Many companies shy away from marketing or working with companies in the Modern Middle East. They hesitate because of the political climate, restrictions, culture, and language barriers. However, there may be untapped opportunities waiting if you can be patient, follow protocol and reach out to the many resources for help.
The easiest country to enter is Israel as they speak English and act as a bridge between Asia, Europe and the rest of the Middle East. It is a small market but there is a strong interest in the military and medical industries as well as a large tourist market. Although they speak English, Hebrew and Arabic are the official languages of Israel.
Jordan is almost completely landlocked. Oman is a very Western city and key markets include safety and security, medical, water and environmental. Arabic is the official language, but like Israel, English is widely understood by upper and middle classes. Jordan has more Free Trade Agreements than any other Arab country, including signed FTAs with the European Union, the United States, Canada, Syria, Algeria, Tunisia, Singapore, Malaysia and Libya. Primary imports include crude oil, machinery, transport equipment, iron, and cereals.
The United States’ second most important trading partner is Egypt. Business is stable and has the most diverse economy of the Middle East, with tourism being the strongest industry followed by agriculture. Since Egypt does not have a large industrial base, they import almost all of their capital goods like machinery and equipment. Food represents about 20% of its imports and other products and services include those related to the petrochemical, medical and the pharmaceutical industries. It is one of the most populous countries in the Middle East.
Tunisia is the smallest country in Northern Africa and is very modern oriented with 54% of its population under the age of 30. Agriculture is the main business sector, with exports going to France with whom they have close relations through economic cooperation, industrial modernization, and privatization programs. Tunisia has an association agreement with the European Union and it remains Tunisia's first trading partner. Primary imports include textiles, machinery and equipment, and chemicals. Arabic is the official language but due to the former French occupation, French also plays a major role in the country.
Remember, do your homework, get help, be responsive to contacts and leads, make sure you are understood even if English is spoken, and avoid cultural blunders.