The Concept of Wasta
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An Insight into the Concept of Wasta A Marketing Research Project
I. ABSTRACT – VITAMIN WAW:
Wasta is commonly practiced “act” throughout the Arab world which is frequently linked to using connections in some manner or the other in order to achieve one's goals. Wasta often goes by the nickname "vitamin waw" because waw(و) is the Arabic letter equivalent to the English letter "w." This nickname's connotation also indicates the way wasta gives the user power that isn't always so easily accessible to most people. According to previous studies on Wasta in the Arab world we notice that there are mixed interpretations of its true meaning; most times it was seen that Wasta was categorized to be somewhat equivalent to Nepotism. We also find that the concept has evolved through time and that it application is becoming more and more common in modern times and in some cases we find that some people link its use to bribery. The purpose of this research was to mainly investigate the most dominant understanding of the concept of Wasta and how it is used across certain groups of people within Dubai's community.
Before setting the main research approach, an extensive literature review was conducted on what was currently available on Wasta as well as on two similar global concepts that were used as a benchmark for the research design & approach. The primary approach to the research was done using exploratory research methods which included three major focus groups across three main cultural groups – Non-Arab Expatriates, Arab-Expatriates & UAE Nationals.
Interestingly enough, all of the respondents did not categorize Wasta as Nepotism instead they referred it as using connections to “beat the system”. All respondents labeled it as an unethical means of getting what you wanted; however almost all of the respondents felt that sometimes a person can be forced into situations to use it. We also find that a very small percentage of respondents linked the concept to money as it was automatically defined as “bribe” or the Arabic word known as “rashwa”. People found it very important to highlight that financial gain was not Wasta however it didn't mean that it was “okay to do it”.
The implications of this research certainly does not change the world, however it proves that there is a great need for more extensive research on the matter as it may re-define what is seen as a common practice of the Arab world and a “way of life”.
a. Problem Definition:
The word “واسطة " or “WASTA” is a popular Arabic term that is used within the Middle Eastern Region. We live in a relationship-centric culture where we often see how Wasta surpasses over meritocracy. This concept may be viewed by outsiders negatively however this ethical hurdle presents a unique challenge in that there is nothing discreet about it—Wasta is a part of the regional industry and culture, and is a norm that is accepted within the Arab society.
Wasta has seen as a form of privilege based on having the right connections. It is common to see business decisions that include hiring and promotion might be effected strongly be by whom you're related to or whom you know. In addition to workplace advancement, Wasta is also used to circumvent legal issues, to avoid lines in government agencies or to hasten administrative processes.
b. Importance of the Problem:
The purpose of this study is to explore the concept and the most dominant perception of Wasta among the population. We would like to see if there is any equivalent English word and to what extent can describe Wasta.
We realized that there is lack of available research of the concept and therefore try to make a contribution to the existing scholarly literature. We noticed that we there are mixed interpretation within different culture and Wasta has been misused or defined differently from what it was defined in past, when the original idea came from tribal culture to help and support each others.
What we would like to investigate with this research study is:
“What is the concept of Wasta?
We want to understand the different perceptions within society about Wasta.
III. RESEARCH DESIGN:
a. Type of design: Exploratory design
b. Information needs – Perception of Wasta
c. Data collection: Primary & secondary
d. Research Method: Qualitative-unstructured
e. Data analysis: non-statistical
f. Direct approach
g. Instrument used for collecting data: Focus Group
h. Questioning techniques – Descriptive questions
i. Type of Sampling : Non-probability sampling, Convenience sampling
j. Population & Sample size : 13 respondents
a) UAE Nationals
b) Arab Expatriates
c) Non Arab Expatriates
b. Methodology & Fieldwork:
As this study conducted in United Arab Emirates, its multicultural environment with more than 15 different nationalities provided a suitable platform to obtain insight and the perception of this population to define Wasta. The research design and the data collection method have been explained in details as below:
c. Research Design:
The research design used in this study is exploratory design. The information needed has been determined as the most dominant understanding and perceptions of Wasta which exist in society. Data collection method has been classified in two major parts. Secondary data which is obtained from the existing literature review and primary data which obtained from direct approach from the respondent. The research method is qualitative since emphasize of this study is conceptual.
d. Research instrument:
The research instrument utilized in this study to collect the data is consisted of a series of focus group. Focus group involves participant in an open discussion by expressing their opinion and experience which generate truthful data and information which helps the researcher to discover the practical side of subject. The outline of focus group developed in such way to discover the understanding and perception of Wasta among the respondent. Respondent were asked to define Wasta on their own words and based on their experience. The participants were sent invitations for the focus group and given assurance of confidentiality.
e. Samples and data collection:
Before conducting the focus group, we believed that the perception of Wasta vary between different groups within a given community. Even within groups, individuals would have gone through different experiences. Since it is not practical to meet with too many people in a short amount of time we thought that the best way forward was to conduct mini focus groups and to meet with a selection of people. The objectives of the focus groups were to help us reveal what the most dominant perception of Wasta was across the different groups
Type of sampling used in this study is Non-probability as generalize ability was not important. Sample type in this research is convenience sample. Participants were chosen based on three different categories in order to have a homogeneous group and get the cross sections of views from diverse population. The sample for this study included all full-time employees who worked in different companies and consisted of 3 groups selected based on the following categories in UAE:
* UAE Nationals
* Arab Expatriates
* Non Arab Expatriates
f. Sample demography:
As demonstrated in table 3.1, the ages of participants were between 25 to 45. More than 60% of the participants (61.54%) were male. Education level of participant was mostly at graduated level (61.54%) compare to post graduated. The respondents were mainly from the private sector (53.84%) and the rest equally from semi government and governmental sector. The majority of respondent worked between 1 to 4 years in UAE (46.15%) and only 23.08% worked more than 10 years in UAE who had more exposure in facing Wasta in different angle of their official and personal life.
