News / Middle East

Clout and All that Goes With It

Multimedia

Audio

Throughout the Middle East and North Africa - or MENA - wasta is a currency more powerful than dirhams or dinars.  Wasta is the clout you get from whom you know and it can make every aspect of your life easier - from getting a new phone line installed to getting a foot in the corporate door.   In the past, wasta was the chief means of keeping peace within societies.  But today, most people agree that wasta is breaking societies down.

In historic times, wasta was the chief means for solving conflicts and managing relationships within the tribe or family group:  An elder respected by both sides of a dispute is called on to mediate a problem - say, a land dispute or to intercede on behalf of a groom's family in an arranged marriage.  Wasta could also ensure that the poor or marginalized got what was rightfully theirs.  

Robert Cunningham is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.  He is also the co-author of Wasta: the Hidden Force.  He likes to tell a story about how he first discovered he had earned some wasta of his own.   Cunningham flew to Amman, Jordan for a visit.  After the plane landed, he discovered the airline had lost his luggage.  He made many calls to the airline, which could not resolve his problem.

That is when he remembered a former student in Aleppo, who had a friend in the airline industry.  He made one phone call to the former student, and the next day, his luggage was hand delivered to his hotel.  

"I couldn't accomplish in several days what he was able to accomplish with a phone call to his friend at Royal Jordanian," said Cunningham. "It has positive benefits.  In the system, I was a disadvantaged person.  It was only by going around the system that I was able to get what I needed to get, justifiably.

Justifiably.  That's a key word when discussing wasta.  If you have enough wasta, you can get that dream job over a candidate who might be far more qualified than you.  You can get out of serving time for a crime or get elected to political office - and then hire all of your relatives to work for you, whether they are competent or not.

Persuasive

Lubna Alzaroo is a second-year student at Bethlehem University in the Palestinian West Bank.   She talks about just how persuasive wasta is. It's everywhere in your daily life.  It's one of the most common words used in daily life," said Alzaoo.  "Everybody talks about it.  When I talk to my friends about my plans in the future, they always tell me, 'Well, you need a wasta.'

If she does not have enough wasta, she may not ever get a good job. It makes me nervous," said Alzaroo.  "I'm going to graduate in two years.  Basically, what they are telling me is that whatever qualifications I have and whatever university I go to, if I don't know somebody, and they [don't] help me, then I probably won't get a job."

Wasta is not just a Palestinian problem.  It is prevalent throughout the entire MENA region.  Earlier this year, the Qatar-based youth employment initiative Silatech partnered with Gallup to conduct a comprehensive poll of youth in the League of Arab States.   It found that the majority of Arab youth perceive wasta as critical to their future success.

Combating wasta

Dr. Azmi Shuabi is a former member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and founder of AMAN - or Transparency International Palestine.  He says that while wasta is so ingrained into Middle Eastern culture and behavior, most people in the MENA region perceive themselves as victims of wasta.  "There is a feeling of injustice and sometimes frustration and loss of equal opportunities," he said. "There is no trust of those officials who are responsible."

Shuabi's group helped push for a new Palestinian Authority law which criminalizes wasta and other forms of corruption.   He now heads a new commission set up to investigate charges of wasta.  Those found guilty of favoritism could face from three to15 years in prison.  

But changing the law is only the first step, and Shuabi admits that combating wasta will not be easy. "We can initiate the starting, but we need the help and supporting [sic] of all the good people in the society and the government," he said.

Eliminating systematic wasta will also require the combined energy of educational systems, the media, and religious groups and even, says Shuabi, individual families.

You May Like

Anti-Terror Drills Highlight China’s Push Into Central Asia

China, Russia, several central Asian countries wrap up massive anti terrorism military drills in Inner Mongolia More

Erdogan’s First Step: Secure More Power in New Role in Turkey

Erdogan was sworn in as Turkey's first popularly elected president on Thursday; he picked former foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu as PM More

Pakistan Army Fails to Break Political Deadlock

PM Sharif claims he didn't ask army to defuse crisis; military rejects claim More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assaulti
X
Daniel Schearf
August 29, 2014 9:30 PM
After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.

AppleAndroid