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How to do business in the Gulf: Part eight

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22 Understand rivalries

There are interstate, intercity and inter-family rivalries everywhere. “Be wary when singing the praises of one city when you are a guest in another,” says Tim Harrison, an HSBC banker from Dubai. The UAE sees itself as more advanced and progressive than anywhere else in the Gulf, which gets it a reputation for arrogance elsewhere. Qatar thinks its approach – slow, steady and cautious – will pay off in the long term. Saudi Arabia has the serious economic and financial power but limited access.

23 Suss out Saudi

Saudi is a challenging place to conduct entrepreneurial business. Visas for non-Muslims to travel are difficult to obtain, and subject to last-minute cancellation. Invitations must come from official or officially backed organisations. John Hobday of communications group Financial Dynamics says: “The hardest thing is getting in. Once you’re there, you find some doors will open to you.”

24 Think Muslim

Muslim convention applies above all in Saudi Arabia. Women, even westerners, have to dress in abaya when in public, and must have authorisation from the religious authorities to attend functions where men will be present. Prayer times are strictly observed. “You could find your sales presentation interrupted by the call to prayer and most of the audience will walk out,” says John Delaney of Bahrain-based publisher AICC.

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