Characteristics No. Percentage ________________________________________________________________________________________________
25-34 6 46.15%
35-45 7 53.85%
Total 13 100%
Male 8 61.54%
Female 5 38.46%
Total 13 100%
1-4 3 23.08%
5-9 3 23.08%
10yrs and more 7 53.84%
Total 13 100%
Graduate 8 61.54%
Postgraduate 5 38.46%
Total 13 100%
Private 7 53.84%
Semi Government 3 23.08%
Government 3 23.08%
Total 13 100%
Number of year worked in UAE
1-4 6 46.15%
5-9 4 30.77%
10yrs and more 3 23.08%
Total 13 100%
Table 3.1 Demographic breakdown of the sample No.13
g. Focus Group Questions:
After drawing up the theories on Wasta based on our literature review we have come up with the following questions to be used as a basis for conducting the focus groups.
a. Define Wasta and give an example of a scenario
b. What would you use Wasta for?
c. Define the dimensions where you believe Wasta is used? i.e. Business, family, careers, power etc.
d. Do you believe that Wasta is a form of social capital/social power/social status?
e. Give us a scenario where you have received Wasta?
f. Give us a scenario where you have given Wasta?
g. Do you encourage the use of Wasta or not? Why or why not?
h. Do you believe Wasta can be seen as a form of social solidarity – meaning a form of a good deed?
i. Do you believe that Wasta has changed from what it used to be in the past versus what it is now?
We made sure that the questions used for the sessions were open-ended questions that could snowball into discussions of many dimensions – but limiting it within the topic and trying as much as possible to avoid the subject from diverting.
IV. DATA ANALYSIS TECHNIQUE:
The result form focus groups rely on words and ideas spoken by the participants and presented generally by calculation of the percentages and in forms of table or charts. Three major method has been used to analysis the findings and results such as:
* Content comparison
To compare the content of literature review with the focus group results.
* Coding scheme
To assign the code to each definitions and create a table in order to record the number of times the definitions has been repeated.
To come up with the new concept based on secondary and primary data analysis.
V. LITERATURE REVIEW:
In order to understand the concept of Wasta, we tried to find out if there are other words and to what extent are able to describe Wasta. There are different studies by some researchers from different part of the world about Nepotism, Guanxi and Wasta. Some literature focused on family-owned business tried to identify the advantages and disadvantages that nepotism can create in organizations. In the managements of many outstanding companies, large or small, there have been brothers, fathers, sons, in-laws, uncles and nephews who are holding the key positions which can be beneficial and the same time harm the organizations
Toy et al. (1988) believed that nepotism can expose an organization to family fights and also can create a negative impression on hardworking and talented managers who get passed over those who share a last name with the boss. As a result, ambitious professional managers will be discouraged from joining such firms or companies or they leave the company as they face leadership succession. In contrast some believes nepotism is an excellent way to attract and retain a relatively cheap, loyal, and committed work force. Family members are a cheap and available resource of labor for the young entrepreneurial firm seeking to get going. Consequently, they are desirable employees in absence of recruitment program in new firm. (Hagen A., Maghrabi A.& Raggad B., 1998)
a. Summary on the Literature Review:
In order to understand the concept of Wasta, we did a literature review to see what was available. Below is a summary on the main points found under the literature review on Nepotisim, Guanxi & Wasta.
— Made up of “Guan” and “Chi”
— Personal relationship , special connections
— Used in eastern Asia specially China
— A major factor for conducting business activities
— Building the Guanxi network
— Ethics and Guanxi
— (Luo,1997, pp- 43-51)
— (Lovett, Simmons & Kali 1999 Vol 30)
— (Hwang,Golemon, Chen, Wang,Hung, 2009, pp 235-250)
— Comes from the Latin word “nepot” means nephew
— Favoritism shown to family and relatives
— Used in western countries
— Advantages of Nepotism
— Disadvantages of Nepotism
— As seen above Nepotism is a multi dimensional constructs.. Components of Nepotism are shown as below:
Family Nepotism Relatives Friends
— Wong, Kleiner, 199, pp.10-12
— Ford, McLaughlin, 1985, pp.57-61
— Ford, McLaughlin, 1986, pp.78-89
— Ali, Al-Shakhis , 1991, pp.81-102
— Hagen, Amin, 1994, pp.12-22.
— Hagen, Maghrabi & Raggad, 1998, pp 540-570
— Arasli, Bavik, Ekiz,, 2006, pp 295-308
— A Connection or influence
— Loosely equates to Nepotism
— Used in Middle East
— Linked to social solidarity
* El-Said & Harrigan, 2009,
* Loewe, Blume & Speer, 2008, pp. 259-276.
