The Arab League’s 2009 economic report finds the UAE and Qatar the richest countries in the region.

Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are the wealthiest nations in the Arab World, the Arab Leagues annual economic report has found.

The figures, released this week, show Qatar to have the region’s highest per capita GDP at $70,651 for a population of 1.448 million, while the UAE’s per capita GDP stood at $52,574 for a population of 4.76 million. The two tiny Gulf states both beat out oil-giant Saudi Arabia by four places.

“They are oil exporting countries and their small population size gives them a relatively high per capita,” Abdulnasser Hatemi, a professor of finance at UAE University told The Media Line. “They are very active in tourism and other economic activities.”

While Hatemi was optimistic about the UAE’s economic prospects, a number of regional analysts maintain that the financial crisis hit the country hard, rendering the Arab League report unreflective of the current economic landscape. Many economics experts lowered their 2009 GDP forecasts for the country from around 3% to nearly zero following Dubai’s recent debt crisis.

Ganesh Seshan, Professor of Economics at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar, argued that unlike its larger Gulf neighbors, Qatar was relatively sheltered from the economic downturn.

“Qatar has not been as affected compared to other Gulf countries,” he told The Media Line. “There was a slowdown last year but it looks like things have started to pick up again.”

“The figures are not surprising,” he told The Media Line. “Qatar is unique: a small country and a producer of a resource that is in demand by the rest of the world. I doubt very much that other countries will be able to achieve that any time soon, so it will probably hold its position for a while.”

The report found Yemen and Mauritania to be the poorest countries in the region, while Saudi Arabia maintained its position as the Arab world’s largest economy, accounting for nearly 25% of the region’s collective GDP.

Despite negligible oil revenue, Bahrain was the fourth wealthiest nation in the Arab world, owing largely to the Gulf state’s ownership of the largest offshore banking systems in the region. Bahrain’s GDP per capita stood at $21,675 in 2008 for a population of 1.123 million, with an overall GDP of $24.3bn.

The Media Line

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