Middle East Business News Review – 23 September

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Today’s top business news from the Middle East and North Africa:

Qatar, Egypt to boost energy cooperation; sign refinery deal

Qatar announced it will go ahead with its strategic investments in Egypt to help the country get past the economic turbulence it is going through since the 2011 fall of Hosni Mubarak.

Mohammed bin Saleh al-Sada, Qatar’s minister of energy and industry, said critical investments will be made in a $3.7 billion oil refinery project in Egypt during Egypt’s Minister of Petroleum Osama Kamal’s visit to Doha on Saturday. He declined to give the specific amount of his country’s share, but previous reports suggest Qatar is ready to invest at least $400 million to help launch the long-stalled project.

Egypt’s Oil Minister Usama Kamal said Saturday the refinery on the outskirts of Cairo will produce 4.2 million tons per year of gasoline, diesel and other energy products.

Lebanon offshore gas reserves estimated $40bn

An international firm, awarded contract by the Lebanese government, has estimated the volume of gas in Lebanon’s south-west corner to be close to 25 trillion cubic feet, valued by experts to be worth over $40 billion, report said on Saturday.

Beirut contracted Spectrum to conduct a 3-D seismic survey off the Lebanese coast. The Lebanese newspaper said results have been more than encouraging so far as major US, European and Asian companies are exploring gas drilling opportunities off the Lebanese coast.

Rolands explained that the total maritime area that will be surveyed is 22,000 square kilometers, meaning that gas levels could be higher than initial estimates. Some experts have estimated it to be worth in excess of $40 billion at current market prices. The Spectrum CEO however declined to speculate the market value of the 25 trillion cubic feet of gas.

Iraq looking for new flag, anthem to seek unity

In a move aimed at unifying Iraq’s different ethnic identities and putting decades of conflict and hardship, the government is seeking to replace its national anthem and flag, a report said on Sunday.

Iraq’s current national anthem, “Mawtini” (“My Homeland”), was adopted in 2004 on the order of Coalition Provisional Authority chief Paul Bremer, who admired the song when he heard it at a concert. The 2004 change was the fifth time that a new Iraqi national anthem has been adopted.

More than 400 texts by Iraqi poets were submitted as potential national anthems between 2008 and 2009, Shlah said, but the search for an anthem is ongoing. Earlier this year, the culture and media committee tasked six Iraqi writers with evaluating potential national anthems, the report added.

Oil exports badly hit by Western sanctions but bouncing back, says Iranian MP

Western sanctions forced Iran to cut down its crude oil sales to just 800,000 barrels per day (bpd) in July, but Tehran managed to bounce back last month, a senior Iranian legislator was quoted as saying on Sunday.

Iran’s oil minister also said on Saturday production would hold steady this year despite an EU ban on Iranian oil imports and shipping insurance since July.

Mohammad Reza Bahonar, deputy-speaker of Iran’s parliament, said on Sunday that the country’s oil sales had dropped sharply as a result of sanctions designed to pressure Iran to give up its disputed nuclear programme.

Qatar invests $192m in 2012 healthcare fit-outs

Qatar, with an investment of $192m, and Saudi Arabia ($145m) have bagged the largest shares of the healthcare interiors contracting and fit-out segment in 2012, according to latest research.

Investment by the two countries have seen them surging ahead of UAE and Oman investments of $119m and $13m respectively, said a report by Ventures ME.

The growing market of Qatar is the emerging leader in terms of project completion, with total healthcare projects worth $2.4bn expected to witness completion by year end, the report added. This represents a 40% share of the total GCC medical projects expected for completion in 2012.

GCC spending on road and bridge infrastructure to reach $121.3 billion

The Gulf region is forging ahead with plans to improve its regional transportation infrastructure, with US$121.3 billion worth of road and bridge projects already underway or in the planning phase.

Nearly half of the regional spend is concentrated in the UAE, which has US$58 billion worth of road and bridge projects planned or underway, while Saudi Arabia is the next largest spender, pledging US$26.9 billion to upgrade the country’s transport infrastructure over the next five years.

Saudi Arabia spends SR 350 million ($93.33m) on biotechnology research

The Kingdom has spent SR 350 million on research projects in the field of biotechnology through the national plan for science, technology and innovation during the past three years, the chief of research at King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) has said.

Prince Turki bin Saud bin Mohammad Al-Saud was inaugurating the Saudi International Biotechnology Conference at the KACST headquarters in Riyadh yesterday.

Prince Turki said the amount spent on research was 25 percent of the total strategic technology projects adopted by the national plan for research projects. He also pointed out that KACST is currently involved in several local and international bodies to develop biotechnology in the Kingdom. He enumerated the facilities available in the Kingdom to develop biotechnology.

Saudi Arabia aims to privatise electricity sector by 2014 as demand increases

Saudi Arabia aims to liberalize its power industry beginning with the privatization of the electricity sector by 2014, experts attending the MEED Saudi Mega Infrastructure Projects Summit have said.

The privatization move aims to create a competitive market for electricity generation in Saudi Arabia, where at present the Saudi Electricity Company ( SEC ), which is majority owned by the government, generates, transfers and distributes electricity on a national basis.

Bahrain eyes Smurfs theme park to revive tourism

Bahrain is aiming to reignite its tourism sector after months of civil unrest by building a US$5m theme park based on The Smurfs, the popular Belgian children’s cartoon centred around a group of small blue fictional creatures, it was reported at the weekend.

The BHD2m (US$5.27m) Smurf village has been given the go ahead by Bahrain authorities and will be built on an 8,350 sqm site in West Riffa at the Prince Khalifa bin Salman Grand Garden, it was reported by Bahrain’s Gulf Daily News.

The development will include 30 Smurf houses measuring around 50 sqm and which can accommodate up to 20 children each.

UN will not meet primary school goal – Sheikha Mozah

The United Nations will not meet its goal of ensuring that every child in the world has a primary school education by 2015, but the plan is still on the “right path”, the first lady of Qatar has said.

Speaking to the Associated Press, Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al-Missned, a special envoy for UNESCO, said it would be impossible to resolve the “staggering” problem by the 2015 target date.

“But it doesn’t matter,” she said. “The most important thing is to make sure that everyone is on the right track… and I think today we are on the right path.”

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