* Al-Meles, 2007.
Table 5.1: Literature Review Summary
b. Detailed Literature review on Guanxi:
The word “Guanxi” does not exist in any classic Chinese dictionary, but it is made up of two words: Guan which means “door” or “to close up” and chi which means “tie up”. The sum of these two words “Guanxi” is defined as special connection or relation. The word Guanxi is used to describe a situation when connection is used to secure favors in personal relationships. It is a complicated relational network that is used to nurture vigorously, ingeniously and creatively. Guanxi includes hidden mutual understanding and directs Chinese attitude towards social and business relationships.
Also, Lovett explains that Guanxi is a practice that governs the business operations in China as well as Eastern Asia. This traditional system works on personal and informal relationships that exchanges favors.
How a Guanxi network is build:
Lovett explains that “increasing” one's Guanxi network has a cumulative effect, this means that the larger the network and the more you know people, the greater will be the opportunity of building new relationships and enlarging your Guanxi network . However sometimes a third person works as intermediary and introduces a newcomer to a Guanxi network and assures his/her credibility. This relationship and connection can also be built by exchange of gifts. Lovett explains this process as follows – Firstly, when the right person has been identified and the familiarities has been discussed between the two. The next step is to select a professional way to signal indirectly to the other party what the intensions are on involving such connections and what kind of exchange is expect. Also the person needs to find out if the other party is willing to offer favor and aid in return for a present and what would be his preference in a gift. These questions need to be asked skillfully and yet indirectly to deliver the message, for example the person can meet with the right person who can help him and after starting a conversation can for instance say that “Your watch looks old, maybe you would like to change it with a new digital one, and I know some good one …”, and therefore the request for help can be asked within this conversation or after the gift is delivered.
The Ethics Behind Guanxi:
According to Lovett, in Western society Guanxi is perceived as a form of corruption but in eastern Asia there are mixed opinions on the concept. Lovett argues that although in the West it is believed that practicing Guanxi in business is unethical but since there is no global standards of ethics available for people to evaluate it. Also he argues that Guanxi is totally different than bribery since, Guanxi is about building long term relationships and bribery is just an elicit transaction.
On the other hand, Hwang had conducted a survey on the perception of Guanxi in Taiwan. His findings show that people in Taiwan believe that although the connections linked to Guanxi are not unethical, however it can be misused for personal gains .
c. Detailed Literature Review on Nepotism:
Webster”s 3rd Dictionary defines nepotism as “favoritism shown to nephews and other relatives. Nepotism provides privilege for unqualified or under-qualified relatives simply by virtue of their relationship with an employee, officer, or shareholder in the firm. As people have desire to favor the family member and relatives, if any of them need a job, taking care of him or her wins out over the business imperative and here is where the conflict arises because it seems unfair for employees who expect fairness from the company.
Family-dominated operations sacrifice the success of companies and its profitability for the sake of taking care of families and relatives which discourages talented and qualified managers from joining the company and reduce the commitment and dedication of the present employees. Even a son or daughter, who is talented in certain fields, may not offer the right mix of talents that a company needs at a crucial moment in its history. The person who goes into a family business has a readymade laboratory in which to learn, but experts advise that potential nepotee should not join family business when they just getting out of school, they have to do whatever will allow them to develop their own sense of competence. Few people understand or sympathize with children born with silver spoons. But sons or daughters interested in the family business need to have the chance to be tested before they assume control of the firm. (Wong & Kleiner, 1994)
Nepotism in Latin means “nepot” or “nephew” which defined today as the employment of relatives in the same organization ( Ford and McLaughlin, 1986). The negative connotation of this word goes back to the time that renaissance pops were trying to get their nephews a high level position in the offices despite their low qualifications and skills. ( Ford and McLaughlin, 1985)
Studies conducted in USA, identified various advantages and disadvantages of Nepotism which can influence the organizations' performance.
- Nepotism is good for the small or new family-owned organization
- Nepotism allows potential employees who might be effective contributors rather than employees simply because they are related by blood or marriage
- Nepotism provides a positive family-oriented environment for all employees - relatives and non-relatives
- Nepotism reduces morale for employee in terms of supervision of high-level executives by relatives and granting promotions which are given unjustifiably to a relative
- Nepotism puts unfair pressure on the “nepot” as relative tends to be unsure of organizational rewards whether earned by performance or being who he or she is.
- Nepotism exposes the organization to family conflicts over managerial succession
The same time studies showed that the cultural structure in Arab world has its origin in tribal and extended-family. The harsh desert environment, tribal and Islamic traditions produced qualities of endurance, ferocity, pride, individuality and generosity among the Bedouins. Individuals are hold responsible towards their family & tribes which requires a strong commitment; therefore it is encouraging nepotism in Arab society if it concerns relatives. Religion is an important factor, but it does not mean as helping relatives in anyway. Ali and Al-Shakhis (1991) as seen in (Hagen, Maghrabi & Raggad, 1998)
Major factors behind nepotism in Arab countries include:
- Socio-cultural structure and behaviors, tribal and extended-family ties shape the individual and societal value, norm, and behaviors in Arab society.
