Middle East
Category

The race to succeed to UNESCO leader Irina Bokova has started

Comments (0) Africa, Middle East

unesco-Moushira Khattab

At the end of her second mandate as head of the UNESCO, Irina Bokova will no longer occupy her position as Director-General of UNESCO in 2017. Eight years after her first nomination, will the Arab world manage to access the presidency of the United Nations body?

Since summer, rumors have gone strong, and the idea of nominating a representative from the Arab world as head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has resurfaced. No country from the Arab region has ever managed to arise their candidate to the top of this organization. Against a backdrop of anti-Semitism Egypt former Minister for culture Farouk Hosni missed the opportunity by next to nothing in 2009 faced with the current Director-General at the fifth round of the ballots.

In 2009, the Egyptian press and Cairo’s intellectual circles spelt out against what they identified as pressures from “Jewish lobbies”, the United States and the polarization between the North and the South. On the same occasion, Farouk Hosni’s director of campaign condemned member states’ intention to block a cultural movement. So what? Under the pretext that European officials had been elected several times, would the UNESCO be in need of quotas established by Egyptian representatives themselves?

Moushira Kattab on the run to take the succession

Now that Egypt is reassured, it seems like it is willing to give a it go once again after the candidature for nomination of Moushira Khattab was made official on last July during a ceremony with grand apparat. Under Hosni Moubarak, Moushira Khattab was responsible for the Ministry of Family and the people from 2009 to 2011 and had no governmental role since the fall of the former President after the Arab Spring. From 2017 onwards, the diplomat – highly sensitive to children’s rights – will have to prove herself and legitimize her candidacy and that of her country.

Interviewed by Al Monitor in August 2016, Moushira Khattab was aware that there still was a long way to go. She has focused the arguments of her campaign on two major pillars to set sights on the presidency of the organization: Egypt’s legitimate demand and her past experience. On her background first: she can hardly compete with that of her competitors especially in the field of cultural affairs which she has barely dealt with along her career.  But most importantly, she bears an unforgiving burden, that of her government’s reputation and that of a country beset by many problems, in particular in terms of fundamental rights.

Egypt to head the UNESCO: still a long way to go?

Official member of the UNESCO since 1946, Egypt is nonetheless far from respecting the organisation’s premises. Freedom of the press is under threat, human rights regularly challenged and artistic freedom censored under the pretext of “religious exception”. The idea of nominating an Egyptian representative as head of a body like the UNESCO would send a rather paradoxical message. Current political and legislative affairs of the country hardly comply with both the moral values and the ideals of an organization that seeks for example to “protecting freedom of expression”, “building intercultural understanding” or even “learning to live together”, all of it put together on a bedrock of the defense of human rights. These are advocacy fields upon which shadow is cast in Egypt.

The country continues to evolve under a very restrictive vision of freedom of the press and freedom of expression. In 2015 still, Sissi’s government passed a law seeking to harshly sanction journalists who would cover terrorist attempts without strictly referring to official information released by the government. A law that not only constitute a move backwards for freedom of the media, but also applies to social media networks that are under strong scrutiny. This law was made official in a judicial report handed to the Egyptian state council in last September. Such a decision reminds repression to limit the role of social networks during the Arab spring and infringes the freedom of expression of an entire people whose liberties in the end are never really set in stone.

The announcement sparked outrage among human rights’ observers and defenders from all across the world. The candidate has not expressed her opinion about these measures, but she will certainly have to during her campaign to win the nomination to the UNESCO.

 

Read more

Tidal Wave of Change for London’s Property Market

Comments (0) Business, Middle East, UK

In late June of this year, the United Kingdom shocked the world when it voted Leave to the referendum on the European Union. The effects of the vote were immediate: the British pound plummeted 11%, reaching its lowest point against the American dollar since 1985 and the booming commercial real estate sector in London hit a wall. One-third of on-going deals either collapsed or had to be re-negotiated as realtors and buyers dealt with the news of the “Brexit.”

The Gulf Steps In

Some overseas investors, however, were not quite so shakened: buyers from the Middle East, particularly from the Gulf region, identified an opportunity. With the drop in value of the Pound, wealthy Saudis moved in to purchase Londonian properties that were out of their budget weeks ago.
One notable example was the $1.3 billion bid put forward by a group of Saudi and UK investors for the London Grosvenor House hotel as well as a share in the Plaza and Dream Downtown hotels, both being located in New York. Prior to the vote, institutions based in EU countries were the largest consumers of British property but, following the Brexit vote, a “window of opportunity” opened for “more agile private investors and corporates seeking to make the most of currency shifts.”
Jassim Alseddiqi, chief executive of Abu Dhabi Financial Group, said his company is looking to acquire other London properties while potential rivals are hesitant to wade into the post-Brexit market. Abu Dhabi Financial Group (ADFG) has already an impressive portfolio of about $2.6 billion in capital developments in London. ADFG includes investors from Abu Dhabi’s elite, including the royal family. The company plans to bid on Hyde Park Barracks in the upscale London neighborhood of Knightsbridge. The properties are currently owned by the British Minister of Defense, who is looking to sell.
According to Mr. Alseddiqi, investment requests from Gulf buyers have increased by about 25% since the referendum. What makes this all more interesting is that most of Mr. Alseddiqi’s clients had shown no interest in capitalising in real-estate investment prior to the vote.

