Only 30% of the population of Qatar holds Qatari citizenship. Expatriates make up 70% of the population and many of those work in the oil industry, or in other support roles surrounding the industry. Qatari citizens are mostly Sunni Muslims and the country’s laws follow the traditions of Islam, while allowing expatriates to adhere to their own religious beliefs.

Traditional Arab Worldview

Group Orientation
Identity is defined by group, family.

Harmony within group very important. Concerns or conflicts often dismissed to preserve harmony. “Ma’alesh,” meaning “don’t worry” or “never mind” indicates desire to avoid confrontation.

Relationship Focused
Personal interaction takes precedence over strict schedules; quality of life is important. Heated discussion may show investment in the relationship.

Patterns of rank and authority are well defined.

Need for Certainty
Norms for appropriate behavior are known, held to be “true” and should always be respected.

Requires reference to context. Relationships are given priority. Not all rules apply to all individuals all of the time.

Fluid Time
Time is intangible with little structure.

Everyone believes in God and realizes that outcomes depend on God.

Cultural Note:
Only 30% of the population of Qatar holds Qatari citizenship.
70% of the population consists of expatriate workers.
40% of the population is Arab. Pakistanis and Indians make up about 36% and Iranians 10% of the population.
Most Qatari citizens are Sunni Muslims.
Although in social settings men and women generally remain separated, women are increasing visible in higher education and government positions.

Cultural Assumptions

  • Family honor is of great importance
  • The sense of family is wide and extended
  • Building strong personal relationships is critical
  • Reciprocation and hospitality
  • Hierarchy and respect for elders
  • Group stability and harmony
  • Understanding that humans do not control events. That is up to God’s will.

Guidelines for Communication with Qataris

  • A good personal relationship is the most important single factor in doing business successfully with Qataris.  They will usually begin meetings inquiring about each other’s health and personal activities.
  • Accept that verbal modesty will be highly disconcerting to them.  If you are quiet, they will simply think something is wrong.  Not only do you have to speak more when you are with Qataris, but you have to step up the volume as well.  Loudness of voice, rising pitch and tone, even shouting, all denote sincerity in Qatari discourse.  In Qatari society it is quite normal to use speech in a rhetorical, almost aggressive manner to make a point emphatically. It may take a long time to make a point that a direct communicator would do in far fewer words.
  • Recognize that Qataris place great value on hospitality.  If you have drinks, food or snacks in the office, you should offer to share it with your Qatari colleagues.
  • Learn that an Qatari is not likely to criticize your efforts openly.  He is more likely to hint that changes are needed or respond with inaction.  If phrased too bluntly, Qatari employees will feel that criticism of their work is a personal insult.   Always avoid criticizing an Qatari colleague in front of others.
  • Accept that Qataris implicitly mistrust people who are attempting to hurry or pressure them into a particular deal.  They will evaluate the source of a proposal as much as the content.  If you press for a specific time by which you want a decision, you may actually harm your chances for success.
  • Be aware that Qataris are very relaxed about the timing of events.  While appointments are necessary, you might arrive to find several other business people present and several meetings occurring simultaneously.
  • Recognize that Qataris love to use flattery and profession of friendship; therefore you should not hesitate to praise their country, their arts, their dress and food.
  • Qataris are used to dealing with foreigners and readily forgive them for not behaving like Qataris.  However, certain behaviors can cause offense including: the use of alcohol, improper dress, over-familiarity with women, and challenging the basic concepts of Islam.
  • Qataris bring Allah into their arguments in almost every conversation (In’Sha’Allah—God willing).
  • Most Qataris are reluctant to bring up bad news about their lives or in business. It may take longer to find out that problems exist.
  • Recognize that Muslims pray five times a day:  at dawn (4:30-5:00 a.m.), around noon, in the afternoon between 2:00 and 4:00, at sunset, and one hour after sunset (never later than 9:00 p.m.).  At prayer time everything stops.   Plan your schedule around prayer times.

Arab Business Patterns

  • Business meetings last longer than time set
  • Not all agenda topics may be covered
  • Deviation from agenda is expected
  • Interruptions are common and acceptable
  • Business interactions may include women since Qatari women have an active role in education and government

Suggestion: Maneuver your chair so that you are sitting right next to the man you wish to do business with.  You have to be no more than a foot away and nearer to him than anybody else.

