It’s chaos for construction in the Middle East. So what’s the outlook in the longer term?

As construction firms scramble to evacuate their staff from angry anti- and pro-government mobs, and company lawyers nervously run the rule over political risk insurance policies, we try to make sense of the drama unfolding in the Middle East and what it means for you. For many international consultants and architects, these cash-rich countries run by undemocratic governments with huge ambitions and few development constraints have been a preferred growth market in recent years. But when stability is replaced overnight by danger, strategies must be reconsidered - and quickly.

Take Libya, for example. Only last year a study by UK Trade and Investment identified the market as potentially the fourth most attractive for British exports by 2012-2014. The cash was certainly there for the taking. In 2009, Colonel Gaddafi’s government announced £36bn for new housing and infrastructure, on top of the £66bn it planned to spend until 2012 to create “a new gateway to Africa”. But now? Bombs are blasting through Capita Symonds’ Benghazi airport project, staff are fleeing, and the remaining bulk of the promised cash can be considered on hold for the time being. The consequences will be felt in many boardrooms across the globe.

So is all lost? There is little doubt that countries such as Libya, and those traditionally considered more stable, like Bahrain, that desperately need basic infrastructure and housing, will need the vast array of design, project management, engineering and consultancy skills that UK and international firms can offer. Once stability and capital spending return, that is. But right now that’s no consolation to the firms that have positioned themselves to capitalise on the region’s expected growth and that worked hard to understand local political, regulatory and legal frameworks.

For some, like architect Feilden Clegg Bradley, which has vowed never to work under Gaddafi again, the situation is a moral one. However, for most, political instability is the main obstacle to returning to these regions. How long will we have to wait? To keep your finger on the pulse, look no further than the social media platforms and citizen journalism that have defined the recent protests. In this digital era, this is how interested parties talk to each other and find out up-to-the-minute information on the ground. And it’s not just a case of Facebook being used to spark the demonstrations in Egypt’s Tahrir Square. The social media revolution, with all its risk and opportunity, will define the identity of your business - an issue we will explore in next week’s magazine. But for now, as the political revolution in the Middle East continues, watch this space and for more breaking news, expert analysis, comment and data to keep you in the loop.  

Tom Broughton is brand director at Building