Those Closer to Home Step Back

While opportunities for investment are increasing, European institutions are retreating from the market. Germany’s Union Investment pulled out of a long-negotiated potential settlement to purchase a $610 million office building to the City of London in the immediate aftermath of the referendum.
James Beckham, head of central London investment firm, Cushman & Wakefield, is confident in that this trend is temporary : “institutional investors have become more cautious. For them it’s a ‘wait and see’ approach over the summer. They will come back in September and see what the temperature is like.” One can only hope that the property investment climate is warmer than the infamously grey British summers. Middle Eastern investors are not the only ones capitalizing on the delightfully low value of sterling: Chinese investors, particularly those from Hong Kong, are also seizing the opportunity to purchase properties in some of London’s most elite neighborhoods. The reason behind this is, according to those in the know, that for those who have been in the property game for a long time the chance to buy a building at a 10% discount is simply too good to pass up. It will be interesting to watch what happens to London as the population demographics of property owners change in the city’s commercial and high-end neighborhoods.

Read more

Tech start-up MAGNiTT and its founder Philip Bahoshy

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Leaders, Middle East, Technology

Philip Bahoshy and his groundbreaking company MAGNiTT are revolutionizing the start-up industry. What’s interesting is that MAGNiTT is itself a start-up firm. So how is Bahoshy simultaneously helping new companies, while nurturing his own venture through its infancy period? Bahoshy, 31, was raised in the U.K and has Iraqi roots. He obtained a BSc in Economics from the prestigious London School of Economics which he completed in 2006. In 2007, Bahoshy made a move to Dubai to work for the highly regarded management consultancy firm Oliver Wyman, where he immersed himself in the corporate world. He then made a move to Barclays Wealth in 2010 to work as the chief of staff for the CEO of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

A start-up for start-ups

His high-flying corporate career bestowed him with an acute understanding of the business and investment landscape in the MENA space. Upon completion of his Master’s degree in 2013, Bahoshy was looking to go solo and start his own firm. Armed with a slew of business ideas, he was keen to get the ball rolling; however, he struggled to find investment, guidance and concept validation. After speaking with other start-ups, Bahoshy came to realize that although Dubai was a vibrant and energetic hub for all kinds of business people, new firms weren’t always making the right connections. He described this as “start-ups struggling in isolation.” This realization gave birth to MAGNiTT, which Bahoshy founded late in 2014. He envisaged building an online ecosystem that would make life easier for start-ups to find the various supports they need, while enabling external parties to identify fledgling firms that they are interested in. Initially, MAGNiTT solely focused on linking start-ups with investment. He explained: “We identified that the real pain point in the region is access to angel funding – basically $100,000 to $250,000.” He elaborated, explaining that start-ups often struggle making the transition from setting up the firm with their own capital, to developing a viable business that is ready for substantial investment from venture capitalists. Linking start-ups with angel investors is often critical if firms are to bridge this gap.

An online pitching platform and more

Bahoshy already had other ideas about how MAGNiTT could develop and provide further services. Firstly, he realized that it can be bewildering for investors and other parties when trying to identify start-ups, and that his product needed to work seamlessly. He focused on making MAGNiTT a streamlined online portal where start-ups have to outline the core concepts of their product. They have to succinctly present their business idea and the problem it solves, their elevator pitch, their target market, the competition, and finally, monetization. External parties can filter and search profiles for concepts they are interested in, analyze the product outline, access further information and ultimately connect with firms that they want to start a dialogue with. Bahoshy was already aware that start-ups need more than just funding to get off the ground. He focused on bringing mentors, accelerator programs, service providers and co-founders to the ecosystem. For start-ups, they can request what kind of support they are looking for. According to MAGNiTT’s data, 58% of start-ups on the site have listed that they are looking for mentorship, 56% are interested in showcasing supports, while 26% are looking for legal support or backing.

