Libya's Business World

Libya is a land of scattered oases, coastal cities, and rich oil deposits. The population is a very ethnically diverse mixture of semi-nomadic peoples and urbanites; over the course of the country's history, it has been the site of many different settlements. Today, the country is opening itself to the rest of the world, but if you want to be successful in business there, it is vital that you understand the various social and religious customs that govern Libya's business world.

There are some key concepts in Libyan society that govern the way business is done there, and the most essential concept is that of "Wasta", which roughly translates to "influence". Wasta is a direct effect of personal relationships, trust and honor, and it relates to the idea of having friends in high places. Libyan business is largely based on reciprocity, so wasta is a prominent concept there.

Libyans place tremendous value on respect, dignity and social status, and this is evident in the concept of "face". This concept is often connected with Far Eastern countries, but it is also prevalent in Libyan culture. There, protecting one's family honor is paramount, and therefore all business is done based on a person's reputation. Be prepared to take a while to allow your Libyan colleagues to get to know you and your company.

Most Libyans are followers of the Sunni branch of Islam, and closely adhere to Muslim traditions. Today's Libyans are conservative, but not deeply fundamentalist. Islamic rules and regulations are pervasive in Libyan culture,and these rules provide the basic framework upon which business dealings are based. Take special care to respect the customs of your Libyan hosts, especially in your language, behavior and dress.

Try not to schedule business meetings too far ahead of time, so that last-minute changes in circumstance are allowed for. To be sure, confirm your meeting with your Libyan counterparts a few days beforehand. Although most Libyan people aren't punctual, you should always arrive for meetings on time, but if delays cannot be avoided, offer a polite excuse.

Libyan business hours vary from one season to the next. In the summertime, business is done between 7 am and 2 pm. During the remainder of the year, businesses are open between 8 am and 1 pm, and again from 4 pm to 6:30 pm. The Libyan weekend is either Thursday and Friday, or Friday and Saturday.

Libya has a very hierarchical society, and that holds true for their business world as well. Awareness of social status and the distance in power is key, and it is very important to respect a person's profession, social position and family name. Delegation of duties is rare in Libyan companies, and generally there is one person in charge of all employees and decision making.

All business done in Libya is done through personal, trusting relationships. To be successful in business, you should allow time to grow a solid relationship between your company and that of your Libyan colleagues.

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