Nepotism in Dubai

As cliché as it sounds, Dubai is still a growing business hub of the region. Indisputably, with extensive growth - comes extensive risk. With lengthy procedures at almost every level, Nepotism acts as an easier and quicker way to sort things out. Here's an attempt to analyze what Nepotism exactly is and the role that it plays in Dubai.

Nepotism is a blatant display of favouritism shown towards certain people for various reasons including social ties, nationalism, family relationships or simply on the basis of trust. This cronyism is usually known as “wasta” in Arabic, Urdu and other commonly spoken languages in Dubai, apart from English. The practice is so deeply rooted in the region that it is now considered akin to a normal and acceptable procedure; sometimes in a slightly varied form that also includes a bit of sexism, bigotry and/or excessive display of nationalism.

 Nepotism in job opportunities:

At the 8th International Business Research Conference that was held in Dubai earlier this year, Jassim Ahmed Al Ali, an HR specialist at Dubai Municipality, cited Nepotism as one of the reasons why UAE nationals account for a very low percentage of private sector workforces. He said, "As much as 10% of nationals resign their jobs per annum due to social and cultural factors because low-trust is an impediment to employment for UAE nationals. This is in addition to gender inequality in terms of position and salary. Nepotism, or what is called locally as wasta, also prevails in the workforce.” (Comment Source: Emiratisation Now Network)

Although some people may argue that most of the Nepotistic behaviour in this city is very benign and often useful when compared to other developed or developing cities, but there are clearly some very obvious red flags in Dubai too. Nepotism has a major disadvantage to its credit: the preference of less competent people over those who qualify for relevant opportunities on the basis of merit. Poor business performance, unstrategic decisions and lack of tactical approach can be attributed to businesses that resort to working mainly with people they know personally. However, there is a difference between legit referrals and Nepotism. In case of a legit referral, a person may be referred by an acquaintance and may also qualify for the opportunity on the basis of appropriate merit, credentials or experience, whereas in Nepotism, these basic requirements are not considered.

Nepotism in events:

An area where Nepotism is explicitly practised is the sector that organizes media related events. The professional speakers are almost always close friends or acquaintances of the organizers. Even if the speakers are adequately qualified to converse on a given subject of discussion, it leaves very little room for diversity, because in Dubai one will find the same speakers advocating the repetitive set of ideologies and principles through a variety of platforms. Whether it is a radio talk show or a casual meet-up, one will almost always find the same group of protagonists in the front line. They are methodically protective of their much coveted public façade. It makes things tedious, monotonous and often uninteresting. Certainly Dubai has much more to offer than just one group of people monopolizing a certain industry. If only those in power set their foot outside the comfort zones to explore and take a few risks by making opportunities available to a wider range of people.

Nepotism in private sector:

Advertising is another poorly regulated sector that is notorious for its nepotistic approach in conducting business, especially when awarding an advertising campaign or a project to small businesses. It is a shame that most of the Creative and Art Directors emphasize on working only with their compatriots. Exorbitantly higher amounts of commissions are offered to their preferred business associates in comparison to other businesses who often provide a similar or even better service. At the moment, this practice is the only survival mechanism for many new advertising agencies in Dubai.

On the condition of anonymity, a Filipino professional who works in Dubai shared her views on Nepotism, “I always recommend my friends and relatives wherever I see an opportunity. Even if they don’t have all the skills, I am sure they will learn very fast and adapt. I don’t see anything wrong in that. I am just trying to help”.

Nepotism in education:

Sadly, Nepotism is not only practised on a corporate level, but it is also prevalent in other sectors including educational institutions in Dubai. Based on personal accounts and primary research, teachers and school administration members in Dubai prefer enrolling their children at the same school where they are employed. When the academic faculty members realize that the parent is in fact their colleague, then the differentiation process inevitably begins at a subconscious level. The classroom partiality soon turns into favouritism on an advanced level. Such students may be given priority over regular students when developmental or vocational opportunities arise. In cases of below average performances, they are often dealt with a less stern approach and surprisingly at times they are also given second chances, in order to avoid confrontation. This privilege would, of course, not be extended to regular students. The effects on a child that falls on the benefitting side of nepotism are harmful and irreversible; they can make a child an overtly demanding individual who is addicted to elitism.

Nepotism and family businesses:

But it’s not all doom and gloom for Dubai when it comes to exercising Nepotism. There have been plenty of success stories as well. Nepotism can very well be conducive to firms which unequivocally function as family businesses. There is a natural element of trust and shared responsibility. But a potential downside could be the mindset; members of the same family can have a similar thought pattern (which can also be an advantage) and a specific way of tackling issues at hand, leaving very little room for innovation or creativity. In some instances the accountability factor is also neglected and when a conflict arises, opinions and statements of family members may take precedence over those of the employees or other stake holders.

Sadaf Vahedna, a Dubai based family business owner has an interesting take on Nepotism. She said, “Nepotism is the reason why family businesses rarely reach their full potential. A smart father doesn’t always mean a smart son. May be some training could help, but many times there is always a better candidate for the same position. In this region, families argue that they can’t trust outsiders but ultimately keeping a trustworthy but incompetent manager is also detrimental to the business. Nepotism can be seen as unfair, but ultimately the best man wins. So I don’t think it makes that much of a difference in reality. The system eventually adjusts itself to what’s fair.”

Haji Saheb, a 66 years old expat, having spent more than half of his life in Dubai running a private business, believes that Nepotism comes to the rescue when money or standard procedures don’t get the job done. He says, “You’ll find Nepotism everywhere: whether it is for getting jobs or visas, opening up new businesses, getting bank loans approved, getting married or even getting the jail term reduced or even cancelled if you have the right contacts.”

Composed & researched by Nabila Usman, Dubai, UAE

No response to “Nepotism in Dubai”

Leave a Reply