The Middle East has long since had thriving urban and commercial areas. But while the existence of cities and commerce there certainly isn’t new, what has changed are the sectors and the culture. Now, Middle Eastern cities are important and globalised parts ofthe worldwide economy, and many – such as Dubai – offer the same facilities as would a European or North American business city. This article will explore the roots of the Middle East as a businessdestination and how modern sectors, cities, and rules and regulations are changing in order to allow the region to catch up with commercial development in the wider world.

Changing sectors

A major way in which Middle Eastern economies have developedin recent years is in the business sectors represented in the region. The global demand for oil and gas, for example, has meant that cities in countries such as Saudi Arabia have been transformed into consumer-oriented zones with all the trappings that high net worth individuals and high earners need. The oil-rich countries in the Middle East produce several million barrels of oil per day!

The Middle East has also become a centrefor other sectors, including advanced technology. One study, for example, has calculated that the mobile phone industry alone added over $165 billion to the economy of the Middle East and the North Africa region in 2017 alone. With other developments on the horizon, including the arrival of 5G trials and Internet of Things networks, it’s unlikely that tech acceleration in the Middle East is going to slow down. Israel hasalso managed to develop strong tech-oriented workforces, meaning that the skills required are present and the businesses are growing.

New cities

The Middle East certainly possessessome of the world’s most interesting cities. After all, many aspects of modern civilisation originated in parts of the Middle East. Commercial cities aren’t new in the region either: many historic texts describe the thriving marketplaces of ancient Middle Eastern centres of population. But in the modern age, the role of the city in Middle Eastern culture has changed.

Now, the region has some of the world’s most highly commercialised cities, and the Middle East as a whole has benefitted. The most obvious example of this, of course, is Dubai: from large skyscrapers to popular shopping malls, Dubai’s skyline indicates just how flourishing is the business scene there. And there are less obvious yet equally powerful examples of cities thathave changed due to the influence of international business. Somehistoric cities, such as those in Saudi Arabia, now haveold-town spaces and busy modern commercial zones sitting side by side.

Regulation, rules and customs

But while the success of entrepreneurs, including Beirut-based Najib Mikati, indicate that the Middle East’s business scene has changed in a positive way over the last few decades, it shouldn’t be mistaken for an unbridled business success. There are still plenty of regulations in place which govern and restrict business in the Middle East,and while taxes often remain low, this can still sometimes mean that public infrastructure is not quite as well-developed as might be expected in Westernglobal business destinations.

Another way in which the Middle East has had to adapt to a sudden economic demand for its services and exports is culturally. Cultural norms which have existed there for centuries have now been adapted to fit the modern business context. Middle Eastern businessmenprefer to build personal relationships with those they meet, for example, and as a result there are often close personal ties between business associates. And while in other countries around the world the consumption of alcohol is often closely associated with the securing of business deals and so on, itis frowned upon here. However, some international hotels dooffer alcohol in order to cater forthe growing Western business class individuals thatlive and work in the  countries or those that are passing through on business.

The Middle East has always had some of the world’s most important and interesting cities and today it has carried on that commercial legacy by adapting well to the pace of change. From welcoming important new sectors to even building whole new commercial zones, the Middle East is now rightfully regardedas a truly modern and important international business destination.

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