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

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies 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.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid