As part of the MaDI program, we are lucky enough to have regional and country seminars that are based on ‘doing business’ within a particular place around the world. For a Master’s in International Business, seminars like these are going to come in handy. They are given by an industry expert, such as Javier Sanz who came to speak to us on 4th May 2018 about doing business in the United Arab Emirates and the Middle East. 

Doing business in the United Arab Emirates and the Middle East

GCC countries

Doing business in the United Arab EmiratesThe Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is made up of six countries in the Middle East that fall on the Persian Gulf. The GCC’s purpose is to unite those countries that share similar political/religious beliefs and cultural identities to form one economic union. Those countries are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

The GCC has based its concept on the European Union model, they want to create a similar union to which countries are united in their similarities but remain independent countries in their own right. You will be able to travel between each country easily, “do business” easily and exchange currencies easily (a shared currency is a future plan). It is said that Jordan, Morrocco and Yemen are the next to join the GCC.

At the moment, the GCC is highly dependent on oil and natural gas as an “income”. In order to reduce their dependence on oil and gas in the future, the GCC states are pursuing unprecedented structural reform initiatives.

The Middle East

Middle Eastern countries have an Islamic base (apart from one) but are actually very distinct countries. There are the more moderate countries like Turkey, to the more radical countries like Israel. Israel is the only country in the Middle East that does not have an Islamic base, it is a developed country but with a not so distant past of conflict and war.


It is very very important to inform yourself about the Islamic religion before doing business in the Middle East as there is a strong Islamic influence. Similar to the Arab states in Africa (as mentioned in a previous blog entry “doing business in Sub-Saharan Africa“), if you are a producer of Spanish ham, you might want to rule out the Middle East as a destination to export or sell your product as pork is a forbidden food according to the Quran. Furthermore, you’ll need to take into account the huge influence the Islamic faith can bring to a country. For example, some restaurants may have a male section, a female section, and a family section; the same goes for swimming pools and so on.

But of course, business ventures are not based on religion, they are based on a market and its opportunities; it is just something that you’ll need to take into account.

Tips on doing business in the United Arab Emirates and the Middle East

You will need local help:
You’ll need an agent or a local business partner who has local knowledge and existing networks.

You will need to be organised and arrange meetings in advance.

You’ll need to be punctual, “British punctual”.

Relationship building:
Business proposals are based on knowledge and personal relationships. You’ll need to take the time to get to know your possible future business partner.

Don’t take “Yes” as a done deal. A “Yes” could mean “Possibly”.

You will need to build trust. Middle Easterns tend to be very wary of offers. Don’t expect them to accept your offer immediately.

You’ll need patience and perseverance, it can take a long time for a business proposal to be accepted. On the other hand, once it has been officially accepted, they like to move quite quickly.

Prices can be negotiated.

Business proposals:
Business proposals should be clear and sincere.

Meeting Etiquette

During a meeting, there will be silences, uninvited guests and interruptions, you’ll just have to adapt.

The atmosphere in a business meeting is friendly.

Try to prioritize two or three key points during a meeting, there will be distractions.

Rules and protocol

  • If there is a woman in the meeting, you should only introduce yourself if they are introduced to you first.
  • Women should not be looked at in the eyes.
  • Women should wear appropriate clothing, do not wear a low cut top.
  • Do not speak about religion or conflicts within the Middle East during the meeting.
  • Do not shake hands with your left hand, it is your “dirty” hand.
  • Do not show the sole of your shoe, it is highly offensive.
  • Do not do business over dinner.
  • If you are invited to their house, do not give gifts. Although, you can give gifts to the children if you know them.

So, if you are thinking about doing business in the United Arab Emirates and the Middle East, make sure that you are informed and have done your research! There could be a great opportunity waiting for you if you have the know how.

In the following video, you can find a short interview to Javier Sanz talking about Doing Business in the Middel East.