Middle East Business News Review – 25 September

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

Saudi king orders work on grand Medina mosque project

Saudi state news agency reported on Tuesday King Abdullah has ordered the launch of a huge expansion project for the Prophet Muhammad’s mosque in the holy city of Medina.

The Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said the expansion project, expected to be the largest of its kind, is set to begin after Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage, at the end of October.

According to Saudi officials, the project will require the expropriation of lands that could cost the government some $6.6 billion in compensation. The three-phase project is aimed at accommodating an added 1.6 million worshippers to its current capacity of 200,000. The total cost of the project has not been released.

Cyber attacks greater threat than actual war – Iran

A top Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander said on Tuesday the country is prepared to defend itself in case of a “cyber war” which could cause more harm than a physical confrontation.

The Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme has come under repeated cyber attacks since its uranium enrichment centrifuges were hit in 2010 by the Stuxnet computer worm, which it believes came from Israel or the United States.

Syrians marred by spiralling violence, inflation

Prices of basic foodstuffs and other consumer goods in Syria are spiralling out of control as the government is yet to find practical solutions despite repeated assurances to handle the issue.

According to recent official statistics, Syria’s annual inflation hit 36% in July, triggering a price hike in almost all commodities, while the citizens’ monthly income remained unchanged.

Syria is suffering from crippling economic sanctions imposed by the Arab League, European Union and the United States have imposed sweeping economic sanctions on Syria, including cutting off transactions with the central bank of Syria, imposing a travel ban on officials, halting funding for projects and freezing government’s assets. The sanctions are choking the Syrian economy and hurting the interests of Syrian people instead of strangling the current regime.

Hamas bans Israeli fruit imports to support Gaza farmers

Gaza’s Hamas government announced on Tuesday it would restrict fruit imports from Israel to help local Palestinian agriculture and “resist” the Zionist state’s crippling siege.

Gazan growers have welcomed the move and said it was necessary to support them.

Gaza’s Agriculture Ministry said that with the exception of bananas and apples, no fruit would be imported from Israel. Reports said the ban affects at least seven kinds of fruit, constituting around a 50% cut in imports, with a value of $26 million put by the ministry in 2011.

Morocco awards $1bn solar plant contract to Saudi firm

A Saudi-led consortium won a $1 billion contract to build a 160 megawatt solar power plant in Morocco, the first in a series of vast solar energy projects planned in the North African kingdom.

A consortium made up of Saudi developer ACWA Power International (95%) and the Spanish firms ARIES and TSC (5% between them), beat off bids from three other groups, one of them led by Italian energy giant Enel.

The bids were evaluated on the basis of price per kilowatt/hour proposed by the competing firms, with the ACWA group offering 1.60 dirhams ($0.18), some 27% less than the nearest bidder.

Dubai airport passenger traffic jumps 20% in August

Passenger traffic at Dubai International Airport jumped 20 percent from a year earlier in August, while the volume of cargo freight rose 4.4%, Dubai Airports said on Tuesday.

The airport, one of the world’s busiest, handled 4.85 million passengers last month. Dubai Airports said the unusually big rise was largely due to the timing of the Ramadan holy month this year and in 2011, which affected many people’s travel patterns.

In the first eight months of this year, passenger traffic rose 13.4 percent from a year earlier to 37.78 million.

Fujairah in search for fresh oil reserves

The UAE emirate of Fujairah carrying out exploration tests for onshore and offshore oil deposits and has so far carried out three drills that have so far been unsuccessful, a government official revealed.

Salem Kelil, technical adviser to Fujairah government told a conference in Dubai on Monday the emirate was carrying out seismic surveys to find potentially lucrative new oil deposits, the Bloomberg news agency reported.

The emirate is looking to boost its energy output and in March is was announced Abu Dhabi plans to build a terminal in Fujairah for importing liquefied natural gas (LNG), in a bid to bypass the need for vessels to pass through the Strait of Hormuz, which has recently been threatened with closure by Iran.

Abu Dhabi-backed India firm ILFS eyes $250m IPO

Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (ILFS), an Indian firm in which Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund is a major shareholder, is planning to launch an initial public offering of its wind power unit in Singapore, it was reported on Monday.

The company, whose shareholders including State Bank of India, Japan’s ORIX Corporation and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, may file the IPO in the fourth quarter and launch the sale next year, sources told the Bloomberg news agency.

The company, which last year had a net worth of around US$404.8m and made a profit of US$101.4m, is hoping the IPO will raise around US$250m, the report added.

Saudi reviews final round of rail network bids

Four groups of companies qualified for the final bidding stage to build a metro network in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh, Arab News reported.

Thirty three companies from 15 countries, which include Vinci and Alstom of France, Italy’s Ansaldo, Canada’s Bombardier, Germany’s Siemens and Stadler Bussnang of Switzerland, have to submit their final bids by December, the Jeddah-based newspaper reported citing the High Commission for the Development of Arriyadh.

Six lines of electric rail at a total of 175 km, are planned to stretch across Riyadh and serve the airport and the future King Abdullah Financial District. More than one consortium may take part in the project because of its size, the newspaper reported, citing the commission.

Arab Monetary Fund in $127m loan to Morocco

The Arab Monetary Fund said on Tuesday it was arranging a $127 million credit facility for Morocco to help the North African nation deal with rising food prices, which could threaten its political stability.

“The amount of the loan contributes to helping the Kingdom of Morocco confront urgent economic conditions, including the increasing value of imported agricultural products,” the Fund, a regional Arab body with 22 member states, said in a statement. It did not give details of the loan, but said it would bring the Fund’s total lending to Morocco so far to $1.46 billion.

Since last year Morocco has experienced bouts of protest against poverty, corruption and the perceived failure of the state to help – complaints which sparked “Arab Spring” uprisings in other North African countries in 2011.



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