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Wasta or Wasata (Arabic: واسْطة) is an Arabic word that loosely translates into Nepotism or 'clout' or 'who you know'. It refers to using one’s connections and/or influence to get things done, including government transactions such as the quick renewal of a passport, waiving of traffic fines, and getting hired for or promoted in a job.
In other words, it amounts to getting something through favoritism rather than merit, or what is informally spoken of in English as "pull" from connections (the opposite of "push"). The English word cronyism overlaps in meaning but is not precisely the same. Roughly equivalent words in other languages include Sociolismo in Cuba; Blat in Russia; Guanxi in Chinese and Vetternwirtschaft in German, protektzia in Israeli slang; in Brazilian-Portuguese it is called "Pistolão", or in the slang "peixada".
Wasta is derived from the Modern Standard Arabic word "wasaṭ"( وسط) which commonly means medium but also often means something akin to intermediary, intercessor or middle-man.
The system evolved to preserve the social structure of the tribe. It allowed for the leadership to distribute the tribe's wealth as they deemed in their wisdom and experience would preserve peace and harmony. They would grant access to opportunities to those most deserving or to those who would otherwise be left behind, at their discretion. It is also important to keep the tribe from weakening itself, therefore internal competition is avoided.
Furthermore, companies in the Arab world rarely have a ‘no-nepotism’ policy in place, so one can often find a workforce with friends and friends relatives who may or may not be qualified. This takes place in both the public and private sectors.
In many Arab countries, such as United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan and Lebanon, wasta affects hiring and promotion decisions. This is not restricted to Arab nationals but is also practised by expatriates who use their connections as wastas.
With respect to recruitment, there seems to be a movement away from this wasta, especially in the case of multinationals and professional firms. However, Wasta is still widely used in the region.
- "Where Nepotism is a Family Value". 2004-11-14.