It is important to discipline yourself and be adaptive in any field if you want to succeed. In the previous article, we considered general ideas about the cultural and religious influences in the MENA region. In part two of “Understanding MENA,” we will focus on the practical aspects of interaction. We will deal with how to adjust your habits in a manner that is appropriate to how the region functions. This focus includes looking at time management and building bonds with key personnel or potential clients. Join us to learn more.
As mentioned in the previous article, religion impacts every aspect of life in the region. Different religious rituals influence the flow of time in MENA. Among these rituals are the five daily prayers a Muslim must perform. You will see in many countries, especially Saudi Arabia, that shops are closed immediately before, or as soon as the call to prayer begins. Also, keep in mind that in most Muslim majority countries, the weekend is Friday and Saturday, due to Friday being the day of the obligatory “Jumu’ah” prayer. There are a few exceptions like Turkey and Lebanon where the state identifies the weekend as Saturday and Sunday; and Saudi Arabia where weekend comprises of Thursday and Friday.
Another factor that would impact a business timetable in the region would be the sacred month of Ramadan. Ramadan begins one month before the month it started in the previous year of the Gregorian calendar. To calculate when this significant event occurs means that if this year the holy month began in June, next year it will commence in May. During this holy month, Muslims fast from slightly before dawn until dusk. For many reasons, working hours during Ramadan change. Depending on the sector or the head of the workplace, workers may have fewer working hours; usually two hours less. One of the reasons for this is for workers to get home early to prepare the Iftar meal. Of course, each country deals with their religious observations differently, so again, doing research is always essential.
As for religious holidays, the nature of adherence and frequency depends on each country. You may have heard of a festivity called Eid. Eid is the Arabic word for “celebration” or “holiday”. There are two main holidays in the Muslim world, one is called Eid Al Fitr, and the other one is called Eid Al Adha. Eid Al Fitr is a celebration of the end of the month of Ramadan, while Eid Al Adha is about sacrifice and giving to the needy, (mostly through the sacrifice and sharing of a sheep). Some countries may acknowledge the occurrence of Eid for two days, and not expect workers to show up for work during that time. Other countries dedicate more time to the celebration to one or two more days.
Whether you want to set a business meeting or hire Muslim workers, knowing how time flows in the MENA region will help you navigate effectively.
In the west, when it comes to business, time and pragmatism are valued more than anything. These attributes are not the priorities in the MENA region. Middle Easterners and North Africans lean more towards personal connections. If you want to conduct business there, you will need to focus on building bonds and earning the trust of the people.
It is advisable in the MENA area not to rush into discussing business or closing a deal, but to invest firstly in the human connection. Always start with small talk. Inquire how your business contact is doing, the well-being of their family, particularly the health of their children if they have any. Show an interest in whether they enjoyed their time during the weekend or while on vacation and so on. Expect to answer similar questions and work on your storytelling skill. Business meetings in the MENA region are not as focused as they are in the west. It would be wise to recalibrate the way you communicate if you want your future interactions to run smoothly and bring results.
Mostly, you should expect to have face to face meetings instead of indirect contact with your MENA business associates. This direct convention is because Arabs look forward to cordial friendly relations with their potential business partners. Indirect communication is reserved for less significant matters or to set up a business meeting. If invited for a home meal, do not refuse it, unless you really must. Use it instead as an opportunity to build trust and friendship.
Being patient and understanding that bonds are essential does not only have its reward but is a vital contributory factor if you want your business to flourish in the Middle East and North Africa.
In conclusion, prospering in the MENA region is firmly attached to how much you are willing to invest in building strong relationships and managing your time according to how the region functions. Attune yourself to being patient, friendly and adaptive, and you will enhance the possibility of being successful in building a robust, lasting business.
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