This article offers a synthesis of understandings of wasta, seen as a form of social network prevalent in the Arab Middle East. Whilst there has been increasing interest in this practice, research remains fragmented and has been criticised for its limited theoretical rigor. To address this issue, a systematic review of peer-reviewed journal articles exploring wasta published between 1993 and 2019 was conducted. We analysed the identified papers according to the theoretical lens from which wasta was viewed, creating a bridge between a theoretical focus on the macro aspect of wasta and an alternative focus on its micro aspects, leading to the development of a holistic model of wasta. The model also helps us to understand the complexity of wasta, both as the network itself and as the social ties that exist among its members, and sheds light on the complex nature of the role and interactions of the wasta. The findings respond to calls for more holistic and inclusive research to inform social networks research and bridge the micro-macro divide. This article offers recommendations to future researchers to build on the holistic and emic approach to wasta research adopted here.