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Doing business in the Middle East

Effect of Middle Eastern laws, Religion and customs on doing business in the Middle East.
Effect of Middle Eastern laws, Religion and customs on doing business in the Middle East.


The countries under discussion include Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the countries of North Africa. The total population is approximately four hundred million people which is larger than the population of the United States.

In order to conduct successful business in the Middle East, some basic and specific rules apply.
Religion plays an important role in every day life. The Middle East is the cradle of the world's three great monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Religion controls a large portion of the people's way of living which carries into their business practice. Muslims pray five times a day and all businesses are shut down during prayer time. The week end for Muslims is on Fridays, so businesses are closed Thursdays afternoon and all day Friday.

Second most important is to be familiar with the culture of the people and the country you are doing business in: It has been said that the world is becoming a small village, with the spread of technologies, from the cell phones, to the internet, to the travel comfort... Yet it is also true that people are different, communities in the same tiny little country such as Lebanon have different attitudes, behavior and even culture.
You will never be able to have a little transaction done if you do not know how to bribe an officer or employee. To pay your dues for the government or even syndicates or even private sector you may have to go few times to be able to talk or find the right person.

People are to be considers business smart, never take them as ignorant even if the are. Haggling is part of their culture. You never offer the price they ask for, even when it says fixed price. Know the weak features of the product or the property will make you in a better position to haggle.

Do not be afraid to depend on an expert in the field whom you know and trust, and you can hold responsible in the future. Be very careful with relatives and friends, they may not be able to give you the right advice, yet they think that they are the experts.

Do not be satisfied with one opinion. People are prone to exaggerate, especially if they have an interest. They will complicate the issue to make a little profit. Checking on a property you inherited from your father does not take more than a trip to the department deeds, where you could look at all the information you need to know about that property. Is there a sign on the deed, where the property is shared with another person? Is it acquired by the government for any public reason? Is it still in your grand father's name or even great grand father's name and may have to be transferred to you name, this will take a long costly process in the courts to be able to transfer the deed.

Knowing the language is always a plus. Some of the clause in the contracts may be interpreted in different ways; some idioms may give you the wrong meaning. The expert or a person that know the language and the dialect may be of big help. Some innocent words of a language may mean insults in other language.

Should one be interested in selling or buying land or properties, law forbids in most Arab countries the sale of land to foreigners. You also must be very careful joining venture with people you do not know or trust.


By : John Soueid Esq.