A tray of traditional Arabic Coffee has long been one of the most common rituals of hospitality during internal audit meetings. What a delightful experience! Arabic Coffee’s unique taste fuses noble heritage with modernity, and its strong aroma blends Arab cultural traditions deeply rooted in this Nation’s history, especially the most well-known tradition of warm hospitality and generosity. Arabic Coffee is an inseparable part of Arab heritage. That’s why it is important to gain an understanding of the habits and traditions of Arab communities in the Middle East, so that one may find common ground that aids in undertaking audit tasks. In this article, I will outline the ways to find this common ground.

Despite all the efforts made to define the role of internal audit, the prevailing image of internal auditors in the Middle East portrays them as policemen, whose job is to hunt for auditees’ mistakes.Therefore, auditees (Arabs in this case) tend to show resistance, along with a misunderstanding of the role
of internal auditors, even prior to meeting the auditors.

Arabic Coffee

This makes the audit kick-off meeting a golden opportunity to change this image and gain auditee’s trust, as the first impression is always the last one. Following the handshake – a common practice at the beginning and end of meetings – traditional Arabic coffee is normally served, at which time it is customary for all guests to drink at least one cup of coffee. This is considered a sign of respect and esteem.Sharing Arabic Coffee with guests has symbolic and ritual significance in the Middle East. While sipping your coffee, you may take this opportunity to break the ice by engaging in small talks not related to business. While steering clear of delving into personal matters, and instead focusing on more general topics- you can express your admiration for the places you’ve been to, or the people you have met in the country, if you have only recently been there.

Moreover, you must respect and abide by all the laws of the Middle Eastern region, as they are generally based on religious, traditional and cultural strings attached to these laws. So you are expected to fully comply with these laws in order to avoid publicly embarrassing yourself or committing an unintentional
offense. And don’t forget to pay as much attention to social habits as you can. For example, if somebody greets you by saying: Assalamu Alaykum (Peace be upon you), you should reply properly with a welcoming attitude. You should also stand up while shaking hands, as shaking hands while seated could be perceived as a sign of disrespect to the other party.

Having reached this far, you have now found common ground with the auditee. This is the perfect time to explain the modern role of the internal auditor and the key objective of the audit process. This explanation serves to change the prevalent image of the auditor, who is generally viewed as a law enforcer or a policeman. It would also be useful, towards the end of the meeting, to discuss the scope of the audit; specifically, the processes that are subject to audit and the time frame. The main objective here is to dispel any worries or concerns and pave the way towards a common understanding regarding the role of the internal audit.

What has been discussed here -adapting to the surrounding social environment and obtaining a deep understanding of the changes this adaptation entails – is
just a starting point for the internal auditor to efficiently carry out an audit in the Middle East. The auditor has to bear in mind that there’s no single, standard method to carry out internal audit activities, and as they say in the Middle East: “Variety is the spice of life.”

Last but not least, don’t you ever miss the opportunity to enjoy Arabic Coffee during a weekend at one of the UAE’s spectacular beaches.

About the Author:
Tamer Gheith, CPA, CIA, CFE, CGAP, CCSA, CGMA, CRMA is a internal audit professional with a government organization in Qatar.