Reform vs. Wasta

Wasta means favoritism or nepotism and in Jordan it is a plague.

You want to get a driver’s license? Your best chance is with Wasta.

You want to get that job or that position? Wasta.

Jordan is small and the population is pretty limited. Once you become part of a segment of society you get to know how the main wires are connected. The term “where everybody knows your name” may not apply 100% but the term “two degrees of seperation” sure does.

And in this way Jordanians especially have learned to evolve somehow in a system where we are all somewhat dependent on one another indirectly. This system consists mainly of wasta, who you know and how they can help you get what you want. Wasta governs almost every faucet of life in Jordan to the extent that a few years back when Jordan Telecom was fully government controlled you would have to wait months at a time to get a telephone line, but wasta could solve it all.

I am not sure how this example still applies today with the latest privatizations, but at worst let it serve as some of the most essential uses of wasta in recent history. In short, if you’ve lived in Jordan and experienced Jordan then you probably have a funny story about wasta being used in some strange situations.

Which brings me to the point of “Good” & “Bad” Wasta. In some cases it is done to get around obstacles like bureaucracy and red tape. In other times it is used to disadvantage other people. You have in many cases people getting jobs only through wasta and not their qualifications.

I despise the kind of wasta that has a relative working in a position they know absolutly nothing about only to take up the space of someone who does.

On the other hand you have what I can call the “good” wasta that can really get you going when the system you exist in loves to stall you. Sometimes it’s used so that people feel safe in certain situations where one feels potentially or unjustly disadvantaged, other times it is used as a social leverage to threaten others.

So how can something as complex as wasta in such a country ever be eliminated? We all claim we want to fight it but its become a way of life. National Integrity Systems conducted a study in 2001 which showed that while 87% of Jordanians “believed in the need to eradicate Wasta because it was one form of corruption, more than 90 per cent believed they would be always using it in the future.” It is practically inescapable.

Well one interesting phenomena I touched on earlier should be taken into consideration here.

Privatization. It seems wasta exists everywhere in Jordan but flourishes in the public sector. The more companies and organizations become privatized, the more the goal becomes about making a profit, the bad seeds are weeded out. Whereas anything related to government comes with certain connotations that almost always require wasta. In fact whenever something pops in to my life that requires me to go down to a government building I think about who I know there, who can I call that can make my life easier? Though with private companies, like banks or cell phone companies I feel…average…like I am just one of the people waiting in line. I don’t feel like the person in front of me is going to get skipped ahead because he knows the manager.

What does this mean then? Should our government be privatized? Should we sell all our shares to some French or German or Japanese multi-national coorperation? Or should we run it more like a business? I think these are actually all decent solution, how viable they are is another matter.

Though frankly I would like to be sure that so and so who has been asigned to make my life easier and better as a citizen is actually qualified to do the job. This may be one reason they post the names of the universities the appointed Ministers in every government have attended and what degrees they hold. I remember a time when it was just a name and a title with no bio, though I have to admit while I am obviously aware that degrees are not synonymous with qualification, I do feel a little assured that the Finance Minister knows a little something about Economics in the shape of a degree.

So when the King appoints the Prime Minister (and more or less the government) is this the “good” kind of wasta. I wonder if we the people were given the vote would we put an illiterate as Prime Minister? Do not laugh at this, there are actual illiterate members of parliament today as we speak.

The good, the bad and the ugly kind of wasta: people think it’s just another social thing but there are bigger fish to fry when you talk about politically reforming while half the employees of the ministries are relatives and cronies and beneficiaries of nepotism. And the King knows it.

On another note I’m wondering if an illiterate could actually do any worse compared to the current track record.


  • I TOTALLY understand the WASTA thing!!! It’s like all of Kuwait works by wasta *sigh*

    And you’re right about the driverâ??s license thing! It’s like if a person doesn’t have a wasta, they can’t and probably won’t get their licence on the first try. Total corruption. Total corruption.

  • Wasta is all over the Middle East, some places worse than others. My wife’s family is from Saudi and there it has taken a high art form. The area will never get anywhere until this is tackled.

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