(CNN) Anyone doing business in the Gulf knows that life takes on a different rhythm during the month of Ramadan. With millions of Muslims forgoing food and drink between sunrise and sunset, daily routines change, working hours shorten and thoughts turn ...and more »
This is not without a cost. One 2011 market research report estimated the UAE alone lost $1.4 billion in GDP during the holy month due to the wind down.
But change is afoot in Dubai. In recent years laws have been relaxed around how companies can operate during the day, even allowing some hotels to serve food and alcohol. However, it's when the fasting is broken after sundown with the iftar meal that the big business moves are being made.
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Between obligatory prayers, meals and meetings in household Majilis offer prime networking opportunities for Dubai's business elite. Traditionally, large Arab households would have a designated room for business, but during Ramadan some pop-up Majilis also emerge.
"The Majilis in the old days used to be the business (...) meeting room for people to come and (share) their ideas," explains Ibrahim Al Zubi, chief sustainability officer at the Majid Al-Futtaim Group, an Emirati holding company operating a number of retail and leisure complexes in the region.
"It's another way of doing business," he adds, saying the socializing normally goes on from 22:00 to 02:00, even as late as three in the morning.
The UAE has relaxed laws in recent years as to how businesses can operate during Ramadan.
"It's an opportunity for us to get closer to business owners in a very casual environment," argues Khaldoun Haj Hasan, founding partner of private equity firm Ithmar Capital. "The very relaxed environment is different than the office environment, which can be more rigid... I prefer this sort of environment," he adds. "Part of you buying a business is (conducting due diligence on) the owners of these businesses, and there's no better place."
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"I feel like (during) Ramadan people are a lot calmer, and people are a lot more open (and) understanding than throughout the year," says Omar Al Olama, Minister of State for artificial intelligence and at 28, one of the UAE's youngest ministers. "You can really approach a lot of people and do a lot of business."
CNN followed Al Olama from iftar to suhur, the last meal before sunrise, to get a taste of the cut and thrust of the business world after dark. Watch the video to find out more.
middleeast,The business of Ramadan: Religion and capital converge in the UAE - CNN