Friday, May 1, 2009

Women and "Wasta"

"Wasta", an Arabic expression that loosely translates into ‘who you know’ or 'clout', refers to using influence or connections to get things done (such as quick renewal of a passport, waiving fines/tickets, and acquiring sought-after jobs).

While "wasta" is deeply ingrained in Middle East culture, it is not unique to Middle Eastern culture- dare I say... a global phenomenon... or perhaps even a global tradition?

AmericanBedu (a blog by an American expat living in Saudi Arabia) discussed the issue on her blog this week. She says:

I know of several western women who are married to Saudis and have been in the Kingdom for more than 25 years. They not only are married to prominent Saudis but they also are successful and influential in their own rights. These women certainly do have their own WASTA network. They have shared that they do need to be watchful of who approaches them. It is not unusual for others (men and women) to seek such women out not for who they are as an individual but due to the perception that association with such women raises their own status in the Kingdom and falsely ensures them of having WASTA as well. Examples of how foreign women are approached and asked to exert WASTA include in finding jobs for others; facilitating healthcare and getting appointments with doctors who are usually booked up; assisting in marriage approvals; assistance with transferring iqamas or receiving no-objections; assist with getting children admitted to specific international schools.


While I understand how this phenomenon works in other parts of the world, I am less familiar with the way it works in the Arab world- and more specifically in Saudi Arabia. I am curious:
  • how do women develop "wasta"?
  • is it passed via marriage?
  • what about non-Saudis?
  • what about those who were not born into priviledge?

Photo courtesy of Springglobe's photostream


  1. Wooow.. what an interesting subject.. and interesting blog too
    Ok, first of all u have to understand that WASTA is a bad thing in Saudi Arabia
    When we say that this man get the job by WASTA it mean that he`s not qualify for this job but he know someone who can give him this
    The problem is.. when the non qualified people use the WASTA the qualified will stay without job.. so they try to bring WASTA. So they all will be here by WASTA so we don’t know who is whom!

    Everybody can use WASTA.. it depend on Who you know and if they will help you. It’s not a matter of Saudi or not.

    Sarah Sirajuddin

  2. Thank you Sarah! It is definitely an interesting topic- I am fascinated by the different ways it can be used, and by whom.

    Even though there is normally a negative connotation to WASTA, do you think that WASTA can be used to accomplish good things for society?

  3. Ya sure everything have a good way to use it.
    WASTA is a helping way to get thing's by ur contact to people that you know.
    AND even if we use WASTA, we have to be good enough to prove that we earn it.

    Sarah Sirajuddin

  4. well sarah to what extend do you think it is common among saudis