If you live in Saudi Arabia chances are you’ve heard the word ‘wasta’ mentioned before. A wasta is a widely used term for a well connected individual in the Arab world. It refers to using one’s influence or connections to getting things done, cutting through bureaucratic red tape, having exceptions made to the rules, or assisting with employment or education opportunities.
The use of wasta (sometimes referred to as vitamin W) is endemic in the Middle East region and particularly in Saudi Arabia. The word wasta translates roughly to “connections” or “influence” and the Arabic origin means “intermediate”. In short, a wasta is a very influential person with good connections who can get things rolling for you.
Although using wasta is a common practice in the Arab world, the phenomenon of ‘who you know’ can be found everywhere in the world. Networking and social connections are forms of “wasta” in every culture. Some societies view using “wasta” as highly unethical, unfair and showing lack of integrity.
My home country Finland is one of these countries where using ‘wasta’ to achieve something is deeply frowned upon. It’s everyone for their own self, independence is highly valued. It would be considered shameful to land a job based solely on your connection, instead of being qualified for the job. This mentality can partly explain Finland’s rank in the corruption studies, where it’s frequently ranked the #1 least corrupt country in the world.
Coming from this background and upbringing then transitioning to the Saudi ‘world of wasta’ has been difficult. I had to accept the fact that wasta is a way of life in Saudi Arabia and the region in general, and that will not go away any time soon. I learned that I don’t have to accept and approve of the concept, but I can learn to deal with and work with the system the best of my capability.
But why is using these connections more widely culturally accepted and practiced in Saudi Arabia, compared to in the western countries?
The reason is because the roots of the wasta tradition are in tribal family structures. Saudis (and Arabs in general) have stronger social networks, and they will do anything in their power to serve family and friends. Saudis have very strong family ties and it’s not always about the immediate family, but the entire tribe. Moreover, in some cases it might be considered shameful if a Saudi doesn’t become a wasta for the people of their own tribe, even for relatives they’ve never met before.
Wasta can in some instances be more valuable than money and having wasta definitely makes life in Saudi Arabia much easier. It could be said that the wasta “system” is good only for those who are able to utilize it. For those outside of the system it can feel very frustrating and unfair.
That said, wasta in Saudi Arabia can work on all levels of society, just on different scales. Wasta shouldn’t be confused with the actions that come with it. In Saudi Arabia wasta is no doubt used also for the negative things such as favoring unqualified applicants for a job or giving out scholarships to under performing students. On the other hand having an influential wasta can sometimes even save lives.
Wasta is often used by Saudis to land a place in university or a job in management or other sought after placements. The sad truth is, the person who used wasta to obtain that position often went past many much more qualified candidates. That’s why many Saudi companies have incompetent and unmotivated staff. Because of influential wasta backing them up, they won’t have to fear loosing their jobs even if they don’t perform very well.
A wasta is sort of like a genie in a bottle, but better. Instead of three wishes you can get as many as you wish!
Watch the clip of the genie VS wasta to understand the power of WASTA ;)
Sign up for email updates!
Join over 6000 Subscribers and get our latest content and updates from Saudi Arabia directly to your inbox.
You might also like:
Hello there! I’m Laura, the founder of Blue Abaya- the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia, established in 2010. Travel has always been my passion- so far I’ve visited 75 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia! Follow my adventures in Saudi and beyond on instagram: instagram.com/blueabaya
Wasta is a funny thing here I did a post about it to awhile ago lol Saudis are something else :p
LOL! I loved your wasta link! My husband has access to some good wasta, but has too much honor to use it for his benefit. I love his honor more than his wasta! lol!
Definitely a corruptive tool..
LMAO It is unfortunate that this is what people need to get what they want, whether it be marriage, a job, getting land etc it is very sad indeed
in love with dis… do drop time on my blog too…
Kris-you’ve got one honorable man! Would he use it in emergency cases though?
Noor-yes, they are :D
Maharukh-thanks for stopping by, nice blog you have :)
Angel-true, it’s sad and it corrupts society, and it’s also unfair to people who try to do things on their own, have someone with wasta come and take that from you.
I sure do Laylah! He does use it to help other people though.
hi kristine. i dont know if i’m contacting the right person but ppl told me this blog is for foreign women who married with a saudi boy. i’m myself trying to get married with a saudi man but we are facing some difficulties. do u know if it is possible to marry with my saudi fiancé and make it accepted by saudi arabia in some months ? because some ppl told me if my fiancé is under then its not possible for him to marry a foreigner woman as a first wife. do u know about this ? at least do u mind answering me my questions ? i’m rly lost and i dont find that much information on internet. thanks for reading and i hope u can answer and help me !
I use to think arabia have monopoly over WASTA but in fact recently I found an interesting example of WASTA in the EU.
In the Wikileaks Wasta said to be wide spread in Greece. Wasta there called (MESON) and this quote from Wikileaks from US embassy in Athens:
”Using one’s friends in high places to get something done that otherwise would be impossible — a practice called “meson” — is such a standard practice that it is sometimes difficult for even the most forthright Greek to know where the corruption line exists”
So Wasta may be had been transmitted to Arabia through the translated Greeks books centuries ago.
Abdullah of Arabia-thanks for sharing the interesting example, I was not aware of this.
[…] than snails in terms of progress of the application. Permissions are given out for those with wasta, money to bribe employees or what it seems just randomly. They have a website with the list of […]
do you know the website or where can i find wasta to get the saudi marriage permission success?
i will appreciate your help
check http://www.yamajouna.com and future husbands and wives of saudis blog!
From Large Scale to Small Scale organizations, there’s always a wasta. It’s quite frustrating that a good and outstanding person gets left behind because of some people who have wasta.
Even back in the Philippines, wasta’s are mostly the politicians. In the societal view, we call them “Kumpare”
Laitoin sinulle Liebster Awards haasteen blogissani. Tama siita huolimatta etta, aavistan blogisi rikkovan helposti parin sadan kavijan rajan. Voit loytaa haasteen taalta: https://wanderlustmanaged.wordpress.com/2015/05/24/liebster-awards-blogihaaste/
Kiitos Kati haasteesta!
Yritan tehda aikaa vastata niihin kysmyksiin pain :)
I am American and married to a tribal Saudi, although he views wasta as highly unethical.
[…] (If you’re not familiar with the term wasta read this post: What is a Wasta) […]