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Cultural Perspectives for Global Business

Political Etiquette & Western Professionals in the Middle East

It is required in the Middle East and Africa to be more disciplined in your speech than is necessary in western countries. As a western professional in the Middle East it is important to observe and understand the political etiquette of the region. Our professional cultural etiquette consulting always includes political etiquette instruction. This might be the most important place to not misstep. While offering a gift or speaking a few words of the local language can make a cultural splash observing good political etiquette will keep you out of jail.
Political Etiquette & Western Professionals in the Middle East

by Pedram Behzadi

2 years ago

It is required in the Middle East to be more disciplined in many aspects than is necessary in Western countries. Freedom of speech is a western concept that is not practiced so extensively in the Middle East and Africa region. There are certain topics that you must be careful not to discuss or render opinions on while you are in the region. Why? Because you could get thrown in jail for speaking impolitely, against or even suggesting dislike of political or religious figures while you live in the region. 

Political Leaders: Do not render opinions about political leaders in the country you are working or visiting. This is obvious in some countries that do not cater to westerners. But you will see on many fronts in the Middle East everything is not exactly as it seems. Be careful even in countries where they are catering to westerners such as United Arab Emirates (Dubai) or Morocco. Keep your opinions to yourself. Say nothing positive or negative. Just don’t talk about it at all.

Royal Family Members: Saw an interesting story about a member of the Royal family? Do not talk about it at all. Again, you can end up in jail or worse in some countries saying the wrong thing about the wrong person. Nationals who live in these countries know not to speak disparagingly of members of any Royal family in the Middle East. We will consult with you about how to make conversation in a polite and respectful manner.

Islam or Islamic Figures: Any Islamic figure past or present is off limits. Unless you are Muslim yourself and understand deeply Islamic cultural etiquette and how to address prophets, Imams etc. in a respectful and culturally accepted way do not open the door for possible misinterpretation. You are in the Middle East to do business and work, not to offer opinions about these matters. It is so important especially when it comes to Islam to be completely respectful while you are in the region. Again, we will consult with you regarding the etiquette of polite conversation and how to keep things on track.

No one expects you to be perfect as a foreigner. Many foreigners come into foreign countries and make mistakes with the culture. Some mistakes are minor and forgivable. Others leave little room for forgiving and you could find yourself in major troubles by complete accident. We have great freedoms in the western world that we should never take for granted but when you are living and working in this region you must discipline yourself to understand certain matters are considered extremely impolite and culturally unacceptable to discuss. Let us know what your experiences have been in the comments below. 


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