The Middle East comprises Iran, eight Arab states (all Muslim), middle east
and Israel (Jewish). The Lebanon refers to itself as an Arab country but is half Arab and half Christian.

The Muslim world is a very strict society and it is essential that you observe Islamic politeness and decorum. The United Arab Emirates are less strict and very cosmopolitan; though still adhere to Muslim values. Segregation of the sexes is an important feature of the Arab world.  Men – DO NOT under any circumstances touch an Arab woman or make direct eye contact with her. No one should behave in public in a flirtatious or affectionate manner – not even married couples. Alcohol is prohibited in most parts of the Middle East and gambling is considered evil.

Women should always be very modestly and conservatively dressed, often covered fully by a burka (a long black coat, with or without a veil).  Skirts below the knee, high collars and long sleeves are required. You should check on any practice regarding wearing a long scarf for hair cover. There are special areas for Westerners where ‘normal’ dress, behaviour and customs are allowed out of sight of the locals. The United Arab Emirates (Dubai) and The Lebanon (Beirut) are the exceptions; they accept ‘western’ dress and behaviour, Saudi Arabai does not.

So far in this section you’ll find the  Top Ten Tips for doing business in five countries of the Middle East along with opening times, holiday dates and festivities. These are: United Arab Emirates, The Lebanon, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia,  and Israel.

United Arab Emirates

  1. Respect and friendship must be reached before any negotiations can take place
  2. All contracts should be translated into English and Arabic. Contracts may be broken at any time, justified because you are not a Muslim. However, trust and friendship will seal a true bond.
  3. Bargaining is part of the process of negotiation.  Start with high demands and then work your way towards a ‘compromise’.
  4. Nothing gets hurried. Be patient. Time is flexible. Deadlines are nothing more than approximations. Transactions may take a long time to finalise.
  5. Decisions are made by a few principal people at the top of the company.
  6. Business people prefer to deal with the same people throughout, so keep the same negotiating team.
  7. Don’t submit a report of 7 pages or so; 57 is more to their liking! Lots of paper and documentation is seen as serious ‘meat’.
  8. Don’t get upset when your business meetings are constantly interrupted; this is the way of life, not a signal that you are unimportant.
  9. Don’t be aggressive in your attitude or demand “Yes” or “No” answers.
  10. Don’t underestimate the significance of social gatherings; many business transactions are dealt with then.

Public Holidays:

January 1         New Year’s Day  

Feb/March     Eid Al Adha

March 15         Islamic New Year

May 25            Prophet’s Birthday

August 6          H.H. Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s Accession Day

October 5        Lailat al Miraj

Sept-Nov      Start of Ramadan(not a holiday) date changes every year

December 2     National Day

Nov/Dec          Eid Al Fitr

Weekend Thursday/Friday or Friday/Saturday

Business Hours 8.30-1.00 and then 2.30-6.00 (some7.30-4.00)

Things to be aware of:

The Dubai Shopping Festival takes place each year during the month of March.

October is conference month and hotels are fully booked.

As a Muslim country, things may stop for prayers (12.30 and 20.00 for half an hour)

The Lebanon

  1. Lebanese are hospitable, easy going and expect personal relationships to develop in their business transactions
  2. A very ‘western’ country with underlying ‘Arab’ features; strong family, socialising and hospitality overlaid with French logic and style, and American sense of achievement.
  3. Warm greetings, handshakes, and questions about family and health are usual when meeting someone. Use titles and formality at first.
  4. How you LOOK is VERY important. Your clothes, hair and jewellery all make a statement about you – more than your competence or credentials
  5. Many woman work and want to be regarded as equals
  6. Expect your Lebanese counterpart to arrive a little late for a meeting. Lots of small talk is the preamble to conducting business
  7. American dollars are used as easily as local currency. French is the second language and English the third.
  8. Don’t expect things to happen quickly. Decisions are taken slowly whilst relationships build
  9. Don’t impose deadlines – you’ll disappoint yourself and get frustrated!
  10. Don’t criticise anything directly; suggest /hint you would like changes

Public Holidays

There are six Muslim and six Christian national holidays taken by all along with several non-denominational holidays:

January 1         New Year’s Day

January 6         Christmas (Armenian Community)

January 7         Christmas (Orthodox)

February 9       St. Maroon’s Day

Feb/March     Eid Al Adha

March 5           Islamic New Year

March/April    Good Friday/Easter/Easter Monday (western/orthodox on different dates)

May 1              Labour Day

May 6              Martyr’s Day

May 14            Prophet’s Birthday

August 15        Assumption

September 24  Lailat al Miraj

Sept-Nov      Start of Ramadan(not a holiday) date changes every year

October 25      Ashoora

November 1    All Saints’ Day

November 22  Independence Day

Oct/Nov             Eid Al Fitr

December 25   Christmas Day

Weekend: Sunday (Friday Muslim holy day)

Business Hours: 8.00-6.00


  1. Subjective feelings are the only way of knowing real truth; facts and evidence are unimportant. Information that does not reflect Islamic values is rejected.  Solutions to all problems lie in the correct interpretation and application of divine law.
  2. Behave in a calm and respectful manner; don’t be loud or obtrusive. Maintain plenty of eye contact with your host.
  3. Public life is almost entirely the exclusive domain of men (10% of workforce are women)
  4. You will need a letter of introduction to make an appointment. Be prepared for up to three polite-small-talk meetings before you can start any business dealings. Business cards are of immense importance.
  5. No privacy in meetings – and these will be constantly interrupted. Muslims take time to pray five times a day. Serving coffee signals the meeting is being brought to an end.
  6. A sign of power and superiority will be to keep you (the supplicant) waiting – can be for hours. Negotiations and decisions take hours. Silence is part of this process.
  7. Contracts should be as brief as possible and written in Arabic (with an English translation as necessary).  Hire a Kuwaiti lawyer
  8. Don’t assume the person asking all the questions is the decision-maker.  He is usually an unimportant underling.
  9. Don’t consider making more than one appointment per day
  10. Don’t get upset if you have to keep on repeating your message or presentation; it is common practice to ask this for the people who wander into your meeting

