their statistics indicated that only three of the five concepts are dimensions of wasta: exchange of benefits, fazah [tribal help] and individual relations. (3)
Speaking of universities, Khaled Al-Maeena (Editor-in-Chief Arab News. Senior columnist, Asharq Al-Awsat, Al Madina, Urdu News, Gulf News) stated “I have often wondered how candidates are selected for employment in companies and how well-qualified students gain places in our universities. And I also wondered how it had happened that the phrase “vitamin waw” — meaning wasta, an Arabic word referring to a person who can pull strings or use influence to help someone — has now become a part of our Arabic language and indeed a not so welcome part of our daily lives.” Al-Maeena also added that, “In the best Islamic society, justice and fair play should have the most prominent roles. There is no place for “vitamin waw” in a society that is genuinely Islamic.” (4)
My own Saudi husband has his source of wastas masha’Allah but he first tries to resolve the matter on his own footwork/handwork with trust in Allah and much du’a. Unfortunately there are times when even he has had to call on a favor from one of his wastas, an inevitable resort to cutting through red tape. He readily admitted that it doesn’t make him feel good about it but if he doesn’t have wasta then what else does he have? He is just one of perhaps many Saudi men of good principles who feels forced to go against his Islamic morals to obtain a wasta.
As his foreign wife, I do not have my own wasta…a human one that is. My wasta is Allah, the best One to go to when I need things done. And that is my answer to American Bedu’s headliner of the day, “Do Foreign Women Have WASTA In Saudi Arabia?” I especially agree with the last paragraph of her post in that the wasta system employed in Saudi Arabia is a never-ending cycle of give and take, take and give.
(4) Vitamin Waw
Do Foreign Women Have WASTA In Saudi Arabia?
By American Bedu
30 April 2009
WASTA is a way of life in Saudi Arabia as well as most of the GCC region. It is the tradition in which many Arabs do business and other interactions, both men and women alike. So what about the foreign women in Saudi Arabia? Do they have WASTA? Are they perceived to have WASTA?
There seems to be a common assumption that if a western woman has married a Saudi and is living in Saudi Arabia, then her husband’s WASTA has carried over to her. That is, quite frankly, a misnomer. The Saudi husband may indeed have WASTA but unless he chooses to extend it to his wife and his contacts are also aware of his good nature in this regard, then it does not matter if the wife tries to apply WASTA through her husband’s contacts. It is a man’s world and if she is attempting to use his WASTA on her own recognizant without intervention or known sanction from her husband, she could just as well be invisible. WASTA is something that is carefully guarded and selectively utilized when a request, transaction or facilitation is complicated or considered a major request. One may have friends who are known to have “major” WASTA but WASTA is something that is carefully guarded and not offered out to others.
But back to the original topic of this post on whether foreign women have WASTA in Saudi Arabia. Much of course depends on their position, where they are, who they are and of course what they are asking for requiring use of WASTA. I know of several western women who are married to Saudis and have been in the Kingdom for more than 25 years. They not only are married to prominent Saudis but they also are successful and influential in their own rights. These women certainly do have their own WASTA network. They have shared that they do need to be watchful of who approaches them. It is not unusual for others (men and women) to seek such women out not for who they are as an individual but due to the perception that association with such women raises their own status in the Kingdom and falsely ensures them of having WASTA as well.
Examples of how foreign women are approached and asked to exert WASTA include in finding jobs for others; facilitating healthcare and getting appointments with doctors who are usually booked up; assisting in marriage approvals; assistance with transferring iqamas or receiving no-objections; assist with getting children admitted to specific international schools. Now one may say, “what’s wrong with providing such assistance, aren’t those worthy causes?” Which it should be stated some women may indeed help out with such requests but the primary point is to not expect someone to readily avail their WASTA. If one tends to overuse their own WASTA it can eventually come back on them in that future uses of WASTA would be ignored or rejected.
Lastly, WASTA is a two-way street. When one seeks WASTA for assistance in achieving some kind of an objective, at some point whomever exerted WASTA will in turn at some point have their own request expected to be fulfilled.