Understand that Qataris may openly discuss:

  • Money
  • Religion
  • Politics
  • Family


The Arab World: Rules of Etiquette

  • Everyone stands when new guests arrive at a social gathering and when an elderly or high-ranking person enters or leaves.  Men stand when a woman enters the room.
  • Sitting in a manner that allows the sole of one’s shoe to face another person is insulting.
  • If you admire something openly, an Arab may insist that it be taken as a gift.
  • Gifts are given and accepted with both hands and are not opened in the presence of the donor.
  • Most Arabs do not like to touch or be in the presence of household animals, especially dogs.  Pets should be kept out of sight when Arab guests are present.
  • Foreign women are accepted without veils provided they dress conservatively. They may go shopping and travel alone, but should avoid all-male cafes (which predominate.)
  • When eating with Arabs, the left hand is not used.  (The left hand is considered unclean.)  Always pass goods with your right hand.  When eating in someone’s home, your hosts will offer you the best dishes to eat, which you must accept.  You are not expected to talk much at mealtime.
  • At a restaurant, an Arab will almost always insist on paying, especially if it is a business related occasion.  Giving in graciously after a ritual gesture to pay and then returning the favor later is an appropriate response. Arabs find the public calculation and division of a restaurant bill embarrassing.

Religious Attitudes

Basic Religious Attitudes

  • Everyone believes in God, acknowledges His power and has a religious affiliation.
  • Humans cannot control all events; some things depend on God.
  • Piety is one of the most admirable characteristics in a person.
  • There should be no separation between “church and state.”
  • Religion should be taught in schools and promoted by the
  • government.

Islamic Cultural Values

  • Submission to Allah
  • Accepting fate
  • Spirituality
  • The group
  • The family

Non-Verbal Dynamics

Arabs, in general, make liberal use of gestures, especially if they are enthusiastic about what they are saying. Men use gestures more than women. To greet with respect or sincerity, after shaking hands, place the right hand to the heart or chest. Failure to shake hands when meeting someone or saying goodbye is considered rude. When a Western man is introduced to an Arab woman, it is the woman’s choice whether to shake hands or not; she should be allowed to make the first move. Similarly, a non-Arab woman should extend her hand to initiate a handshake. Do not shake hands firmly or pump your whole hand up-and-down. Also, realize that people shake hands and hold hands longer in greeting than in the West; allow your counterpart to withdraw first.

Arabs will interpret your behavior negatively if you behave with too much familiarity toward a person of the opposite sex. Behaviors such as overly enthusiastic greetings, animated and joking conversations, and casual invitations to lunch can be easily misinterpreted by them. The public display of intimacy between men and women is strictly forbidden by the Arab social code, including holding hands or linking arms or any gesture of affection such as kissing or prolonged touching.

Arabs will typically stand very close to you when in a conversation. If you try to keep a greater distance, the Arab may think you find his physical presence distasteful or that you are a particularly cold individual. When standing in conversation with someone, leaning against the wall or keeping hands in pockets is taken as a lack of respect.

Business Practices

PROBLEM SOLVING Leader's vision, insight or intuition, less methodical, scientific. Linked with saving face so as not to cause embarrassment
MOTIVATING PEOPLE Pay, status, titles, job security, leadership of others, concern for conformity, loyalty
APPRAISING PERFORMANCE Informal, irregular, very personal, paternalistic
NEGOTIATING, PERSUADING Argumentative, can appear combative, face-to-face disagreement usual, often use third party. May feel confrontational but care is taken not to insult one another, only to show passion for the topic. Negotiations cannot be rushed.
DECISION MAKING PROCESS Leader-centric, top-down, subordinates expect clear goals and information
PARTICIPATION IN MEETINGS Create harmonious setting, leader-centric, indirect, information-giving. Heated discussion may occur, but words of appreciation for one another at the end of the meeting restores harmony and face when all accept the exchange was out of commitment to the work.
Hierarchical, paternalistic, nurturing leader; subordinate gives loyalty and obedience.
HIRING Performance/results balanced by background relations and obligations, paternalistic
CUSTOMER RELATIONS Based on network, personal relationships, obligations