Prominent UAE businessman threatens exit from Lebanon due to economic crisis

Prominent UAE businessman threatens exit from Lebanon due to economic crisis
The prominent UAE conglomerate, Al-Habtoor group, threatened to withdraw from Lebanon if the government did not help it recover its investments.
3 min read
12 December, 2023
Al-Habtoor group invested US$1.5 billion in Lebanon and employs 500 people in the country. [Getty]

The prominent UAE conglomerate, Al-Habtoor group, threatens to pull out of Lebanon if the Lebanese government "does not take action to protect its investments," its chairman said on Tuesday.

The company's chairman, Khalaf al-Habtoor, said in an interview with Arab News that after four years of economic crisis, the value of the multinational hospitality company's formerly US$1.5 billion in Lebanese investments had dwindled to almost zero.

The company employs 500 employees across Lebanon.

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Al-Habtoor demanded that the firm's assets that the country's banks illegally seized be returned, or else he would enlist "high-calibre law firms overseas" to attempt to reclaim them.

Lebanon's banks froze the assets of most depositors' accounts in the wake of its 2019 financial crisis, confiscating the savings of millions and converting Lebanon into a cash economy. Previously, the country's banking sector was one of the most lucrative in the Middle East and was a major component of its economy.

Depositors' rights groups have attempted to sue to reclaim their assets from banks, but these efforts have stalled in Lebanese courts.

The business conglomerate's threat came as Lebanon's economic and political situation was once again shaken, this time by the Israel-Gaza war and the subsequent clashes between Hezbollah and Israel along the countries' shared border.

Lebanon's hospitality and tourism sector, in particular, made a comeback this summer, having its most profitable season since the financial crisis started in fall 2019. Tourism is one of Lebanon's biggest industries and a vital foreign currency source for the cash-strapped state.

The outbreak of war erased those gains, officials in the Lebanese hotel and tourism associations have said, with hotel occupancy rates between 0 and 7 per cent on average across the country.

Many flight carriers cancelled their routes to Beirut for fear of a war breaking out between Israel and Lebanon. In the 2006 war between the two countries, the Beirut airport was one of the first pieces of major infrastructure that Israel hit.

Middle East Airlines, Lebanon's national carrier, has said that its incoming flights to Lebanon were completely booked for December, promising a slight pick-up in visitors.

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Still, the prospect of cross-border clashes between Hezbollah and Israel continuing to drag on into the new year would likely stymie Lebanon's economic recovery.

International diplomats have called on both Hezbollah and Israel to de-escalate along the border, specifically calling for stricter implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1701.

UNSC Resolution 1701 calls for Hezbollah to withdraw north of the Litani River and for Israeli forces to respect the Blue Line, the current border demarcation between the two countries.

Israel has threatened to remove Hezbollah from its positions south of the Litani River if it does not agree to implement the UNSC resolution through diplomatic means.