Characteristics of the Gulf states

“The Arab world” is a broad term describing numerous countries across Asia and Africa. It includes 24 sovereign states in which Arabic is spoken. In today’s blog post, we mainly want to take a look at the countries along the Arabian Gulf. We’ll answer the questions of which countries actually count as Gulf states and what peculiarities can be expected in business life there.

The Gulf states include Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. All the countries have entirely different historical developments, but one thing they have in common is that they were originally populated by Bedouin tribes.

HETEROGENEOUS POPULATION

Bahrain is considered a democratic state native to both Sunnis and Shiites. Oman, on the other hand, is a sultanate which only slowly started freeing itself from centuries-old tribal structures in the 1970s. The emirate of Qatar is, like Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy with no parliament. In contrast, Kuwait is a constitutional hereditary monarchy that has a king and parliament. The UAE is a federation of the emirates Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Ras al-Khaimah, Umm al-Qaiwain and Fujairah, each of which is led by a sheikh from it most powerful tribe.

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An important aspect of the Gulf states is the heterogeneity of their populations. Of the approximately 38 million inhabitants of the Gulf states, around 13 million have a foreign background. These are mostly migrant workers from Pakistan and India who often work at major construction sites or in the oil industry. Added to that are expatriates from Western and East Asian countries.

Especially in the small states, the natives tend to be outnumbered. Saudi Arabia is the only Gulf state to have a lower share of its population be non-Arab. The heterogeneity of the population is also apparent in the countries’ individual cultures.

RELIGION, HIERARCHY AND MORE

The following points apply to the majority of countries in the Arabian Gulf. Here are a few essentials for your first contact:

  • Generally speaking, men and women live in strictly demarcated spheres. While people in the UAE are already used to women in business life, a traditional perception of women prevails in Saudi Arabia.
  • Keep Islamic customs in mind in all the countries and avoid the topic of religion. Also remember that public life comes to a standstill during the fasting month of Ramadan.
  • Time is a bit relative, so tardiness and delays are not seen as lost time; you’ll need to be spontaneous and patient.
  • Indirect communication prevails in the Gulf states. People there strive for harmony and try to avoid loss of face. Clearly stating “no” is considered impolite, as is too openly expressing criticism and addressing negative things.
  • Stark hierarchical structures are prevalent in all the countries. Authority and respect for superiors are accordingly customary.
  • Personal contacts and networks are very important for the success of businesses there. Good personal relationships consequently guarantee good business relationships. Other important factors are close group cohesion and clans/families. Family is thus almost always a good topic of conversation.
  • Arab culture is a negotiating culture, which is why negotiating is explicitly desired. Since everything is negotiable from the Arab viewpoint, you should remain flexible.

These are just a few basic guidelines that you should keep in mind when collaborating with people from the Gulf states. Of course, each individual country has its own special characteristics to take into account. If you’d like to learn more, we recommend taking one of our individual cross-cultural trainings.


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About Andreas Riedel

I studied tourism management and European studies/cultural studies. In both subjects I took a close look at cross-cultural communication from different angels. I have been working as a key account manager at Eidam & Partner since 2013. We offer worldwide services related to cross-cultural communication, such as cross-cultural training, cross-cultural coaching, eLearning and preparation for international assignments for more than 80 target countries.
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