The following article explains it very well.
Wasta’s vicious circle
By Dr Sarni Alrabaa
From the Kuwait Times, Sunday June 17, 2007
Ali is sitting in a crowded diwaniya. He calls up one of his friends, Ghazi. As usual, after a long obligatory greeting introduction. “How are you? How are you doing? I’ve not seen you for ages, where have you hidden? How is your family? How, how, how ….. “Then Ali turns to the reason why he is calling. “By the way, could you please ring up one of your friends at the Traffic Department/Hawally. My sister got a ticket for illegal parking.”
“Absher” Ghazi promptly replied, “Consider it done!” After that Ali calls Ahmed. Ali’s sister failed to pass some courses at a private university. Also “Absherl”. Ahmed calls his friend, the rector of that university and the latter promised to “rectify the error”. Indeed, Ali’s sister passed all her failed courses. Ali thanks profusely his Wasta friends and offered them his Wasta as a hospital supervisor. Wasta. This is Wasta. You contact somebody to help do something illegal, unfair, and unlawful.
Wasta is widespread all over the world, but it is not shamelessly so severe as it is in Kuwait and in other Arab countries.
In light of lack of accountability and law enforcement, people resort to this kind of illegal transaction. It is a way of life. Sociologists call it “Social Capital”. It is a priceless asset which sometimes you cannot buy even for much money. If you want to get things done without queuing up and waiting for your turn, just use Wasta.
How does it work? Like most Kuwaitis, Ali and Ghazi have a long list of telephone numbers of people working in all government departments and institutions, in the Traffic Department, in the Immigration Department, Municipality, Justice Department, schools, universities, etc. Just name it.
However, you have diligently to invest in your “Wasta” network to accumulate an influential “Wasta capital”. You should he in a position to pay back Wastas. You have constantly to update and invigorate your “network” of Wasta. Once in a while you have to call your Wasta partners just to say hello and exchange pleasantries. You have to give them the impression that you care about them, you think of them, you are grateful to them. Almost every conversation between two Kuwaitis end by the question: “Do you need anything?” “Can I do something for you?” You have to congratulate your Wasta “friends” on all kinds of occasion; wedding, death, promotion, recuperation, etc. You also invite them to social events. The “tree of Wasta” has got to be taken care of.
Expats also use wasta, some deliberately network just to accumulate wasta.
Most people in Kuwait use Wasta, big ones and small ones. The Diwaniya is not only a place to get together, it is also a place where Wastas are conducted and traded, like a stock exchange market. The mobile phone has made accessing Wasta very easily. You can save hundreds of phone numbers. You push a button and the whole world of Wasta is at your finger tip.
Newspaper columnists more often than not use their columns to facilitate Wasta. Mohammed Al-Saleh, a columnist at Al-Qabas, openly and honestly admits that he, like most Kuwaitis, uses Wasta to get any transaction in government departments done. “I simply send my driver to any department with a nice letter to the person in charge. I usually get what I want. Otherwise, and they know that very well, I would write negative things about their department. Long queues and abiding by the law are designed for expats, not for Kuwaitis. Our laws are the best in the world, but no Kuwaiti abides by them,” Al Saleh said in Al Qabas, May 21.
Expats in Kuwait are not less corrupt than their local counterparts. Mohammed, an Egyptian English language teacher mentions, “in passing”, in one of his male classes that his wife needs a driver’s license. After class one of the “F” students approaches Mohammed and offered his Wasta services. “Don’t worry, Doctor. A cousin of mine works for the Traffic Department. Just give me the papers and he’ll do it.” One week later Mohammed got a driver’s license for his wife. In return, the student got an `A’ grade.
Western women are also abused for Wasta. Sameer usually takes his tall, blond Canadian girlfriend with him to deal with government departments. He directly goes with her to the “Mas’ul” (person in charge) and introduces himself as Dr Sameer from Kuwait University, though he does not work for this university. He and his wife (the Canadian Doctor, although she does not possess a Ph.D.) are quite busy and they cannot wait. “Do not worry!” The officer reassures. After a while they get fresh tea. While they are sipping it, the papers
In Syria, Jordan, and Egypt people build up their Wastas with people in the Intelligence Service (Mukhabarat/Mabaheth), in the army, and in the ruling Baath party. Fadi, a Syrian physician has a customer, Waleed, who works for the National Security Intelligence. Fadi called Waleed and asked him to help stop a neighbor from building a room adjacent to his garden. On the spot, Waleed sent three of his men with a bulldozer. They demolÂ¬ished the room, the neighbor was hand-cuffed, and put behind bars.
Faris, a customs officer at Damascus Airport, allows tons of sample medications reach his physician friends all over Damascus without imposing any customs duties. In return, his medical friends treat him, all his family, and friends for free.
Magdi, an Egyptian professor at Cairo University carries a Mukhabarat, Intelligence Service identity card. With the card, he has easy access to all government departments. Who dare ask a Mukhabarat man, if he is real or fake?
Yousef, a Palestinian-Jordanian has also such a card. He even uses it to dine with his friends in the best restaurants in Amman for free.
Fouad Al Hashem writes in Al Watan (June 9) As soon as things get complicated, I turn to the mobile phone number of Sheikh Ahmed Al-Nawaf, Undersecretary Assistant at the Naturalization Department and within seconds the problem is solved.”
If the system were working in Kuwait and if the law applied to all, neither Al-Hashem nor the others would need Wasta to solve their problems. It is a vicious circle. The loose system is breeding Wasta, and Wasta is enforcing the loose system.
Related previous posts are here and here.