- Economic structure, the basic economic structure is based on agriculture and limited industry, except the oil rich countries, it has a high unemployment rate, which creates higher level of competition for limited job opportunities invites nepotism to play a major role in providing jobs for family and relatives.
- Educational structure, The educational systems in Third World countries (e.g. Egypt or Jordan) creates imbalance in labor market as students pursue to degrees in traditional types such as local administrators and military personnel instead of technical skills needed in industry which encourage nepotism to play a major role in finding jobs for relatives and friends in public sectors.
- Political structure, The public sectors in Arab independent states are the largest employers, leaving only small room for the private sector which results to assigning the educated tribal chiefs and their sons to key public positions to buy their loyalties. Chiefs of tribes in turn, used their influence to help relatives and friends to find jobs in the public sector or in the military organizations where jobs are more available than in the private sectors (Hagen and Amin, 1994; Muhammed, 1987; Shackle, 1972) as seen in (Hagen, Maghrabi & Raggad, 1998)
As a result of above study, Cultural differences slightly affected the perception toward nepotism in developed and less developed countries and it varies for those had bad experiences, others who had no experiences, and some who had good experiences with situations involving nepotism in both countries. (Hagen, Maghrabi & Raggad, 1998)
Abdalla et al. (1998) state that nepotism is derived from the Latin word Nepot (nephew) and It is defined as the employment of relatives in the same organization. The longman dictionary of Contemporary English defines nepotism as “the practice of favoring one's relatives when one has power or a high office, especially by giving them good jobs”. To be more specific, nepotism is a certain type of conflict of interest.
In nepotism-oriented businesses, the employee may not be sufficiently motivated. If nepotism is felt intensively, holding managerial or non managerial position does not make any difference in having difficulty to promote the employee if they compete with the one who has a family member, relative or friends in the higher level position in that organization. Nepotism can also influence the level of employee's satisfaction as well as the behavioral intentions such as leaving the company and negative word of mouth.
Managers believe that satisfied employees perform in higher level of productivity, work beyond their job description, do not represent higher level of absenteeism and have less quitting intent in their job. Employees with quitting intentions tend to say negative things about their organizations and engage in negative word of mouth.
Although family members are the desirable employees, but the owners have to be fair and open among the employees. Higher levels of perceived justice and satisfaction encourage the employees to be more loyal and committed to their organization. (Arasli, Bavik &Ekiz, 2006)
As seen above Nepotism is a multi dimensional constructs. Components of Nepotism are shown as below:
d. Detailed Literature Review on Wasta:
Definition of Wasta:
‘‘Wasta'' loosely equates to nepotism. ‘‘Wasta''. In the Middle East ‘‘Wasta'' is well known, understood and tolerated rather than accepted by all.
Wasta is seen as a form of social capital in the Arab world. It's started as a practice from historic Arabic Tribal times and even in the present day an important feature of social, economic, and political life.
It literally means ‘‘to employ a middle man, a broker, a go-between or an intermediary—usually a person of high social status and accepted rank—to achieve one's ends” (Fathi,1993, p. 61)
In modern language, Wasta means a connection or influence. It is important to further clarify the difference between the concepts of Wasta and social solidarity (takaful al Ijtima'i). Social Solidarity is an important form of bonding SC, while Wasta is potentially more a form of bridging SC. Although originally both were socially constructed concepts, social solidarity is strengthened by Islam's emphasis on social cohesion, charity, social justice, collective responsibility for the welfare of society, and the duty to help the poor and those in need at all times and regardless of economic and social circumstances.. For example, the Quran, the primary source of Islamic law, ‘‘uses the word ‘justice' more than a thousand times. . . based on ‘goodwill'” and benefit to Muslim society (Richards & Waterbury, 1996, p. 351).
Confusing Perceptions of Wasta in Jordan:
Perception of Wasta is unclear. Many disapprove of it; they say that the use of Wasta is unfair for those who do not have good connections. Others, however, endorse it because it can help people to enforce their rights. Some Jordanians consider it as a form of corruption, while others believe that “Wasta is not corruption, because it is not linked to money.” A third group of people claim that Wasta is a form of corruption when it serves to over-ride the law but not if it is merely used to speed up a procedure. For this reason, many Jordanians legitimize the use of Wasta in at least some situations, while almost everybody condemns bribery. Furthermore, a lot of interview partners stated that the use of Wasta was closely linked to traditional values and social norms and therefore “an integral part of the Jordanian culture.”
Reasons for using Wasta:
- They do not see any alternative for achieving their goals.
- People go on using their Wasta as long as everybody else does the same.
- Many people associate the use of Wasta with cherished values, such as solidarity or loyalty, i.e. they believe that the use of Wasta is part of their culture.
- Jordan's administrative and political system lacks transparency and accountability on all levels.
Levels of Wasta: In the article they divide the “Levels” of Wasta
- Macro Level (i.e State Level)
On the State Level Wasta is used as important source of influence and connection for families and tribes inside the state apparatus, using their power and positions within in state bodies to “get things done”
- Micro Level (i.e. Society Level)
At the society level people kept the formal governmental system out of their affairs. They continued to solve their disputes and manage their resources informally and through traditional social customs and norms. Tribes ensured that members of the same family and kin lived and worked together, therefore facilitating cooperation and maintaining the durability of family ties and social networks (Amadouny, 1994).
