Unmassing the Middle East

Many international organisations still insist on seeing the Middle East as one big mass, but it is a mistake to parcel individual countries together too closely.

The Middle East: One region united by a common language? writes Jonty Summers
The Middle East: One region united by a common language? writes Jonty Summers
The differences between the countries of the 'Middle East' are significant: Morocco and Qatar, for example, share almost as few economic and social parallels as Greece and Denmark do in Europe.  

Consider the vast regional variations in gross domestic product per capita.

The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar all rank in the top ten world economies according to the most recent figures from the World Bank, with GDP per capita of US$60,000, $53,000; $83,000 and $136,000 respectively.

Egypt, however – the region’s most populous country with 88 million people – has a GDP of just $11,089 per capita. And that dwarfs the figures of 'Middle Eastern' neighbours such as Lebanon, Jordan and Tunisia. 

Despite the differences in budget, as discussed at last month’s World Economic Forum meeting in Jordan, a number of common socio-economic threads do run through the region: a need for political stability, infrastructure development, the evolution of education and healthcare, economic diversification and job creation for a rapidly growing youth demographic. 

So how can international organisations improve their 'Middle Eastern' communications? 
Country-specific strategy  
Communications need to be tailored to specific stakeholder requirements in the country. For example, infrastructure projects in the GCC countries may well be entirely funded locally, while those in Egypt will frequently be funded with international partners. In Egypt therefore, international organisations should plan to engage with international as well as domestic media.

Understanding the government dynamic  
Successful corporate communications campaigns exhibit a deep understanding of the nuances of an individual government’s agenda. The tides of regional politics can ebb and flow frequently and it is crucial to keep abreast of regional partnerships and tensions, as well as international relationships. Reading pan-Arab newspapers can be helpful, but there’s no substitute for an ear to the ground tracking the region’s fertile social media landscape, and skilled networking to inform effective, culturally appropriate communications.

Mind your language
The Middle East is not as united by its common language as it would seem. Be aware that Modern Standard Arabic is the language used in formal settings and in writing, but every country has a distinct spoken dialect and often regional variations too. International influences and mobile technology have also created a chat language – 'Arabizi' - that is both spoken and written in informal settings, using English script and numbers to represent unique Arabic letters. Short and succinct ‘messages’ are not easy to achieve in the rich and expressive traditional forms of Arabic and there are frequently disputes among experienced Arabic communicators on the best path to take for effective Arabic communications – particularly in creative industries. 

So, ensuring that a country-level communications strategy is local enough will help organisations take advantage of the regional opportunities that the 'Middle East' offers.

Jonty Summers is director and corporate practice lead, South Asia, Middle East and Africa for Edelman

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