A farewell to arms? The frenzy of fury sweeping the Arab world that has already dislodged two US allies from power and threatens others could have a major impact on the multi-billion-dollar arms market in the Middle East.

Author:Blanche, Ed
Position:Current affairs: ARMS
 
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It was, to say the least, a bizarre moment: western defence companies touting their deadly wares at the Middle East's biggest arms exhibition in Abu Dhabi, while in nearby Bahrain the ruling dynasty was using American and British weapons against mobs of protesters in the streets calling for the fall of the House of Al Khalifa.

The trouble in the island kingdom off Saudi Arabia was a key element in a wave of political turbulence sweeping the Arab world from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, the greatest upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa for decades, and in all probability the dawn of a new era of strategic realignment.

As western liberals wrung their hands about the billions of dollars' worth of weapons sold to regimes that are falling or under threat by the fury of their own people, the business of selling them even more combat aircraft, attack helicopters, tanks and guns went on as though nothing was happening.

Indeed, according to one analysis of the Middle Eastern arms market, one of the most lucrative there is, military procurement in the region, primarily Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Iraq and Israel, is expected to grow by 14% over the next five years.

However, that was before the United Nations and the European Union (EU) imposed arms embargos on Libya, as longtime strongman Colonel Muammar Gaddafi lashed out ferociously at an insurgency aimed at toppling his 4z-year dictatorship.

Arms showcase

Defence industry analysts estimated that would cost Libya's main arms suppliers, Europe and Russia, as much as $10 billion in lost contracts as Gaddafi sought to modernise his armed forces after more than a decade of international isolation that ended in 2004, when he abandoned his clandestine nuclear arms programme.

The Russians were the hardest hit, with $z million in orders that may never see the light of day if Gaddafi goes down in flames, as many expect. On top of that, the state military exporters, Rosoboronexport, said it would lose $4 billion.

Even so, the industry's expectation that there are still rich pickings to be made was manifest at the biennial International Defence Exhibition (IDEX) in Abu Dhabi, 20-24 February. There were 1,060 defence and aerospace companies in attendance, the largest number of exhibitors at the exposition since it began 20 years ago.

At the end of the show, the UAE announced defence contracts worth $3.8 billion. That was down on the 2009 total of $5 billion, but it was clear that the unrest, which...

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