Wednesday, April 18

Defending Wasta–a fools errand

Now before I tear into this chap’s argument, first read it.

Let's take "wasta", for example.

It has become like a curse word. It has become a system that the expatriate community talks of like they talk about crimes. Everyone seems to connect 'wasta' with bribery and corruption. Please don't ever base your perception on assumption and opinion, but on facts. Wasta is NOT a crime nor is it necessarily corruption. It is our system of filtration and reference which we have practiced for centuries. It is part of our consideration for people we respect. Wasta, in fact, is practiced everywhere on earth. In other places, it is called 'recommendation'. Why does it carry such a negative connotation?

Every Monday, countless people line up to meet the king -- the head of state -- personally, so that they can tell him their problems, greet him or simply request something. He stands tirelessly to host them, listens to them AND takes action to help them. Now if one of the persons going to the palace is referred to the king by a prominent member of the government or an eminent citizen, the king will give him special consideration and so will his staff. This is to honor the person that referred this citizen or expatriate. This is called 'respect'. Naturally, a government official or eminent personality will not recommend a person he does not know or respect. This is how it works both ways, a system based on mutual respect and consideration.

Now, at a lower level, in government offices and corporations, wasta works for a variety of things. People get jobs because they were referred to someone within the institution for consideration. The one referring and the one hiring would know how right or wrong they are. Don't tell me this does not happen in every corporation of world! I personally know the chief of jawazat in Riyadh. I also know the chief of Police. So do many of my friends. In fact, I know these gentlemen because a friend of mine referred me to them regarding some cases and over time I got to know them personally myself. If I call them up and tell them to please consider the case of a person I know, they will go out of their way to help. Just to honor me. But, it is my respect for them that controls who I refer to them. I do not want to abuse a friend for sure!

The same thing happens all over the Gulf, Pakistan and India and this is not corruption -- as is widely misunderstood. This is consideration for people we know and it does not mean in anyway violating the right of a person we don't know. You would behave differently with a person you respect and have known for a long time than a person you just met. This is simply human nature……..It is the inability of the expatriate to communicate and the many assumptions fed to the mind that cause this perception that people with wasta can do anything here. No one is above the law -- no matter their important connections or friends. I have known people who were personal friends of some of important government officials. I know of a man who broke the law and then requested help from one such friend. He was flatly refused and the judge was asked to proceed as per law. This, I have known personally. So, what wasta?

I write about faults in the systems. I write about mistakes in perceptions. And, I encourage people to point out faults and give solutions. But, when it comes to cultural habits, way of life, hierarchy, tribal systems and etiquette -- no one has the right to interfere or try unsuccessfully to change people. To educate is very different from humiliating and degrading. Wasta is part of tradition and method of filtration in our societies, which can work in positive ways.

As it is, right in front of my eyes, the Saudi, Pakistani and Indian societies have degenerated, become corrupt and the warmth and hospitality, the respect and honor, the simplicity and sincerity are slowly disappearing. Why? The negative impression we have of our own traditions and the false 'educated, democratic' life we want to adopt from the West. Both locals and expatriates should understand and know this before seeking blind 'changes'.

Do you know why states are successful? States are successful because they make strong and durable institutions. Institutions such as the judiciary, the licencing offices, the educational system and so on and so forth. The crucial thing is that the state should be blind to any kind of citizen demographic and treat all of them in the same manner. Its when this stupid moronic tradition of wasta comes into play that the state starts to discriminate against the citizens. Do you know why most of the world hates Arabs at worst and laughs at them at best? Because you guys are institutionally racist. And yes, that does exist in India and Pakistan, but that’s not the point. I am Indian and look at the institutions that we have built. The legal system ensures that all people are treated as equal.

But if you know the chief of police or what have you, then you get an advantage than the poor expatriate does not have. Which is why all the expatriates think of you Arabs as buffoons and basically idiotic. You guys think of yourself as smart and deserving respect. No you dont. You are seen as fatted pigs, to be fed off. Do the expatriates spend their money in arab countries? Do they want to hire you chaps? no. Do you seriously think that the expatriates want to become like you? Illiterate, racist and corrupt? Nope, they stick to themselves. Why? because you guys use wasta and the expatriates clearly see that the state’s institutions will listen to somebody who is connected rather than treat everybody independently. That’s not respect, that is discrimination. And pointing to India and Pakistan as a place which is corrupt and saying that’s fine in Saudi has such huge ironic connotations. You Saudi’s look down at the desi’s and now you are reduced to comparing your culture and behaviour to them?

You give equal consideration to everybody, and then why would wasta play a part? Why cannot you extend the courtsey of your work to everybody? Now that’s wasta. Why do you need wasta, eh?

Having worked in and visited several Arab countries, I can safely say that you need to think things through, but justifying wasta as respect is not one of the ways. Stand up to say that we shouldnt need wasta, people should their jobs without needing connections to do it.

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