The Effect of Wasta on Perceived Competence and Morality

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Faculty of Management Technology

Working Paper Series

The Stigma of Wasta
The Effect of Wasta on Perceived Competence and Morality by Ahmed Amin Mohamed Hadia Hamdy

Working Paper No. 5

January 2008

The Stigma of Wasta
The Effect of Wasta on Perceived Competence and Morality

by Ahmed Amin Mohamed Hadia Hamdy January 2008

Wasta is an Arabic word that means the use of social connections to obtain benefits that otherwise would not be provided. Wasta plays a very important role in securing of employment in Arab countries. This paper attempts to study the attribution effects of wasta on perceptions of competence and morality. The main hypotheses is that those that use wasta to obtain employment will be perceived as incompetent and immoral irrespective of their true competence and morality. Data gathered from an Egyptian sample supports the hypotheses. Thus, we conclude that wasta may tarnish the image or stigmatize its user.

JEL classification

Nepotism; attribution theory

Faculty of Management Technology German University in Cairo Al Tagamoa Al Khames 11835 New Cairo City – Egypt

INTRODUCTION One of the Arab region’s management issues that require attention from scholars is wasta (literally, connection, mechanism or intercession). Wasta is defined as the intervention of a patron in favor of a client to obtain benefits and/or resources from a third party. The word wasta can be used as a verb (the act of intercession) or as a noun (the patron). Although the degree of wasta use varies between Arab countries, wasta permeate many aspects of life in the Arab world (Cunnigham & Sarayrah, 1993; Kilani & Sakijha, 2002). In most Arab countries conducting simple tasks such as getting a driving license without a wasta can become an exercise in futility and frustration. Wasta makes people powerful, hence the nickname Vitamin WAW (Al Maeena, 2003). Wasta plays a critical role in hiring and promotion decisions in Arab organizations. Before applying to a position, applicants may seek out a wasta to improve their chances of being hired. A person with poor qualifications but a strong wasta will be favored over a person who is more qualified but does not have a wasta. Because many people may apply with wasta, the applicant with the most important wasta often gets the position. Forms of displaying wasta may be explicit as in attaching a business card of the patron to the client’s resume. Arab wasta has been compared to the Chinese concept of guanxi. Both wasta and guanxi use social networks to influence the distribution of advantages and resources. However, while guanxi is based on Confucian ethics which focus on strengthening collective ties (Hutchings & Weir, 2006a; Hutchings & Weir, 2006b); wasta violates Muslim ethics which prescribe hiring the most qualified. Additionally, while some researchers have argued that guanxi may benefit organizational competitiveness and performance, no such claims are made for wasta. Indeed, wasta is blamed for Arab world’s poor economic performance and brain drain (Al Maeena, 2003; Cunnigham & Sarayrah, 1994). Kilani and Sakijha (2002) stress that wasta is becoming a burden on its seeker, its granter and the government. Makhoul and Harrison (2004) have characterized wasta as inefficient and warned that it may lead to poor job performance and economic decline. They also hinted that practicing wasta hiring may feed feelings of injustice and frustration among those who are qualified for the job but do not have a wasta. Wasta is also different from the more popular nepotism and cronyism. While nepotism involves hiring of relatives and friends, wasta is not restricted to such groups and may involve strangers. As such, nepotism is only one part of wasta. Although understanding the role of wasta in staffing decision is important, no empirical studies have been conducted on it in the context of HRM (Hutchings...