Atlas Magazine July 2013

Middle East, hub wars

The gigantic rise of some emirates has redefined insurance status in the Gulf. Beirut, once the regional business center, was taken over long ago by Bahrain, which in turn, is no longer attracting any more investors. Bahraini market has not lost players; it is not attracting any, either.

It is in Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi that insurance leadership is playing out in the Middle East, with billions of dollars being disbursed in the process.
In less than a decade, three insurance hubs or business centers have been established in a limited geographical area. In 2004, the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) has started its operations copied in 2005 by the Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) in Doha. Finally, in 2013, Abu Dhabi announced the establishment of its own business center.

So far, few places were able to quickly turn into hubs. Those which managed have significant human resources, proven expertise in specific areas. They are endowed with a strong financial environment, a regulatory framework and an advantageous tax system. London, Zurich, Luxemburg, Bermuda and Singapore have developed on all of these criteria.

In the Middle East, the data is reversed and the issue is not about attracting capital but about know-how. The race for gigantism has been supported by the political will of rulers who are endowed with huge financial resources. The future of Dubai, Qatar and Abu Dhabi seems to be centered around the use of a long-term communication. The cross-section strategy based on excellence and prestige includes a set of activities ranging from air transport, real estate, sports, tourism and financial services. The issue is not to sell a specific activity but rather a whole set of them. The creation of the Dubai, Qatar and Abu Dhabi “label” will not happen overnight. Nothing has been achieved so far because this all-out activism cannot overshadow the number-one challenge for Gulf countries, which is to transform an oil-rich economy into a service-driven society based on a skilled national workforce.

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