Executive Protection in the Middle East

Executive Protection in the Middle East – How to Avoid Embarrassing & Costly Mistakes

That old saying that is still relevant today, particularly when it comes to Executive Protection. Good EP professionals understand the importance of thorough preparation and research before even accepting a task. This is arguably even more relevant when it comes to working in the Middle East where culture is king, and misunderstandings have the potential to ruin operations and future business partnerships. To add a layer of nuance and complexity, each Middle Eastern city – be it Dubai, Cairo, or Riyadh – calls for a slightly different approach, making things that much more interesting.

One cultural misstep in the Middle East could cost millions for your clients, lives, or your job!  While working with various clients across the Middle East and North Africa, I was tasked with looking after a HNW principal from the UK who was visiting Dubai for the first time. Dubai is a safe city, so my services were mainly focused on cultural awareness and general know-how – something that can be overlooked by newbie EPs but is essential for a successful operator.

The Principal was keen on inviting an Emirati contact to a business lunch. The Holy Month of Ramadan had just begun, so I politely advised him this wouldn’t be possible. Muslims don’t eat or drink in the daytime during Ramadan. So the principal suggested dinner instead. I explained that Ramadan was very much a family time – especially the first few days. However, I informed him that since the Emiratis are known for their warm welcome and hospitality it wouldn’t be out of line for the business contact to host the Principal. And that it would be best to be mindful of the cultural norms to lay the foundations for good future business relations.

In the end, we agreed for him to visit the Emirati contact after the iftar dinner, which is the first meal after the sunset – around 1900hrs. And after the contact had attended prayer – around 2200hrs. Setting a business meeting at such a time in the UK would have been unheard of! An inexperienced EP might’ve advised his Principal to put off the meeting until after the Holy month and resulted in a potential loss of millions in lost opportunity. But knowing the cultural nuisance allowed for a successful meeting to take place during Ramadan and all under perfectly acceptable norms.

Any modern protector that has operated on the circuit a while will have a war story about a time where disaster or potential disaster by what seems to be a hair! This list of dos and don’ts will help prepare you for Executive Protection in the Middle East so you have a success story of your own.


  • Know the basic Arabic greeting – using it will make your principal happy, even if your pronunciation is a bit off (recommended for all cities as mentioned above).

  • Be mindful that, before Covid, it would a common sight to see Middle Eastern men greeting one another by kissing the cheek (North African countries) or touching noses (as in the ) UAE. The practice remains a huge part of Middle Eastern culture, so it will likely return once things are safe.

  • Know the prayer times (Muslims pray up to 5 times per day) and locations of the nearest mosques so that you are prepared if your principal requests to pray in between meetings or while driving from point A to B. Due to Covid, some Middle Eastern countries have restricted public gatherings which may include mosques. In such cases, your principal may request a private spot or meeting room for prayer. They may even ask you to find out the direction of Mecca which is the point that Muslims face when they pray. There are plenty of apps you can  download for just this purpose!

  • Turn the music down while driving your Middle Eastern principal when you hear the call to prayer from surrounding mosques. This is a sign of respect and will be greatly appreciated.

  • Show understanding and appreciation for the Holy Month of Ramadan, and its special requirements. This year, Ramadan is expected to fall around April 13 and will last until approximately May 12. Throughout the month, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, so it’s a good idea to take note of the sunrise and sunset timings. Traffic can be especially challenging just before iftar – the time when Muslims break their fast – yet another good reason to keep tabs if you need to get your principal somewhere at short notice. If your principal is fasting, avoid eating or drinking in front of them or their family members as a sign of respect. You can still eat or drink when you’re alone, out of public sight. Beware: some Middle Eastern countries, particularly those in the Gulf, take this seriously and you may face fines or even imprisonment for flouting Ramadan rules.

  • Be mindful of your dress code, particularly when it comes to showing tattoos in visible areas. Cover them by wearing long sleeves, long trousers etc. or risk losing business opportunities. In more conservative Middle Eastern cities like Riyadh, EPs with a visible tattoo would not be welcome. Principals may be more accepting of tattoos if you’re at the beach with them or doing the morning run – either way, have a discussion with the principal before getting too comfortable (highly recommended for tasks in KSA). Visible body piercings, except 1 set of earrings for female EPs, are not acceptable.

  • Always look smart and well-groomed (applicable for all cities).

  • Invest in a tailored suit and decent looking accessories, like a watch (only recommended in the UAE and KSA; wearing overtly expensive attire in North African countries may draw unwanted attention to you and your principal). Image is extremely important in Middle Eastern society and yours is a reflection on your principal.

  • Be flexible – executive protection in some Middle Eastern cities, particularly safer and controlled environments like Dubai, may involve assisting more than anything else. You could end up accompanying your principal and their family to the mall and be expected to carry the shopping, for example.


  • Never shake hands with a Middle Eastern woman as a male EP, even if her husband (the principal, in this case) shakes your hand. You can keep your hand on your chest by way of greeting, then nod your head down and greet her verbally. This is also a great all-round solution for polite greetings in Covid times.

  • Don’t clock watch – your task may well exceed the amount of hours originally agreed on, as time is not monitored as closely in the Middle East as it is in Europe, for example. Most Middle Eastern principals will tip you generously to make up for this, however.

  • Don’t befriend your principal or your principal’s family/friends. Outwardly, your principal may seem open and keen for friendship, however a positive response on your part may be misinterpreted as overfamiliarity – especially if it is the first task with your Middle Eastern principal. Similarly, be watchful for overfamiliarity from team members to avoid compromising the professionalism of the operation.

  • Don’t use or repeat Arabic words if you don’t know their meanings, as they might sound offensive when pronounced incorrectly by mistake.

  • Don’t use hand gestures, such as pointing, or other non-verbal modes of communication as they have a wide range of meaning and may offend your Middle Eastern principal.

Executive Protection in the Middle East – How to Avoid Embarrassing & Costly MistakeWritten by Ahmed AteekAhmed is a Certified Security Professional (ASP Instructor, USA/EP, Poland/TSCM Operative) from Egypt who has lived in Dubai for the past 15 years. His work experience includes security escort and deportee security with Emirates Airline and numerous EP assignments for international clients across the Middle East and North Africa. Ahmed is also the founder of the first fully licensed Krav Maga training facility in the UAE – Krav Maga Middle East East at www.kravmagamiddleast.com or contact Ahmed at [email protected]

Join the conversation

or to participate.