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Arab Stock Markets Plunge Amid World Financial Turmoil

Stock markets in the Arabian Gulf and across much of the Arab world are in a swoon after Asian markets plunged following Wall Street losses Friday. Many large Gulf investors have money invested in U.S. equities and real estate but the steep recent drop in oil prices is affecting their revenues and causing market instability, as Edward Yeranian reports from Beirut.

Investors and brokers wore worried looks as the morning progressed and the main Gulf stock exchanges lost billions of dollars. The Saudi stock exchange lost 10-percent at the opening bell and remained nine-percent lower for most of the session.

Exchanges in Dubai and Abu Dhabi were about five-percent lower, after losing almost 7 percent Sunday.

Al Arabiya TV reported that much of the slide was due to a collapse in the real estate and property development sectors which have seen tremendous growth in the United Arab Emirates in recent years.

Few Arab stock markets were unscathed, with Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar all losing at least four percent. Most Arab and Gulf markets appeared to take their cue from Asia after Tokyo and Shanghai lost around five-percent.

Brokers in the Gulf suggested investors began panicking after the price of oil, which plays a large part in Gulf economies, fell below 90-dollars a barrel in early trading.

In neighboring Jordan, parliament member Mohammed Zareeqat told a financial website that his home town of Jarash had become a "disaster area" due to stock market losses. "Ninety-percent of our citizens have been hit by the slide," he said.

The relatively small Beirut stock exchange lost just over five-percent although traders insisted that Lebanon is usually an "economic oasis" in times of international turmoil. The Egyptian exchange bucked the trend and climbed slightly.

The Beirut Daily Star newspaper's business editor, Osama Habib, insisted he is "optimistic in the short to medium term" and that Gulf and Arab exchanges should stabilize after a few days of turbulence provoked by world events.

"But, as I said, it is natural, you know, it is a global village, now. You cannot say that I will not be hit by the other. They will be affected. But the economies in the G.C.C. are still strong. You have the oil as the main source of revenue. Another factor, which may have affected the stock exchanges is the falling oil prices. Today, the barrel of oil is below 90-dollars," he said.

Habib was less optimistic for the long term, especially if the U.S. program to buy "toxic assets" from troubled banks fails to stop a global slide into recession.

"If this financial crisis turns into recession, for example, a global recession, it may in the long run affect the G.C.C. stock exchanges if the crisis continues," he added. "Now, if the U.S. measures to check the crisis ... if it did not succeed, there will be some concern, of course."

One veteran Gulf investor told CNBC's Arabic language business channel that a "global panic" was hitting all international markets. "It is difficult to say when a panic will stop," he concluded.