Working in the Middle East

 Business is booming in the Middle East, economic reform, the rapid growth in privatised industry, and the increase in liberalisation, have all made a significant contribution to ease the regulatory burden of doing business. The change of the official weekend in most countries has also had a major impact, While the Levantine countries including Egypt (Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan), have traditionally nominated their weekends as Friday and Saturday, the majority of the Persian Gulf countries followed a Thursday-Friday weekend until recently.

As the economies of these countries grew and businesses become more interrelated with Europe and the United States, the Thursday-Friday weekend meant there were only three shared business days between East and West. The combined effect of the different time zones coupled with the ability to communicate on Mondays – Wednesdays only created a fragmented effect to negotiations. The exception is Saudi Arabia where the official weekend holiday for the government and some private businesses remains Thursday and Friday.

Due to the amount of business contacts I have in the region I found it necessary to align my working week and in theory my week would be Sunday-Thursday. In practice however, in balancing the demands of European and Middle Eastern clients usually requires a 6 day week.


While there have been considerable reforms in the region corruption still exists. I encountered this very recently, although it did not involve me directly, I was cautious, shocked and became extremely careful who I spoke about the progress I was making with the work involved on the contract. My reaction was based on my cultural values, I decided to explore this issue while socialising with some Arabic colleagues who were also working in this particular country. They explained that what was considered corrupt in my culture was a perfectly acceptable way of doing business in another culture, and my naivety would be considered suspicious in a culture where bribery is considered the way to get things done.

Caution! New UK Legislation

The UK government’s planned new legislation will require companies to ensure they have effective compliance and risk management strategies. The Draft Bribery Bill was published on 25 March 2009 for pre-legislative scrutiny. Under the legislation it will be a criminal offence for someone – directly or through a third party – to offer, promise or give a bribe (whether or not financial), and it will also be a criminal offence for someone to request, agree to receive, or accept a bribe. The bill will also make it a “discrete offence” to offer, promise or give a bribe to a foreign public official, including those working for international organisations that have as their members, governments or countries.

 The government’s Draft Legislative Programme, published on 29 June 2009, set out plans to introduce a Bribery Bill in the next Parliamentary session.

The bill will:

 • Create an offence of negligent failure by commercial organisations to prevent bribery

 • Support high ethical standards in UK businesses

 • Tackle the threat that bribery poses to economic progress and development around the world.

Further information about the proposed legislation is available from the Ministry of Justice site:

 Legal Support

The Middle East is an incredibly diverse region composed of many different ethnic, religious, and linguistic groups; cultural divergences are vast even within individual countries. Therefore, there is a need to be familiar with at least a basic knowledge of the particular area within the region in which they you are doing business.

If formal contracts are involved always make sure that you find a lawyer with extensive experience of the country you are doing business with. In Jordan I use the legal firm Trimark, primarily for protection of intellectual property and web registrations. A well connected legal representative, with plenty of “Wasta” (an Arabic expression that loosely translates into ‘who you know’ or ‘clout’. It refers to using one’s influence or connections to get things done) will almost certainly be able to recommend other forms of legal assistance. This is important because many of the procedures and documents associated with the conduct of business in the region are carried out or available only in Arabic and those who work in public sectors often cannot read English. So translation is an essential service.

Never, ever, sign documents that are not in English!


You will encounter a reluctance to sign contracts, I usually enforce contracts for consultancy work, recently I went to the extreme of writing my own contract and having it checked out by a Lawyer prior to presenting it for agreement, signatures and of course the official company stamp.

For training programmes I provide my terms and conditions and insist in an official purchase order. I also state terms and conditions for payments clearly on invoices including the currency in which payment should be made.

Tribal Influences

When working in Yemen I learnt never to underestimate the influence of tribes and the role of ‘Sheikhs’ as tribal leaders who influence a country’s judicial, political, and security. Although government and constitution exists the Sheikhs have significant influence. Failure to negotiate with the representatives of the network of tribes results in delays and in extreme cases, social unrest. Many organisations employ local field officers to negotiate with tribal leaders on a range of issues from access rights through to sustainable development projects.

How the new UK legislation will address the complexities involved in satisfying the demands of the sheikhs who care first for money, followed by power and influence, and finally ideology. is puzzling


International produce a table of 180 countries based on perceived levels of corruption, Follow the link below to view the table:


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