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Business Etiquettes in Syria


The Middle East is an area which carries many stereotypes and myths. Before doing business in the Middle East it is imperative to learn about areas such as business culture, business etiquette, meeting protocol and negotiation techniques. Through such knowledge stereotypes are broken and barriers to communication reduced.

When doing business in the Middle East, it is wise to bear in mind the great diversity within the region. However, a common religion, language and culture make the highlighting of general traits and features for the region valid.

One cannot talk about the Middle East in a cultural sense without mentioning Islam. Islam permeates all levels of society. It provides guidance, values and rules for personal life, community relations and ways of doing business.

Muslims are obliged to pray five times a day. Prayer times are announced by the mosques using the call to prayer (azan). Not all Muslims go to the mosque. Some pray at home or in the office. Daily routines, appointments and meetings must be fitted in appropriately around prayer times. Friday is the day for congregational prayers and it is obligatory for all males to attend.

Avoid trying to do business in the Middle East during the month of Ramadan. Muslims fast from dawn till dusk which involves refraining from eating, drinking or smoking. During business hours general activity is reduced depending on the nature of the company or organisation.

There are two major festivals of note. Eid al-Fitr follows Ramadan and Eid al-Adha follows the annual pilgrimage. These holidays last approximately three days although it is not uncommon for the government to extend these. It is best to avoid doing business on or near the two Eids.

The roles of men and women are far more defined in the Arab culture. Interaction between the sexes is still frowned upon in certain arenas. However, when doing business in the Middle East, it is not uncommon to come across women. If you are introduced to a woman as a male, it is advisable to wait and see if a hand is extended. If it is not, then do not try to shake hands. Avoid touching and prolonged eye contact with women.

Many Westerners that have lived or worked in the Middle East might use the words chaotic, disorganised and frustrating when discussing doing business there. Although this is a matter of perception, it is true that business runs on very different tracks to business in the West.

The Arabs do not separate professional and personal life. Doing business revolves much more around personal relationships, family ties, trust and honour. There is a tendency to prioritise personal matters above all else. It is therefore crucial that business relationships are built on mutual friendship and trust.

A consequence of this mentality is the system known as 'wasta'. If you have friends or contacts in the right places then rules can be bent or things done more quickly. The system works on the basis that favours are reciprocated and never forgotten. Although it may seem biased, it is something that should be exploited when doing business in the Middle East.

The Middle Eastern culture places more value on someone's word as opposed to a written agreement. A person's word is connected to their honour. Contracts are viewed as memorandums of understanding rather than binding, fixed agreements. Be sure to promise only things you can deliver. Failure to do so will result in loss of honour.

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