Western business culture makes a strong separation between work and religious belief. Even very devout Christians would be loath to invoke divine scriptures or mention the will of God in a typical business encounter.

However, when doing business in Saudi Arabia (and elsewhere in the Gulf), it is important to bear in mind the all-pervasive nature of the influence of Islam.

Life – and business as an important aspect of life – are governed by the prescriptive tenets of a religion which forms the backdrop to society. Nothing happens which has not been willed by God. If a deal comes off it is due to the will of God, if it fails it was not meant to be. Thus, a sense of fatalism and a resulting lack of urgency are often quoted by business people from non-Islamic cultures as being the over-riding impressions of a trip to Saudi. The oft-quoted Arabic phrase, ‘In Sha Allah’ (if God wills it) represents a deeply rooted belief in the unending activity of a Supreme Being, rather than an excuse for inactivity or lack of motivation.

The observance of religious ritual takes precedence over all other aspects of life and prayer punctuates the business day. Meetings’ discourse contains numerous references to God and His Prophet Mohammed and offices display numerous Koranic texts.

Do not underestimate the deep conviction of your Saudi contacts and do not imagine that reference to religion is in any way a ploy or insincere.

A brief overview of some key concepts to consider when doing business in Saudi Arabia

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

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This country profile has been produced to give a short overview of some of the key concepts to bear in mind when doing business with contacts in Saudi Arabia. It is intended to be an aid to business people who have commercial dealings with counterparties in the country but should not be seen as an exhaustive guide to this topic or as a substitute for more substantial research should there be a need.

With this in mind, we have covered the areas which are key to a better understanding of the cultural mindset underpinning business dealings in Saudi Arabia and which are, quite often, extremely different from the approach and thought processes associated with business in other parts of the world.

Therefore this briefing note is broken into short, bite-sized sections on the following topics:

  • Background to business
  • Business Structures
  • Management style
  • Meetings
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Women in business
  • Entertaining
  • Top tips