Why Western Countries Find It Hard Doing Business With The Middle East

When you run a company, you will spend time looking for new markets to sell to. While many firms sell to domestic customers, more businesses wish to sell abroad. Europe and the Far East are ideal locations for companies wishing to expand. But, few have the same success rate when approaching Middle Eastern markets.

One might assume that may have been commonplace forty years ago. But, it’s a problem that businesses face in 2016, believe it or not. So, why do these companies find it hard to sell to customers in the Middle East? What stops them from achieving their growth potential in that market?

It turns out there is quite a few reasons. We recently surveyed a variety of firms from different industries on this subject. Here are the issues they all seem to face the most:

Middle-Eastern companies mix friendship with business

If you approach a business owner out of the blue, they are seldom going to take an interest in what you have to say. Why? Because company bosses in the Middle East only do business with friends.

In that part of the world, friendship before business is important. Company owners want to know that you are trustworthy. To them, small talk isn’t just about passing the time. It’s a way for them to gauge what sort of person you are.

One way to approach prospective new firms in the Middle East is through an intermediary. That is, someone that knows both you and the third party. They can introduce you both to each other. And, from that moment, you can break the ice and forge a new friendship. Only then will you have a serious chance of doing business with them.


The West has recently done a deal with Iran in exchange for the lifting of trade sanctions. That means there is now a new market in the Middle East and Western Asia to work with.

Unfortunately, the West is still quite weary of doing business with Iranian companies. Iran has a bad rap sheet. Prominent political figures like Mark Dubowitz are unlikely to recommend doing business with Iran.

Corruption, sponsored terrorism, and non-democratic ideals are just some of the red flags. Western banks are hesitant to deal with Iranian ones for fear of funding terrorism.

Arabs have little concept of time

In the West, people are all used to working to schedules and tight deadlines. But, in the Arab world, things get done a little different. Time is important, yes, but it’s not essential for day-to-day business. Many Western firms find it frustrating they must wait a long time for things to happen.

It might sound like a stereotypical view. But, it’s one frequently encountered by foreign firms.

A little Arabic goes a long way

Arabic is the universal language spoken across the Middle East and all the Gulf states. Middle-Eastern bosses don’t expect their Western counterparts to be fluent in Arabic. But, knowing just a few words and phrases can make all the difference.

The trouble is, Arabic is a hard language to master. For a start, Arabic doesn’t use Roman letters and numerals. Plus, the written language gets read from right to left!

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