Major interest, new features and the future 

In January, Bahoshy had a respectable 200 start-ups signed up to MAGNiTT. Since then the site has exploded and today there are over 1400 start-ups and thousands of users registered on the platform.The site is already helping to forge valuable connections that are taking start-ups to the next level. Bahoshy has said that he wants to bring resources such as video conferencing, legal, marketing and HR services to the site. Additionally, MAGNiTT has recently launched a blog alongside a raft of materials relevant for start-up firms. He is also looking to bring Venture Capitalists into the platform to assist start-ups later down the line. MAGNiTT is itself listed as a start-up on MAGNiTT. Uniquely, its own success is being defined by how well it creates opportunities for all of its parties. For Bahoshy it’s so far so good and he is currently in negotiations with interested investors. It looks as though MAGNiTT is set to take off while bringing other great business ideas along for the ride.

Read more

Egypt’s telecom regulator approves revised terms for 4G licences

Comments (0) Business, Latest Updates from Reuters, Middle East

CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt’s telecoms regulator has approved revised terms for 4G mobile broadband network licences, and said it will send them out to operators on Sunday.

The government offered four 4G telecom licences in June, to Telecom Egypt and to the country’s three mobile services providers – Orange Egypt, Vodafone Egypt and Etisalat – but only Telecom Egypt accepted the terms. The regulator, keen to prioritise existing carriers, decided to revise them.

A senior official at the Telecommunications Ministry told Reuters on Wednesday that the revised terms include additional frequencies but there is no change in the pricing or the condition that 50 percent of the payment for the licences must be made in U.S. dollars.

“The telecom regulator approved the final terms of the 4G licences yesterday,” the official said, adding that companies would have until midday on Sept. 22 to accept them.

The National Telecom Regulatory Authority later issued a statement confirming it approved the final terms and that the companies had until Sept. 22 to accept.

The government, which is grappling with a shortage of hard currency as economic and political turmoil in Egypt in the past few years has deterred foreign investment, has said it hopes to raise 22.3 billion Egyptian pounds ($2.5 bln) in total in licence fees.

 

(Reporting by Ehab Farouk; Writing by Ola Noureldin; Editing by Greg Mahlich and Susan Fenton)

Read more

Morocco jobless rate falls year/year to 8.6% in second quarter

Comments (0) Business, Latest Updates from Reuters, Middle East

RABAT (Reuters) – Morocco’s jobless rate fell to 8.6 percent in the second quarter this year from 8.7 percent in the same period last year, mostly on employment growth in the construction and services sectors, official figures showed on Friday.

Services, building activity and industry added 149,000 additional jobs to help offset 175,000 jobs lost in the agricultural sector due to a severe drought, the High Planning Commission added.

The government expects the 2016 cereal harvest to fall sharply after last year’s record crop of 11 million tonnes due to bad weather and more farm job losses are expected in 2016.

The woes of the farm sector have put further pressure on the Moroccan government, which is already facing protests over austerity measures.

The industrial sector created 38,000 jobs, the data showed. Construction and services added 70,000 and 41,000 jobs respectively, more than in previous years, a sign that the Moroccan economy has started to recover from years of recession caused largely by the euro zone debt crisis. The euro zone is Morocco’s main trade partner.

However, jobs created by construction and services are mostly precarious, the agency warned.

The Finance Ministry has forecast the economy will grow this year by less than 2 percent, slowing from 4.4 percent in 2015. However, the planning agency said the drought would drag growth down to 1.3 percent in 2016.

Informal labour abounds in Morocco, making it hard to produce reliable employment figures.

 

 

(Reporting By Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

Read more

Finance minister: Egypt’s external debt to reach $53.4 billion with IMF loan

Comments (0) Business, Latest Updates from Reuters, Middle East

CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt’s finance minister said in a television interview on Sunday that Egypt’s external debt would reach $53.4 billion if his country receives an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan.

Last week Egypt said it was seeking $4 billion a year over three years from the IMF to help plug a funding gap. The government hopes to finalise the deal in August.

A two-week IMF mission arrived in Cairo over the weekend to negotiate an IMF loan package.

 

(Reporting by Ali Abdelatti; Writing by Amina Ismail; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Read more

A new capital for Egpyt

Comments (0) Business, Featured, Middle East

Egypt's new capital city (plan)

The Middle Eastern nation builds a new capital near Cairo as it seeks to boost its economy and house a growing population.

Egypt is moving forward with plans to build a massive $45 billion new city east of Cairo that will function as the nation’s government and business capital.

Planners said the new city, which does not yet have a name, would be home to 2,000 schools and colleges, 600 health care facilities, a central business district with hotels, shopping centers and offices, and 20 residential districts with housing for at least five million residents.

Covering more than 250 square miles, or an area slightly larger than the City of Chicago, the new city will also have an international airport larger than London’s Heathrow, an amusement park four times the size of Disneyland and a public park larger than Central Park in New York City.