Past VS Present:
Wasta' has changed over time from its tribal roots to becoming a national and organizational norm. In the past people helped friends or families for reasons of power and prestige, latterly, these same people can now seek financial recompense or rewards.
In the past, respect from the community was the highest reward that a Wasta performer aimed for, mainly from tribal shaykhs and notables. Success in solving a conflict led to praise and enhanced the popularity and social and political status of the whole tribe. (Fathi, 1993).
Today, a Wasta performer no longer seeks social recognition and respect as the main reward for his/her efforts. Today, Wasta performers expect material gains for their efforts, even witht heir own relatives and family members (Malhas, 1993).
This new practice led to what Cunningham and Sarayrah (1993, p. 14) described as ‘‘contract-based Wasta,” a process which not only leads to further isolation and exclusion of the poor, but also keeps the doors (and pockets) of officials wide open for bribery and corruption.
Dimensions of Wasta:
- To cope with the pressures of daily life in an environment characterized by general scarcity.
- Wasta can speed up procedures and get exclusive access to services and information.
- Wasta, came to determine almost everything from jobs in the state sector, to access to elite education and quality health services to simple rights and entitlements such as the acquisition of a passport or a driving license.
- Establishment of strong business and social networks, where Wasta also played an important role in facilitating the choice of business partners and even laborers.
- Access to loans, cash assistance & discounted health services.
- Wasta was used even in the Judicial system
- Getting acceptance into universities
Drawbacks of using Wasta in Organizations:
The practice of using ‘Wasta' in terms of selection, recruitment and development of people is often don't always ensure that you end up having the best and most appropriate person for the job. With ‘Wasta' a person often seeks to obtain a position or post that otherwise they would not achieve by using the normal process or practice that lie within open and fair competition. Therefore often by the use of ‘Wasta' organizations are denying themselves of the opportunity to get the best people from the market and handing them to their competitors.
VI. CHARACTERISTICS OF WASTA:
From the literature review on Wasta that has been found, we have summarized a few characteristics on Wasta that the research has been based on.
a. ‘‘Wasta'' loosely equates to nepotism - a connection or influence
b. To employ a middle man, a broker, a go-between or an intermediary to achieve one's ends
c. Wasta is seen as a form of social capital in the Arab world
d. Dimensions of the use of Wasta:
iii. Governmental Affairs or Services
vi. Judicial System
vii. Banking & Cash Assistance
viii. Access to services & information
— There is a difference between Wasta and social solidarity.
— Three Types of Ethical Perception of Wasta:
1. Wasta is unacceptable
2. Wasta should be endorsed
3. Wasta is unacceptable – but it's ok to use it sometimes
— Wasta' has changed over time - In the past people helped people to gain power and prestige, now people seek financial compensation or rewards
VII. CRITIQUE OF LITERATURE REVIEW:
After having analyzed the literature and articles on Wasta, there have been some very obvious points that had to be considered or even “challenged” before starting the focus groups. They are as follows:
a. ‘‘Wasta'' loosely equates to nepotism – or is it?
As referred under the literature review under Nepotism it is noticed that nepotism is very much referred to favoritism displayed towards family and close friends. In the articles analyzed equates Wasta to Nepotism, however when further analyzing the literature review on Wasta we find that it is not just extended to people who are close.
b. Generalization of Wasta in the Arab World – the articles found on Wasta very much look into how Wasta is used in mostly Jordan and a very small percentage of information is available on Gulf countries such as the UAE & Kuwait. The articles on Wasta in Jordan have very much generalized the way Wasta is used and is part of the whole Arab culture. The articles do not acknowledge that it is possible that Wasta varies depending on which Arab country it is used in.
c. We find that the available information doesn't clearly define Wasta and its perceptions. There are many mixed perceptions of what a clear definition on Wasta from article to article.
d. What the literature is indicating is that Wasta is a way of life for Arabs, at the same time it is indicating that it is a form of corruption widely practiced in the Arab world.
e. The literature generalizes that modern day Wasta is based on material & financial gain – is this so? This is contradicting as it is assuming that no one practices Wasta anymore for the sake of helping someone out of the good of their heart or to gain social status.
VIII. FOCUS GROUP DISCUSSIONS:
As mentioned previously, the research sample consisted of 3 groups selected based on the following categories in UAE:
a. Non Arab Expatriates
b. Arab Expatriates
c. UAE Nationals
a. Non-Arab Expatriates:
The finding from Non Arab Expatriates resulted of having different perceptions of Wasta. Some percentage of respondents believed that Wasta is reference and without reference is hard to do anything on priority. Some respondent defined Wasta of having connections and influential power based on network and relationship. Through having the right connection they could achieve something which was almost impossible in normal circumstances.
Some believed that prevalent laws were not defined clearly so lots of decisions are made by the persons who handle the job and service which varies based on contacts and influential power. Some respondents declared that even mood of the employee who handles the job effects on the quality of service, regardless of holding the necessary document in hand; the document may be rejected if they cannot develop their relationship with the concern employee.
