I was intrigued with the above wasta questions on Dubai FAQs Information Guide and felt it was useful to repost the answers that were added to this forum site on 7 June 2009 under the heading, Wasta in Dubai and the UAE:
Wasta is a word often heard in Dubai and in the UAE.
It is Arabic and translates as something like authority, influence, political (or other) power, connections, or a combination of those terms. In practical terms it means that some rules can become more flexible if you have wasta, or know someone who has wasta. Also, a bit of wasta can smooth or speed up business transactions, bureaucratic issues, and other official procedures. At its best (or worst, depending on your point of view), a good dose of wasta could keep you out of jail or save you from other unpleasant consequences of dubious activities.
The common English expression "it's not what you know but who you know ... " is a rough equivalent of wasta.
On the wasta scale (not that there is an official one), things that can make a difference in the UAE are your nationality, your profession, who you work for, who you know, your political position in the country, your connections to people in positions of authority. Money and how long you have lived in the UAE don't usually directly affect your wasta level but indirectly they do since longer term residents may have built up a larger network of high-wasta friends, and rich people often associate with other rich people who may be high-wasta individuals.
Learning of Wasta
Many expat residents learn about wasta through a driving experience. In simple terms, the more wasta someone has, the less likely they are to cop a fine and/or be blamed if there's an accident.
Wasta can result in some unusual situations for example, green lights were actually red when you went through them because the person who crashed into you had enough wasta to change the color retroactively.
Signs of Wasta
Indications of higher levels of wasta on the road are dark tinted or mirror tinted windows (30% maximum is the law so anything more than that means it's likely they have enough wasta to get around this rule), number plates with fewer than 5 digits (but anyone can buy them now if they have enough cash so it's not as good an indication as in the past).
Wasta is something that many expats, especially westerners, find difficult to come to terms with but you'll find it easier to enjoy Dubai if you get used to that rather than try to fight it. And of course it helps if you can elevate your own wasta level somehow.
Wasta and Bribery
Don't confuse wasta with bribery. If you try to bribe a government official, for example a police officer who has just pulled you up for driving though somebody's garden, you should expect to be punished fairly harshly for trying to bribe them.
And if the owner of the garden that you drove through has some wasta, then you'll probably be even worse off. In the business world, things may operate a little differently. Just as anywhere else in the world, the negotiation of business transactions and contracts is not always done on a level playing field, and bribes ... er gifts ... might be part of your discussions with interested parties.
Thanks to forum writers who contributed to this helpful.
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Image: “Number plates with fewer than 5 digits (but anyone can buy them now if they have enough cash).”