Construction firms feeling pain in blockaded Qatar

Reports are surfacing of difficulties experienced by construction firms in Qatar as the stand-off between it and its Gulf neighbours drags on.

The trouble began when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic ties on 5 June, accusing Qatar of funding terrorism, which it denies.

The economic sanctions amount to a blockade of the tiny, gas-rich country with road, air and sea links cut off.
It comes amid an unprecedented building boom in Qatar, which is preparing for the 2022 World Cup. Key materials including concrete and steel come in by ship but also by land from Saudi Arabia.

Shortly after the blockade began, the Philippines halted the flow of its nationals to Qatar, where many go to work. The government said it feared food shortages.

"Qatar is a valuable market for us and we want to continue here but it has become difficult and if there’s no improvement we will have to review our strategy," a commercial manager at a European construction services company told Reuters.

The company may stop bidding for new contracts, and could be forced to wind down its operations altogether if sanctions intensify, said the manager, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Another executive, at an international engineering firm, told Reuters the situation had already forced his company to delay some projects.

"As a satellite office in Qatar we rely on being able to bring staff across from UAE regularly. Several jobs have had to be postponed due to building materials being held up in Jebel Ali port (in UAE)," he said.

"Where necessary, employees have had to travel for seven hours via Oman to get to Qatar."

One Bahrain-based businessman who does consulting work in Doha, William Grieve, told Reuters that his weekly 40-minute flight to Qatar is now a 10-hour journey via Kuwait.

Reuters reported that banks and law firms are also feeling the strain.

But a Qatari official downplayed concerns about the diplomatic rift making life harder for businesses. He went as far as to say that now was an opportunity for new firms to enter a lucrative market.

"Don’t believe all the hype about business being affected. Qatar can weather the storm. It is business as usual for us here," the official, who declined to be named under government briefing rules, told Reuters.

The situation is still highly uncertain.

Last week Qatar’s angry neighbours issued 13 demands to Doha, including closing the Al Jazeera broadcasting agency, curbing relations with Iran and shutting a Turkish military base.

Qatar is reviewing the list but has said the demands are unreasonable.

Image: Doha, Qatar. The tiny, gas-rich country has experienced a multi-year building boom as it prepares for the 2022 World Cup (Typhoonski/Dreamstime)

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