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UAE distances itself from security fears

GREAT efforts are being made by the UAE government to distance itself in the world’s eyes from the security problems that afflict the rest of the region, according to a recently released Oxford Business Group (OBG) study.

GREAT efforts are being made by the UAE government to distance itself in the world’s eyes from the security problems that afflict the rest of the region, according to a recently released Oxford Business Group (OBG) study.

The UAE remains one of the few Arab countries, which has not suffered violence from the many militant Islamic organisations that plague the region. However, the OBG report claims that an explosion in high-profile Dubai could irreparably damage the country’s economy and booming tourism industry.

“Were Dubai suddenly to seem a little more dangerous, and more similar to the Arabian Peninsula of people’s nightmares, would the brand they have built be damaged beyond repair? Would the foreign investors they have attracted up and leave, and would those that are projected to arrive in the next decade stay away?” the report reads, adding the fact that no such attack has taken place is a “remarkable asset as the country presents itself to the world”.

The report suggests the worst-case scenario for the emirate would be an attack on a soft target such as one of Dubai’s hotels — a tactic which has been used to devastating effect in Egypt and elsewhere more than once.

“A hotel would have to go on the list of targets because it is a soft target and an attack on a hotel would certainly damage Dubai’s tourism industry,” Simon Williams, country risk services manager, Middle East and North Africa, Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) told Arabian Business. “An obvious target would be Dubai’s well-known iconic buildings — whether it be a postcard target like the Burj Al Arab or the Emirates Towers because that would guarantee a lot of attention,” he added.

The OBG claims since tourism and real estate development are the principal drivers of Dubai’s latest economic boom, it is more vulnerable than even Egypt. However, the EIU believes the emirate’s economy is more robust and would survive a terrorist incident.

“It’s a mistake to understate the resilience of economies,” explained Williams. “I believe that resilience has actually increased as attacks have become more commonplace. Places bounce back more quickly than you might anticipate — whether it’s Egypt or somewhere else,” he added.

The issue of security has come to the fore in recent weeks after a warning was posted on an Islamist website, admonishing the UAE government for allowing US naval vessels to use Dubai’s ports and for its pro-US policies. The posting on the Al Sakifah site on July 19 warned the UAE to remove the US ambassador and other US citizens within 10 days or face an attack. “If you refuse to do this, we ask God to settle the matter or we will settle it with our own hands,” it said.

While Al Qaeda’s principle focus is the US, there have been many attacks on its allies since September 11, 2001, designed to evaporate support for the US. Nevertheless, there are many countries in the region with closer ties to the US than the UAE.

“Dubai is quite possibly on someone’s list but that list extends to any of the region’s pro-Western governments. Dubai is one of many possible targets, but I think it would still rank below Saudi and in terms of the ease in which an attack could be executed I’d put it below Kuwait and Bahrain,” said Williams. “With its links to the US fleet, Bahrain is in some ways even more of a high-profile symbol of that relationship with the West that a number of Islamist groups would wish to overturn,” he added.

The OBG report concedes that a single attack would probably not irrevocably damage the Dubai brand and it claims the UAE security services’ track record so far makes “a more sustained attack unlikely”. However, a series of attacks on the emirate could have a catastrophic effect.

“A one-off attack would be a short-term concern, but Dubai would recover — what would be an issue is if there was a long-term and sustained campaign of the kind you’ve seen in Saudi over the last few years,” explained Williams. “That would really do tremendous damage [to the UAE] and be very difficult for the authorities to cope with,” he added.

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