Capital flows into the UAE rose 40 percent to US$7.6 billion (Dh27.91bn) last year from 2010 as the country proved a haven for investors from turmoil elsewhere in the Arab world.
Foreign direct investment (FDI) into most other regional countries fell, according to data collated in a report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
It warned that FDI prospects for the region this year were still negative as a result of global and regional uncertainties.
"GCC countries are still recovering from the suspension or cancellation of large-scale projects in previous years," according to the report. "They registered a drop of 35 per cent in FDI inflows."
The data backs up other signs that showed the UAE benefited from instability elsewhere.
Banks and the housing market both received a boost last year as Arabs from countries rocked by unrest parked their cash with lenders and snapped up property. FDI inflows to Bahrain and Kuwait also rebounded last year.
Saudi Arabia, the region's largest recipient, had a 42 per cent fall to $16bn last year. Flows to Oman and Qatar also dropped back.
The decline was consistent with a general negative trend noted by UNCTAD in the west Asia region, which includes the GCC, the Levant and Turkey. Flows dropped 16 per cent to $49bn last year, affected by both the continuing political instability and weaker global economic prospects in the second half of the year.
Political and social unrest halted FDI flows to Syria and Yemen. A slowdown in Lebanon's property sector as a result of spillovers from regional unrest and the global financial crisis meant flows to the country were disrupted.
Overall, the regional FDI level is the lowest since 2005 - when flows stood at about $44bn - and far below the record high of about $92bn registered in 2008. Since then a number of schemes were either suspended or cancelled as a result of project financing drying up.
"After a period of calm and consolidation, projects started slowly coming back on line in 2010 but soon faced delays caused by the Arab uprisings across the region during 2011, and by new uncertainties about global economic prospects," according to the report.
Data from North Africa suggested unrest had a similar impact. Traditionally, the recipient of about a third of inward FDI to the continent, inflows halved last year to $7.69bn. Inflows to the two major recipients, Egypt and Libya were negligible, UNCTAD said.
As well as regional instability, FDI flows have also been strained by tougher access to capital markets as a result of the uncertain global economy. Funding from other sources has emerged to take up some of the slack.
Export credit agencies, in particular from Japan and South Korea, and other regional bank lenders helped to finance big projects with strong sponsors.
But the UN agency warned the outlook for this year remained rocky. "FDI inflows will continue declining in 2012, judged by preliminary data on cross-border merger and acquisition sales and greenfield investment for the first five months of 2012 as uncertainties at the global and regional levels are likely to cause foreign investors to remain cautious about their investment plans in the country," the report said.
In the longer term, however, the concentration of oil wealth in the region and the strategic need to diversify away from hydrocarbon sectors would create business opportunities and revive the region's attractiveness for foreign investors.
By Tom Arnold