Lending a Hand

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As the conflict between Israel and Hizbullah extends into its third week, the UAE and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are using their economic might to lend a hand to war-torn parts of Lebanon.

On July 28, the UAE held a telethon for Lebanon's victims of the war raising Dh49.6m ($13.5m). The 10-hour campaign was broadcast on four local channels and was sponsored by local television conglomerate Dubai Media Incorporated, the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Humanitarian foundation and the UAE Red Crescent.

According to the telethon's organisers, the first donations came from prominent members of the community, including Mashreqbank CEO Abdul-Aziz al-Ghurair, who donated Dh5m ($1.36m) and businessman Ahmad Abdullah al-Shaafar, who donated Dh1m ($272,300).

"From a humanitarian point of view we have done a great thing", Najla al-Awadhi, general manager of One TV and co-ordinator of the telethon, told OBG. "The good thing is that we were getting calls from the GCC countries too, as well as the Middle East and North Africa."

She stressed that the one-day telethon was just to jumpstart support for the victims, and there will be ongoing efforts on their channels to heighten awareness and collect additional contributions.

"As long as there is a humanitarian crisis in Lebanon, we will continue to take donations," she said, adding that as of July 30 the charities had upped the total to Dh55m ($14.98m).

Indeed, the UAE's media has been one of the loudest and most active in the region regarding the current crisis.

"The UAE is definitely playing a leading role in the region," said al-Awadhi on the coverage of the Israeli-Lebanese conflict, "And Dubai Media Incorporated is the only medium to dedicate all four of our channels ...to do [a telethon]."

The UAE government also pitched in by donating some $20m for medical and aid supplies and providing regular humanitarian relief services, while other GCC countries have been equally as generous.

Leading the pack is Saudi Arabia, which according to Reuters transferred $1bn to Lebanon's central bank on July 26, and has earmarked at least another $50m for emergency humanitarian aid.

In total, Saudi Arabia has pledged $1.5bn for relief and rebuilding efforts in Lebanon, making it the largest Arab donor. On July 27, a day earlier than the UAE charity drive, a Saudi television station raised over $30m for Lebanon.

Due to the ready availability of petrodollars and sympathy with what many view as Israeli aggression, the Arab world is prepared to speak with one voice when it comes to providing economic assistance. But alleviating the suffering and re-building the damaged infrastructure is only the first of many challenges that lay ahead for the region.

Behind the humanitarian crisis lies hundreds of millions of dollars for UAE investments in Lebanon and its surrounding countries. Emirati companies, looking to diversify their operations into other Middle East countries, have been drawn to sectors like tourism and real estate.

Among those involved in Lebanon, Abu Dhabi Investment House has committed $600m to the Beirut Gate project, which is scheduled to be built on over 21,000 sq metres in the Beirut Central District. Other UAE-based companies, like property developer Damac and the family-owned al-Futtaim Group, also have multi-million dollar projects in Lebanon.

In tourism, established UAE hotel conglomerate al-Habtoor Group, which runs two hotels in Lebanon, has closed down its Habtoorland theme park in Beirut and temporarily shut down its hotels due to low volumes and security concerns.

If the conflict were to spread, at risk are UAE investments all over the region. Emaar, Dubai's property giant, reportedly has pending investments in Lebanon along with other large contracts for developments in Syria ($500m Eighth Gate project), Saudi Arabia ($26.6bn King Abdullah Economic City) and Egypt ($4bn Cairo Heights). The tourism and real estate sectors have been surging in the past few years, and if the violence continues, large-scale regional projects might be affected.

Regardless, the priority, even for those with money invested in the region, is raising more money and delivering additional aid, instead of lamenting the future economic ramifications.

Mohammed al-Habtoor, CEO of al-Habtoor Group, said in a statement released to the local press, "At the moment people are dying in Lebanon daily and it is not the right time to worry too much about future business. People's security comes first."

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