A Guest Post by Ibtisaam Ganief
The Middle East comprises of a multitude of cultures, nations and religions. All of which makes it a complex region in which to do business. Most outsiders and expats find it hard to understand and navigate, meaning that companies or organisations who are looking to conduct business in the Middle East need to have an in-depth understanding of each of the complexities. In this article we look at three challenges you may come across when doing business in the Middle East.
Religion is ever-present in the Middle East. Whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or another faith, religion will more than likely have an influence – in one way or other – on your business dealings with your Middle Eastern counterpart. One of the best examples of this is Sabbath days. Meaning the workweek in the Middle East runs from Sunday to Thursday, as no business or work is done on Fridays and Saturdays. This is important to take note of in order to avoid booking meetings on a Sunday or Thursday.
There are a number of restrictions on activities and operations across the Middle East, some which may vary from place to place. This makes it increasingly important for businesses setting up operations in the Middle East to be aware of any culturally sensitive restrictions, for example, they may encounter while conducting business in the region. There are also restrictions regarding opening a branch of your company in certain areas. For example, if you acquire property in Dubai and open a branch of your company in one of the Free Zones, you are exempt from paying tax and have 100% ownership. The same does not apply to opening it anywhere else in Dubai.
Viewpoint on Time
Unlike the United States and United Kingdom, punctuality in the Middle East is not as important to communities. This means that companies should expect and be tolerant of any time delays that may occur while conducting business. There is more than likely to be late starts, meetings that will run over the original planned time, and a lengthy process when it comes to closing any deals or signing contracts.
The Chain of Command
There is a very clear hierarchy when it comes to doing business in the Middle East, with a noticeable separation of each level – for example senior management and their teams. Respect for the people you are doing business with, and more importantly their seniority, is critical when attending meetings, interacting with, and doing overall business with your potential partners.
The Middle East is a reasonably complex place to conduct business, mainly because of tradition, culture, history and the economic and political climates in the region. With the right knowledge and preparation, however, business can be conducted smoothly and without a hitch. You can inform your employees of the above challenges as the first step to educating them about doing business in the Middle East.