x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

UAE's Syria projects hang in the balance

Head of Abu Dhabi Fund for Development says it is unclear what effect sanctions would have on UAE-funded projects in Syria.

ABU DHABI // It is unclear whether UAE-funded projects in Syria will halt if the Emirates goes ahead with Arab League-backed sanctions, the director general of Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) has said.

Although Syria said last night that it would accept the Arab League's request to send observers into the country, it was too early to tell whether that would be enough to prevent sanctions - either from countries in the region, or elsewhere.

Mohamed Al Suwaidi said that the fund would have to abide by any sanctions agreed by the UAE Government, but he was unsure whether its projects would be affected.

"We do have a presence in Syria. I don't want to say big - we have one good-sized project worth over a billion dirhams," he said.

"We haven't decided what to do with these new sanctions because some of the projects we have in Syria have been ongoing for a long time, and it will be a bit hard to stop them, but we will be abiding by our country's decision on this matter."

ADFD has run 11 projects in Syria since it was set up in 1971. Two were completed, two cancelled, and seven others are ongoing. Most are in the energy sector.

Halting the projects would put the Syrians working on them out of jobs - which Mr Al Suwaidi stressed would be at odds with the aims of the fund.

"We try to create the highest number of job opportunities," he said. "We are a non-political entity, so we do not get involved with politics directly. Yes we are affected by it, but we do not create it."

The fund will continue to back projects in other countries affected by the Arab Spring. There are no projects yet in Libya, but fund officials recently discussed projects with a delegation from Tunisia, and the fund is also planning a presence in Egypt.

"Egypt is affected the most by these events, and of course the UAE since the beginning [of the protests] started a programme for Egypt, sending Dh3.2 billion to help Egypt," he said. "I personally spent my Eid holiday in Egypt - Egypt is bigger than these events, and I think very soon the fund and other associations will have a presence in Egypt."

He said it was still too early to calculate how much damage had been done by the months of revolt in Arab countries. "We are monitoring, all funds in the Arab world are monitoring the situation, because no one yet knows the size of the destruction," he said. "We hear what you hear. And yes, we will have a role, a role that will help all, god willing."

The fund is also working with Morocco to help its bid for GCC membership. "Our activity there is good and is on a large scale," he said. "On the political aspect, we in the fund are working towards helping Morocco on a yearly basis for the GCC."

He stressed that the fund was "not a charity, it is a financial development fund".

The Dh29bn fund runs 308 projects in 56 countries, up from 200 projects in 53 countries in 2008. More than 70 per cent of its loans are for projects in Arab countries.

And while it is hoping to reach a further 70 countries in the next two years, Mr Al Suwaidi said it was likely that requests for assistance would rise as a result of the global economic crisis.

osalem@thenational.ae