How many times have UAE residents uttered these words when discovering that some employment benefit that was written into a contract was being ignored or a clause about the final payout will no longer apply?
It’s easy to conclude that contracts in the UAE are not binding even when they’ve been signed and sealed.
Jeremy Williams in his guide for living in the Gulf (Don’t They Know It’s Friday?) throws light on this issue (p77):
Contractual Obligations v. Personal Trust
Most matters are forever negotiable in Arab eyes. Nothing is really concluded, not even if set out in a signed legal contract, freely negotiated beforehand.
For an Arab, it is said, friendship and personal trust are more important than legal papers and man-made laws (but never God's law, the Shariah).
Circumstances change, therefore what was once true and agreed is no longer true and can be changed and especially if it brings benefit….
However, it would be the height of folly for the Westerner to assume that this friendly 'jam tomorrow' approach works in both directions: Western contractual failure to provide goods or services on time usually means that the Arab organisation concerned will quickly invoke the relevant contract penalty clauses.
Seen in a Person’s Eye
Jo Tatchell in her book, A Diamond in the Desert, includes this story on the same theme, about a meeting between Edward Henderson (distinguished British diplomat in the Gulf) and Sheikh Zayed before he became the ruler of Abu Dhabi:
Neither Edward nor Zayed mentioned the trunk. The quarterly payment from the oil company sat unguarded on the passenger seat of the pick-up, awaiting its rightful turn in the proceedings. When it was eventually stood before Zayed, he acknowledged it with a mere tilt of his head. He did not look at the money inside. As far as Edward knew, no one ever checked the amount. On this occasion, though, he had been instructed to ask for a signed receipt. As the payments had soared, Head Office had demanded paperwork. Zayed roared with laughter when Edward opened the envelope and passed him the piece of paper. “A receipt! Do they no longer trust you, bin Hender?”
Out on the sands, good faith was seen in a man's eye. An official document meant nothing. Zayed looked at Edward, shrugged and called for a pen. “If this is how it must be now, I will sign their paper.” At that moment both men knew that the old ways would not do in the advancing era of wealth and commerce.
“…and it is culturally insensitive to ask an Emirati whether…” FIF, 31 August, 2010.
Check out Fines Before You Spit, Litter, Urinate or Abandon Items on UAE Streets, ETE, 15 July 2009.
Men, Leave Your Jewellery at Home when you Visit the Emirates, ETE, 22 July 2009.
What to Wear in the UAE? ETE, 24 November 2007.
Etiquette in the Emirates, ETE, 21 February 2008.
Drug Laws in the UAE: Travellers Beware! ETE, 4 March 2008.
The UAE and the Law, ETE, 30 December 2007.
UAE Information: Essential Guide for New Residents to the Emirates, ETE, 1 January 2008.
Dubai Malls Join Anti-Indecency Campaign, Gulf News, 7 August 2009.
Don’t they Know It’s Friday by Jeremy Williams, RBAM, 6 June 2008.
Are you ready to come to the UAE? ETE, 6 June 2008.
This article is also posted on the Fujairah in Focus Facebook Page.