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Unrest hits Middle East work

Consultants and contractors working in the Middle East were this week counting their losses while trying to redeploy staff around the region as anti-government protests spread.

Evacuations

Evacuations of foreign nationals from the island state of Bahrain began last week, with a least half a dozen consultants confirming that they had moved staff to safer locations around the Gulf.

But there is also unease about the potential impact of unrest in Saudi Arabia.

Atkins has evacuated 170 staff from Bahrain and moved them to other offices in the Middle East.

Aecom, Davis Langdon, Mott MacDonald and MWH have also evacuated staff.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has urged British nationals without a “pressing reason” to stay in Bahrain to leave immediately.

For firms that have already felt the crunch from lost revenues in Libya, unrest in Bahrain and the Gulf region is especially worrying.

Loss of confidence

There are also fears that the loss of confidence associated with the unrest is delaying decisions affecting key projects.

Several large infrastructure projects across the region have had deadlines extended over the past week, including the prequalification deadline for Doha’s $2.2bn (£1.4bn) people mover project. This has been shifted from 8 March until the end of the month.

“You can feel it, it’s on the edge. Work is drying up at the moment and nothing is being awarded.”

Qatar consultant

Saudi Arabia has also extended the closing date to prequalify for the new Medina International Airport while the United Arab Emirates has put back the bid deadline for a large shopping mall on Yas Island.

Meanwhile, £4.8bn worth of projects in Bahrain are indefinitely on hold.

One Qatar-based consultant said the biggest concern was with continuing protests in Saudi Arabia.

Reduced confidence

He added that while Qatar has remained relatively free of anti-government sentiment, there was definitely an air of reduced confidence in the country.

“It has become a volatile part of the world and you tend to feel you are vulnerable,” he said.

“Bahrain has affected everybody and we’re all looking a bit nervous. There is the perception of disquiet around the region.

“You can feel it, it’s on the edge. Work is drying up at the moment and nothing is being awarded.”

A slow down in activity in the region could also impact in consultants’s revenues.

Trade promotion body British Expertise’s chief executive Graham Hand said he had already heard of companies that are overexposed in the Middle East and north Africa and warned that some could potentially fail as a result.

“It’s been a good region for British consultants and to some extent contractors, but the situation now is like [the downturn in] Dubai, however, much more serious,” he said.

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