Public Holidays:

January 1         New Year’s Day

February          Eid Al Adha

February 25     National Day

February 26     Liberation Day

March  5          Islamic New Year

May 14            Prophet’s Birthday

September 24  Lailat Al Miraj

Sept-Nov      Start of Ramadan(not a holiday) date changes every year

November       Eid Al Fitr

Weekend: Friday

Business Hours: Traditionally 7.30/8.30-2.30 and 4.30-8.30

Saudi Arabia

  1. The strictest of all Arab nations; you need to obey their rules. The religious police actively stop and/or apprehend anyone who is misbehaving – e.g. men and women holding hands, inappropriate dress, a woman alone.
  2. If you are a woman, don’t go – (a Kuwaiti man’s advice to Deborah)!!! Women are segregated in everything. Expect to be clothed from head to foot, chaperoned, and not be allowed to drive a car. As a business woman, if you are given a visa, there will be little you will be allowed to do.
  3. The Saudis are very nationalistic; even other Arabs are FOREIGNERS, but are more tolerated than (in descending order) Europeans, Philippinos, Indians/Pakistanis
  4. Large hierarchy in organisations with Saudis always in the middle to top positions.  Only the boss has the right to make a decision
  5. All documents should be dated in Islamic and Gregorian (western) dates.
  6. Everything stops or closes during the time of prayers. Saudis are forbidden to work more than six hours per day.
  7. Meetings are frequently interrupted. They take place early morning or after sundown, up to midnight. Often discussions that you think should be private will take place in public.
  8. Be very sensitive to their traditions
  9. Don’t be surprised if a Saudi ‘queue jumps’; he is entitled to come before any foreigners
  10. Don’t expect expertise to count in the decision-making process. Governance is by superiority and hierarchy.

Public Holidays

The Islamic Hijrah calendar is 12 months x 28 days – therefore, public holidays fall on a different ‘western’ calendar date each year.

February          Eid Al Adha (3 days)

September       Unification of the Kingdom

Sept-Nov      Start of Ramadan date changes every year

November       Eid Al Fitr (3 days)

 Weekend: Thursday, Friday

Business Hours: 7.30/8.30-2.30 (and possibly 5.00-7.00)

Things to be considered:

Non-Muslims need to be invited or sponsored to enter the country. You need an exit permit to leave the country, whatever the emergency.


  1. Israelis speak bluntly, assertively and honestly, demonstrating their respect for you; i.e. you can take straight forward discussions.
  2. Very adept at strategic planning, they will try and guess your next move. Assume they know your game plan and be prepared with answers and new tactics.
  3. They want action, rather than empty words.  Ask for ‘time to think’ if things are moving a little too quickly for you.
  4. Assertiveness is respected if you stand by what you think is right. Stick up for yourself and you should find they will compromise.
  5. They appear very, very argumentative.
  6. Israelis are experienced negotiators.  They are known for being tough but fair.
  7. Bargaining starts with high ideals, extreme positions, and moves towards ‘compromise’.
  8. Keep written agreements short, but always finish up with one.
  9. Don’t use ‘high sounding’ or impressive rhetoric.  Communication is open, direct, and to the point. Use concise and explicit language.
  10. Don’t be surprised if your plans have to change. The Israelis are a spontaneous people, so be adaptable.

Public Holidays:

January 28       Tu B’Shevat New Year of Trees

February 26     Purim Feast of Lots

February 27     Shushan Purim

March/April    Pesach Passover (1) date changes every year

April 9             Yom HaShoah Holocaust Memorial Day*

April 16           Yom Hazikaron Soldiers Memorial Day*

April 17           Yom Ha Atzmaut Independence Day**

April 30           Lag B’Omer

May 10            Yom Yerushalayim Jerusalem Day

May 17            Shavuot Giving of the Torah**

July 18             Tisha B’Av Fast of 9 Av*

September 7-8 Rosh Hashana New Year**

September 16 Yom Kippur Atonement Day**

September 21-27 Sukkot Feast of Tabernacles (1 )

September 28 Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah

November 30 – December 5 Hannukah Festival of Lights

(1)  The 1st and last days of Sukkot and Pesach are national holidays

*Most stores and restaurants close

**National holiday, everything closes

Weekend – Friday afternoon, Saturday

Business Hours 8.00-4.00 (Fridays 8.00-1.00)

Things to be aware of:

The Jewish day begins at sundown (6 p.m.) The feast itself begins at sundown on the day preceding the date shown and ends at sundown on the date shown. Banks and most businesses are closed during all major Jewish holidays. There is no public transportation except for taxis.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, August 20th, 2009 at 12:52 am and is filed under General, The Middle East/Arab World, tips on doing business around the world . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

3 Responses to “ Middle East: Top Ten Tips for Doing Business ”

  1. Siki K says:

    Added to my favourites list and added to my blogroll.

  2. Torran says:

    Great post. You’ll have to follow-up with a second part. Keep up the great work!

  3. Elly says:

    Good read. Perhaps you’ll create a conclusion. Keep up the excellent posts!