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Middle East unrest threatens to stall major civils projects

Engineering firms in the Middle East were this week cautiously monitoring how protests in the Gulf state of Oman unfold, as unrest spreads within the region and threatens to stall major infrastructure projects.

Last weekend, reports emerged that protests in the northern city of Sohar, Oman’s main industrial centre, had been escalating with a number of protestors killed.

It is unclear how many protestors have died in Oman but reports from hospital staff said as many as six people were killed in Sohar on Sunday when police fired on demonstrators. The government’s official death toll is one.
A senior executive with an international consulting firm based in the Middle East yesterday told NCE he was surprised and concerned by the evolving situation in Oman.

“Oman has been perceived to be a very stable place with a predictable government,” he said. “I think the recent events there have taken many people by surprise and there are questions arising on the situation throughout the region.”

“I think the recent events there have taken many people by surprise and there are questions arising”

Senior executive

He added that the unrest was slowing down projects and putting pressure on timescales. “The way I look at it is that officials will become distracted with the unrest rather than getting on with their jobs and that becomes a problem,” he said.

In a sign that the unrest is spreading through Oman, a source within project manager Bechtel told NCE earlier this week that colleagues at a large airport project in Muscat were withdrawing from the site office to the main office while the protests continued.

A spokesman from Bechtel said they had no plans to withdraw staff from Oman at this stage and that they were monitoring the situation closely.

“UK business has a long-standing history of working within Oman”

Graham Hand, British Expertise

British Expertise chief executive Graham Hand said he too was surprised by the unrest. “UK business has a long-standing history of working within Oman,” he said. “Oman has been a very peaceful, happy place for a long time, and I would have hoped that peace and stability will remain.”

The unrest in Sohar is being attributed to discontent with leader Sultan Qaboos bin Said. It follows a wave of pro-democracy protests across the Arab world.

More than 100 UK staff members from consultants and contractors have been evacuated from Libya since the start of the uprising against Colonel Gaddafi’s regime last month, which has seen work on many projects halt.

Consultant Mott MacDonald has withdrawn 10, Halcrow three and Biwater has evacuated three who were working on its £29.7M El-Beida City wastewater treatment plant.

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesman said they believed only “a small number” of Britons remain in Libya, with 800 British nationals having been repatriated since 23 February.

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