Respondent referred to the mixed culture of UAE and different expectations arise if they use Wasta, so they have to do something in return but not necessarily money. Knowing the local language (Arabic) was the other element referred by respondent in this focus group as this group was non Arabic speaking, they had experiences that due to not knowing the language they could not done their job done as easily as the Arabic speaking community and they interpreted this as some form of Wasta.
Respondent who was forced by situation to use Wasta believed that it was an unfair approach and did not leave them a good feeling but they had no choice as in Middle East this and is a form of getting the work done.
Finally, a high percentage of respondent agreed that if system works properly in society, there is no need of using Wasta. Wasta is unethical and woks around the rule. Wasta creates unfair advantages which make the business weaker and takes away the competition as negative aspects of relationship which harms the society.
After analyzing the respondents' answers from the Arab-Expatriates group, we can report that their perception of Wasta is based on using the power of connections for doing favors for those who need help. According to the respondents Wasta can be used in governmental situations such as car registration process, fine payments, immigration offices, as well as finding jobs and dealing with medical insurance. One example that was illustrated by one of the respondents was that while renewing her car registration, she used Wasta for skipping the queue and getting a waiver on the amount she had to pay.
There were opposing opinions on whether Wasta is a form of social capital and power or not. One opinion was that , it is not necessary to have power or feel powerful while giving Wasta , as they believed that these days anyone can give Wasta if they have the means. However the opposite opinion was that, the person who gives Wasta is usually someone who is to in a high position and has enough power to perform Wasta.
When the respondents were asked about the moralities behind using Wasta and whether it was unethical or not, their answer was that everyone needed to be treated the same and there should not be any preferences made, and even though Wasta is unethical to use, they indicated situations that you could not do anything BUT use it in order to get a chance because everybody else used it so that wouldn't get left behind.
The respondents also believed that society had taken the act of Wasta too far from where its origin. According to them it came from the time when there were different tribes in Arab culture and each tribe had a Sheikh (an elder) who used to help everyone with their problems. But nowadays the concept has changed and everyone uses Wasta for minor and insignificant matters such as skipping the lines or breaking a rule which everybody else have to follow.
c. UAE Nationals:
Out of all the three groups we found that UAE Nationals were the most opinionative about the topic and had no fear in voicing their thoughts on the sensitive topic.
The main understanding of the word Wasta to the UAE Nationals group was that it was an act of attaining a certain goal through using personal contacts or relationships. Some people referred it as a network or connections that could be used for social or political purposes and compared it to lobbying in some sense. One person defined it as asking someone in a powerful position to do something for you in no time. Some defined it as the sense of giving opportunities where it doesn't exist – a way of going above the usual guidelines or set procedures. Some people even described Wasta by using examples of how some people by pass laws to get to what they want.
When asked where they believed Wasta was being used in modern day society, they listed out the following scenarios:
- To get things done where a system doesn't exsist or is flawed
- Getting a job or any other career related matters
- Ministry or any other governmental related services – such as immigration
- Educational purposes for example getting your child to get accepted in a good school
- Getting a house from the government
- Getting a loan
- Canceling your fines
- Getting married
- Getting a good rate from a supplier
- Even just to get a meeting for professional reasons
- To jump the queue
Therefore the dimensions we could categorize these in are as follows:
iii. Family Matters
iv. Governmental Services
v. Professional Reasons
Most of the respondents do understand how Wasta came to existence – the concept of acting as a connector between people when necessary. But all of the respondents indicated that modern day Wasta has been taken to a completely different level then what it used to be – they believe that the act of Wasta has been taken advantage of and abused for either silly matters or sometimes very unfair objectives.
For example as indicated by one of the respondents: “Sometimes you see great people filling in positions which are clearly the right fit for the position but they get there through Wasta, and there are many times where we see people being hired in positions that they don't deserve and that they're not worthy of. In either case it is wrong if you're not going through proper systems - even if the result is a “positive act of Wasta” it is still wrong. That person has followed the wrong path to get there – they are “beating the system”.
When the respondents were asked but what if the system that existed was extremely wrong and was not designed for the best interests of the applicants the response we got was “I understand that people get involved in acts of Wasta for many reasons especially during times when the system is corrupt or doesn't exists or doesn't work – but it doesn't mean that when they use it that they're bad people.”
“There is a very fine line between when you “inform” someone who is qualified there's an opening at the organization you work for, and when you use your power to push the authorities of the organization you work for to hire your friend even if they're not qualified. That is not a fair selection process. “
This part of the discussion led to the topic of good Wasta and bad Wasta – none of the respondents though that Wasta was a good thing but all agreed that there was an “acceptable” limit. So they made a clear variation between acceptable Wasta and completely un-ethical Wasta. Matters that were categorized under “acceptable Wasta” were those such as making recommendations for a position to be filled or speeding up something that went through the proper process but is just being dragged for no logical reason – basically they categorized acceptable Wasta as something that won't really hurt anyone or won't REALLY lead to any serious ramifications. One of the respondents stated “I do not push for something that's not right – otherwise I would put my recommendation and it's up to the system to make its own judgments. If I go around the system I am no better than the people who are using it for corruption.” The UAE National respondents all believed that” it's not wrong to guide people to the right door, but it is wrong to open it for them when they can very much do it themselves.”
