Middle East Business News Review – 26 June

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Middle East Business News Review – A look at today’s important financial news and business updates from the Gulf, Levant and North Africa regions of the Middle East:

Qatar Telecom interested in $1.9 billion Wataniya stake

Qatar Telecom (QTEL) has expressed its interest in buying a stake valued at about $1.9 billion in Kuwait’s National Mobile Telecommunications Co. as part of its bid to boost portfolio and stave off competition at home.

QTel has offered National Mobile, also known as Wataniya Telecom, to buy the shares it does not already own in, the Capital Markets Authority said in a statement to the Kuwait Stock Exchange. The CMA added that shares of Wataniya Telecom (NMTC) will remain suspended until the regulator takes a decision on the request.

Baghdad back-pedals on media shutdown plans

An outcry by press freedom campaigners has forced the Iraqi government to review its plans to suspend licences of 44 media operations in the country. Ali Nasir, deputy director of Communications and Media Commission, said the news media watchdog will give the targeted organisations more time to pay outstanding fees and renew lapsed licenses.

The commission denied it issued the orders on Monday with an aim to shut down the media outlets and rebuffed reports of a crackdown on press freedoms in the country.

IMF assures new Egypt leadership of ‘extended support’

The International Monetary Fund on Tuesday gave strong indications it is ready to help Egypt kickstart the economy and deal with socio-political issues after the new president takes office at the end of this month.

“The election of a new president is an important step forward in Egypt’s transition,” a spokesman for the global financial lender said in a statement. “Egypt faces significant immediate economic challenges, especially the need to restart growth and address the fiscal and external imbalances. The IMF stands ready to support Egypt in dealing with these challenges and looks forward to working closely with the authorities.”

The statement came as Egypt’s military rulers hand over power to the first civilian president after being declared winner of the national election on Sunday.

Lack of economic and social development, not religion is our enemy: Arab women tell Gallup poll

The greatest challenge in the quest to Arab women’s empowerment is not religion but the lack of economic and social development and a dearth of perceived security, a Gallup Poll released on Monday said. The report urged policymakers to allow Arab women’s own priorities to guide efforts at gender equality.

“The idea that coming in with a secular liberal social programme as the solution to fixing how societies view women isn’t supported by the evidence,” Dalia Mogahed, executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, said.

She added that women in the Middle East have very much the same priorities as women in the West as they want to lead prosperous lives.

Sudan adamant on austerity measures despite widespread protests

The Sudanese government announced on Monday it would implement austerity measures despite more than a week of protests against cuts in fuel subsidies in Khartoum and other cities.

People in the streets are decrying the scaling back of fuel subsidies because it is set to push up already high rates of food and fuel inflation.

Finance Minister Ali Mahmoud insisted the government had no choice but to cut spending to plug a public finance gap previously estimated at $2.4 billion.

UK visitors are biggest spenders in UAE, says Visa

Visitors from the UK retained their position as the biggest spenders in the UAE, according to latest research from Visa.

It said in its new report that the UK was closely followed by people from Russia and the United States.

Visa account holders from these three countries alone spent a total of $1.2bn on Visa debit and credit cards during 2011 – almost a third (29.7 percent) of total tourism spend in the UAE.

GCC-India to ink free trade agreement within a year

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and India are expected conclude a free trade agreement (FTA) for boosting trade within a year, a member of a visiting Indian trade delegation told Times of Oman here on Wednesday.

The GCC countries, Oman, UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia -” and India have identified various potential sectors like petroleum oil and energy, gas and fertilisers, information technology, higher education, civil aviation and agriculture.

Qatar rent prices could continue to plummit

A top official of the General Secretariat of Development and Planning has said that house rents may decline further in Qatar because of supply exceeding demand.

Talking to Qatar Tribune on the sidelines of a press conference organised to release the Qatar Economic Outlook (QEO) 2012-2013, Director of the Department of Economic Development at GSDP Frank Harrigan said, “The rents are likely to fall as supply in the residential rental market is set to continue to exceed demand.”

Harrigan added, “Another reason for the possible fall in housing rents is the composition of Qatar’s population, which will consist mostly of the unskilled and semi-skilled people coming to the country in the near future because of intense construction activity.”

Lebanese consumers hit by massive price rises

Inflationary pressure drove Lebanon’s Consumer Price Index up 4.7 percent during the first five months of 2012, according to data compiled by the Consultation and Research Institute.

When compared to May of 2011, the the year-on-year CPI variation reached 6 percent. The increase in the CPI during the first five months of 2012 was mostly due to a 9.3 percent year-to-date rise in prices of food and beverages.

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