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By Sarah Elmusrati

In our media age world the way we keep track of our broad spectrum of acquaintances usually involves social networking websites such as Twitter, Facebook and MySpace.  These are convenient, easy to use and keep our social lives well organized - storing invaluable contact lists, photos from your last vacation, and a great way to keep in touch with friends and family scattered across the globe.

Social networking in Libya is not a new concept, on the contrary, it’s as old as the country itself (sorry Mark Zuckerberg).  It’s what makes our society a strong knit mesh difficult to penetrate by the well-intentioned outsider. With the lack of advertising, postal codes and directories we rely on our social networks to keep us informed about the latest shop sales, the best restaurants, a new tender announcement or where the LTT usb dongle is still in stock.  Social networks are also status symbols, where you are as important as the people you are associated with, and some circles are just not open to everyone.

Most business is actually conducted outside the office and office hours. Many grand deals have been dealt over a coffee or shisha in this male dominated domain.  Gatherings at weddings or funerals are also another core aspect of networking. Tents aren’t set up in the middle of the street for nothing, there is usually some hard dealing going on between the clapping or weeping! This is where some expat company’s fail, as limitations on the mobility of employees for the sake of “personal safety” a.k.a “insurance doesn’t cover that” keeps many foreigners outside the precious loop of insider information that only comes with building bonds and trust in an informal environment. The prolonged chit chat at the beginning (and often times at various intervals) in a business meeting is an essential part of networking that most expats find tedious and time-consuming. 

The best example of the power of social networking in the Libyan business realm is the practice of wasta. Wasta is derived from the word wasat meaning middle.  Basically, a wasta is a middle-man or intermediary who has the influence to move a process forward.  Many bureaucratic procedures will probably take longer than usual without the flexing of muscle by the almighty wasta.  This is very practical in a country where the population is so small that there is only 3 degrees of separation between you and the influential persona who’s help you are seeking. It’s time you had a chat with your Libyan colleague at the desk across from you, or got to know your local driver a bit better.  You never know when one of their contacts will be of value to you! In Libya, you are who you know.

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Published Jan 2011