All of the UAE national respondents were very much against the use of Wasta – all of them indicated that this is not the way that they were brought up to deal with situations in life and that they should always learn to fend for themselves and follow the systems indicated. They only felt that the use of Wasta was applicable when a system of an organization was flawed or during desperate measure such as helping someone in custody to get an early hearing date. However a follow up statement we got from this respondent on this matter was “It makes me feel bad sometimes because I'm not being fair to everyone. If I boost one person's priority I hurt a 1000 people below him. Because I've just give someone else's chance to another person. There's obviously a flaw the system that can be fixed to avoid this.” The employment of undeserving people, by-passing laws or beating the system, supporting corruption of any sort was categorized as completely unacceptable Wasta.
1 out of 4 people believed it very predominantly existed amongst the UAE National societies, but 2 out of 4 truly believed that the stereo type concept of Wasta was rapidly disappearing. They believed that Wasta was now a very recognized concept that was openly leading to corruption and they truly believed that the government is stream ling processes in all possible areas were Wasta is used.
All of the respondents have been either a provider of Wasta or a receiver of Wasta at some stage of their lives but just because they needed it doesn't mean they support it. One respondent stated “I would feel guilty if I had to use it. It's about knowing that I wish I could've done it another way. I always try not to use it unless its matter of life and death (figuratively speaking).”
The discussion then followed to whether or not the respondents believed that Wasta was a form social capital – meaning was a provider of Wasta socially powerful. The response was mixed – we had half of which who agreed to this statement and half who didn't. Those of which who agreed to it stated that if you were a provider of Wasta you are someone that society looked up to in some form or manner. On the other hand 50% of the respondents believed that because Wasta was so easily accessible in today's world, anyone could be a provider of Wasta and they didn't believe it made you were powerful regardless of your advantage. In addition to this, they believed that more and more people in society are willing to follow the proper systems nowadays and don't feel the need to go to people who posses Wasta.
The end of the focus group led to discussion on whether the respondents believed that the Wasta has changed from what it used to be in the past versus to what it is in the present. All of the respondents agreed that yes it in fact changed. It was indicated that in the past it was more about helping those in need, and mostly just out of the good of your heart. Now it's about personal gain people – they do it so that somebody owes them a favor, almost what you would call a win-win situation.
One of the respondents believed that even with the slightest bit of authority is a provider of Wasta. In the past there were very few people who you could truly go to for Wasta – and believed that's how the concept of Wasta has gotten out of control in society. People just do it now because they're lazy or look for shortcuts – they're abusing it.
However on the flip side it stated by respondents that because this is what Wasta has come to, the government has placed systems to stop this from happening. It may not be able to be controlled on a personal level, but certainly on the macro level in organizations it can be significantly reduced.
IX. CONTENT COMPARISON – CODING SCHEME:
In order to summarize and better analyze the results of the focus groups, we have designed a coding scheme table based on the characteristics of what defined Wasta in the literature review and compared it with the results of the discussions across all three focus groups. Table 9.1 (below) looks at how each group has categorized the uses of Wasta. We can clearly see that Non-Arab expats uses for Wasta comes across in less application then it does for the Arab Expats and UAE Nationals. Interestingly enough, one of the things indicated by Arab expats is that back in their homeland they believed that they had to use Wasta for everything – even for the tiniest thing. With the UAE Nationals they believed that there was no need to use it in all of these applications as they strongly believed that the proper systems were available, however they indicated these applications based on what they've seen people do or when personally being “forced” into situations to use it.
Purpose of use
Non-Arab Expats (out of 7 Respondents)
Arab Expats (out of 3 Respondents)
UAE Nationals (out of 3 Respondents)
Banking & Cash Assistance
Access to services & Information
Table 9.1: Analyzing the purpose and use of Wasta across all three focus groups
Table 9.2 (below) measures the characteristics of Wasta across all three focus groups. The characteristics were defined based on what was listed under the literature that was found on previous research on Wasta.
Characteristic of Wasta
Non-Arab Expats (out of 7 Respondents)
Arab Expats (out of 3 Respondents)
UAE Nationals (out of 3 Respondents)
Total number of respondents - 13
Power of Influence
Performed by someone of power
Beating the system
Link to money
Difference between Wasta & Social Solidarity
c. Middle ground for its use
Past purpose - social power
Present purpose - personal gain
Present Purpose - Financial Gain
Table 9.2: Characteristics of Wasta measured across all three focus groups
X. DISCUSSION OF RESULTS:
Table 10.1 (below) summarizes the results based on the measurements from Table 9.2 (above from the previous section). According to the results, we can confirm that no one across all three groups categorized Wasta as Nepotisim. All three groups categorized Wasta as a form of connections, a power of influence and an act that was linked to beating the system. We tried challenging the point on which indicated that modern Wasta was only linked to financial gain (from the literature review), and we found that only 23% of the audience indicated the benefit of Wasta was for financial gain, and 46% indicated that most people did it to gain social capital. 85% linked the use of Wasta more towards personal gain i.e. trading a favor for a favor in the future.
