Is it a new world out there?

Gulf analysts examine Middle East after the collapse of Lehman Brothers; Dubai taking the hardest hit.

September 15, 2010 17:32
2 minute read.

Dubai. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Two years ago, on September 15, 2008, Lehman Brothers, one of the oldest and largest investment banks in the United States, went bankrupt. One of the largest and most significant bankruptcies in history, the event triggered what became a global financial crisis.

What has the business world in the Gulf taken away from the two years since the onset of the current crises?

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While the Gulf region at first seemed to be unaffected by the crisis, in the end it’s effects were just delayed, with Dubai taking the hardest hit. Once seen as the model of how Gulf states should prepare for a future without a dependence on natural resources, today the Dubai government’s investment arm Dubai World has debts of up to $60 billion. In February the International Monetary Fund estimated Dubai's total debt to be as high as $109 billion dollars.

Yadullah Ijtehadi, Managing Editor of the business intelligence firm ABQ Zawya argued that two opposite forces collided as a result of the Lehman Brothers collapse.

“At the one end, we have demanded more transparency from companies and have punished them for being opaque or slow to reveal the truth about their business,” he told The Media Line. “But on the other hand, businesses have retreated into their shells and been more fuzzy about their business plans, their finances and their business outlook.”

“Caught in the middle are the regional regulators who are accused of not being quick enough to address the needs of the investors,” Ijtehadi continued. “Their performance has been patchy, at best, with a few good examples where they have been strict, but many occasions where they have been slow or weak in their action.”

“Mind you, this is no different from American and European regulators who also have a mixed report card since the crisis unfolded,” Ijtehadi said. “It is an especially tough time for all parties, and I think if the regulators can put in place at least some of the more robust policies and frameworks for corporate governance and transparency, the region would have at least learnt something from the crisis.”

Saudi businessman Ahmed Egal, Chief Executive Officer of software firm AOST Inc, said that the main change taking place has been in bank lending.

“There has not been a change in the way people do business but there has been a change in way banks lend to their customers,” Egal told The Media Line. “They have had national and regional problems and have taken a hit and are now much less willing to lend in the traditional form.”   

One of the main focuses in Dubai’s diversification plan was to develop the local real estate sector. Before the crisis struck, a new project was announced in the Emirates almost every week. When the crisis came, however, there was a drop in both financing and foreign buyers, forcing many projects to be canceled or put on hold.

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