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Dubai is the weakest link in the Qatar standoff

Pedestrians walk past street art in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Getty Images
Pedestrians walk past street art in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Dubai looks like a weak link in the Arab coalition boycotting Qatar. The sheikhdom's real estate and export sectors are particularly exposed to disruptions which could arise from the bitter dispute in the Gulf region. Unlike other parts of the region, the city has much to lose if its investor-friendly credentials suffer.

Trade and financial transactions with its neighbor have been stopped and direct flights grounded since Saudi Arabia began its campaign to isolate the Qatari economy in June. For its part, Qatar has rejected claims it is funding terrorism, and refused to comply with the 13 demands made by Saudi and its close allies. More sanctions may now be imminent.

Dubai's economy is already on thin ice. Although the emirate – the second largest of seven sheikhdoms in a federation dominated by oil-rich Abu Dhabi – has recorded narrow budget surpluses over the last five years that run is coming to an end. Moody's expects Dubai to record a 2.2 percent budget deficit this year.

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This could be an underestimate, if government revenues are hit by the Qatari crisis. Dubai's main port of Jebel Ali – the largest in the region – has lost business to rivals in Oman because it is now prohibited from shipping goods to Qatar. International businesses which use Dubai as a regional hub are unable to get their workers into Doha. Real estate prices also look vulnerable. Qataris bought over $500 million of property in the emirate last year.

Qatar's best means of retaliation against its detractors is to shut off the undersea pipeline that supplies natural gas to Dubai. Such a move would cause blackouts, or force Dubai's main utility to import more expensive supplies from outside the region.

None of this is a severe blow. Dubai can always fall back on Abu Dhabi, or Saudi Arabia, for financial help – though with oil prices stubbornly below $50 a barrel, those oil-dependent states may be less than thrilled to help. Even so, as a city that has thrived by keeping its politics mostly neutral, and its doors open while neighbours kept theirs closed, Dubai is first in line to share Qatar's pain.

Commentary by Andy Critchlow, Middle East editor at Breakingviews. Follow him on Twitter @baldersdale.

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