Characteristic of Wasta
Results in % across all 3 groups
Power of Influence
Performed by someone of power
Beating the system
Link to money
Difference between Wasta & Social Solidarity
Past purpose - social power
Present purpose - personal gain
Present Purpose - financial gain
c. Middle ground for its use
Table 10.1: Summary of results across all 3 focus groups
Unlike the literature on Wasta we find that none of the respondents believed that that any form of Wasta was acceptable or ethical. However, 76% indicated that there is a middle ground for its use if one is “forced” into the situation to using it or if there is no other option.
During the discussions, there were also other brief points discussed by a small percentage of the respondents, but are quite significant and interesting to highlight:
— One respondent compared Wasta to lobbying
— Wasta is not necessarily connected with financial gain – we would categorize that as bribe
— A high percentage of respondents agreed that if the system works properly and rules are defined clearly, there is no need of using Wasta.
— Wasta is unethical and works around the rules.
— Wasta creates unfair advantages for those who have the connections
— Wasta makes a business's' credibility weaker
— Wasta takes away the concept of fair competition and brings out negative aspects of relationships which in turn can harm the society
XI. CONCEPTULIZATION OF WASTA:
After having reviewed all the discussions and measuring the results from the focus groups we can conceptualize Wasta under the following points:
1. Definition of Wasta: An act of using one's connections where a middle man is an influence in helping another person gain something
2. Wasta is not necessarily a form of Social Capital
3. Wasta is not an Act of Social Solidarity
4. Wasta HAS changed from what it used to be in the past
5. Wasta is not necessarily linked to financial gain
6. Two Types of Ethical Perceptions of Wasta:
a. Wasta is unacceptable
b. Wasta is unacceptable – but there is a middle ground
While conducting this research study we faced several limitations such as:
a. Time limitations: Since this project is prepared as a university assignment for a core marketing subject on a masters level, we had time limitations that avoided us from fully exploring the concept to its maximum. We had a three month deadline for completing this project .and taking into consideration the vastness of the concept, we were forced to limit our scope of study to only analyze the major characteristics of Wasta.
b. Resources limitations: Another limitation we faced is a lack of resources. Despite our effort to get a good mix of different people of different ethnic backgrounds for our focus groups, majority of the respondents was limited to people from India, Pakistan, Iran, Lebanon, and UAE nationals. We used our own network of friends and colleagues that were limited to these nationalities only for that specific time.
c. Holding back true opinions: One of our biggest limitations that we hadn't forseen was that some of the respondents did not give their honest opinions to some of the question. We realized that society considered Wasta is quite a sensitive topic, and also keeping in mind that the respondents were either colleagues from the same company or had mutual friends and did not feel very comfortable to disclose their true opinion especially when it came to giving examples of where they would use Wasta and their own past experiences. Also in the group with the non-Arab expats, the respondents confessed after the interview that since one of the moderators was a UAE national and also because the interview was recorded on a tape, they were afraid to respond honestly to some of the questions despite our promise of full confidentiality.
Some of the suggestions and recommendations that can be used for further studies on this topic are as follow:
— Comparison to lobbying: It was indicated by a respondent that Wasta can be also compared to lobbying which means using the power of connections for influencing the government decisions for personal gains and benefits. This act is used a lot in the U.S Congress. We suggest that in the future lobbying can also be used as benchmark for Wasta just as how we used Guanxi & Nepotism.
— Compare the attitudes on Wasta in Abu Dhabi VS Dubai: while conducting the focus group, we noticed that UAE nationals who were the residents of Abu Dhabi ,the Capital of UAE , had totally a different mindset than those of Dubai. Therefore to get a more clear insight into this topi , its advised to study these two groups separately for future studies.
— Further break down the focus groups by age groups especially for UAE Nationals & Arab Expats: Another suggestion is two separate the samples based on their generation and their age. We have noticed during our study that the baby boomers have different perception of Wasta than the X or Y generation. We need to acknowledge the fact that Wasta first originated from old Arabian tribes and how it has changed now in 21st century, it validates our point for dividing the samples based on their age.
— Divide by number of years lived in the UAE for Non-Arab Expats: We also suggest to separate those who are new comers to UAE from those who have lived here long enough to adopt to the culture of UAE for future studies in order to get better quality of results.
— Respondents should be further divided to those working for the government, private, or semi government: While conducting our research we have noticed that these three organization structure affects the use of Wasta base on their organizational cultures or on organizational rules and regulations. Therefore, we believe it may be wiser to study them in separate group of samples as employees from all three types of organizations have different mindset about Wasta .
— Focus groups to be done in large samples with different ethnic groups in order to get the insight of different cultures. As we have already mentioned in the limitations section of this report, we did not have access to variety of cultures , however it is advised for future studies to use a mix of nationalities such as
— Arabs (more variety)
— Far-East Asians
Based on the analysis of our research findings, we can conclude that UAE residents perceive Wasta as an informal and an unethical manner of networking & using relationships to achieve something beyond normal circumstances. Although Wasta is seen as an unfair act, however 72% of the respondents believe it can be used under specific circumstances when situations forces them to use it.
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b. Website References:
· Robert, B. (1994). Taming Wasta to achieve development. Available: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2501/is_n3_v16/ai_17041236/?tag=content;col1. Last accessed 5th November 2009.
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