The plan for a new city is a centerpiece in President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi’s efforts to boost Egypt’s struggling economy. Sisi, who seized power three years ago in a bloody military coup, has proposed several mega-developments amid a slowing of tourism and direct foreign investment in the Mideast nation.

Cairo’s population will double

Planners say the project will create more than one million jobs and take about 12 years to complete.

Egyptian Housing Minister Mostafa Madbouly said one goal of the development was to ease congestion and crowding in Cairo. The city of 18 million is expected double in 40 years.

The Egyptian parliament and its government departments and ministries, as well as foreign embassies, would move to the new city, he said.

“We are talking about a world capital,” Modbouly said.

China aids development

Model for new proposed airport

Model for new proposed airport

The project got a boost earlier this year when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Cairo to boost economic ties and announced the Asian nation’s willingness to support construction of the new city. China agreed to support the new capital project with loans, grants and other support that state media reported were worth $15 billion.

China also agreed to loan Egypt’s central bank $1 billion to increase its reserves, which stand at $16 billion, less than half the reserve at the time of the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak during Arab Spring in 2011.

The new city is a showpiece for China’s “One Belt One Road” strategy to strengthen the country’s global position with foreign aid and investment. The strategy has prompted China State Construction to accelerate its international contracting work, building apartment houses, stadiums, roads and hotels in Africa and the Middle East.

Construction began in April

The first phase of construction of the new capital city began in April, including development of roads and communications and sanitation infrastructure on the desert site 30 miles east of Cairo.

An Egyptian-Chinese partnership that includes Arab Contractors, the Petroleum Projects and Technical Consultations Company and the China State Construction is working on the initial construction.

Modbouly said the country would also be seeking bids from private companies for portions of the first phase. Chinese companies will provide financing for the construction of a number of new buildings, including 14 government buildings and a large conference center. Estimated cost of the initial phase is $2.7 billion.

According to China State Construction, the initial phase will include a parliament building, a national meeting center, exhibition halls and offices.

Prior to Chinese involvement, the development bogged down last year over disagreements about costs and how long it would take to complete the new capital. A United Arab Emirates company that had been announced as the lead developer pulled out as Egypt cancelled its contract citing “lack of progress.”

According to The Wall Street Journal, some experts are skeptical of the project.

“Egypt needs a new capital like a hole in the head,” said David Sims, an economist and urban planner who has studied development in Egypt.

Read more

Egypt says close to securing 3-year IMF loan programme

Comments (0) Business, Latest Updates from Reuters, Middle East

CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt said on Tuesday it was close to agreeing an International Monetary Fund (IMF) lending programme to ease its funding gap and restore market stability and was seeking to secure $7 billion annually over three years.

Prime Minister Sherif Ismail ordered the central bank governor and minister of finance to complete negotiations for the programme with an IMF team that will visit Egypt in the next few days, the cabinet said in a statement.

“We are resorting to the IMF because the budget deficit is very high, between 11 and 13 percent within the past six years,” finance minister Amr el-Garhy, said in a phone interview with presenter Lamis El-Hadeedi on a private TV channel late on Tuesday.

In Washington, the IMF welcomed Egypt’s request for financial support and said it would send a mission to Egypt for about two weeks from July 30.

The cabinet statement, after a five-hour meeting, was the first official confirmation that talks with the IMF were under way. The statement said talks had been ongoing for three months.

“The prime minister stressed the need to cooperate with the IMF through the support program to enhance international confidence in the economy and attract foreign investment, and therefore achieve monetary and financial stability … targeting $7 billion annually to fund the program over three years,” the cabinet statement said.

The government is seeking $12 billion from the IMF, $4 billion a year, which will carry an interest rate of 1 or 1.5 percent, el-Garhy said. The package includes issuing $2-3 billion in international bonds which will be offered as soon as possible, between September and October, he added.

Economists welcomed the news, which came after a turbulent few weeks for Egypt’s currency, the pound, which has plummeted to new lows on the black market as confusion mounted over the direction of monetary policy.

“It’s great. Finally,” said Hany Genena, head of research at Beltone Securities Brokerage. “Confidence will be restored in the government and central bank. Secondly, we will see flotation of the pound, if not tomorrow, next week, the week after.”

Genena said he expected the Cairo stock market to surge after the news and for the currency to strengthen on the black market. The black market had already strengthened slightly from lows near 13 to the dollar on Monday.

Two black market traders contacted by Reuters said they were selling dollars at about 12.80 to 12.85 pounds after the IMF deal was announced.

“I think the stock index will hit 8,000 in the next couple of days,” Genena added. The benchmark EGX30 <.EGX30> closed up 0.3 percent at 7,540 on Tuesday.

Egypt’s economy has been struggling since a mass uprising in 2011 ushered in political instability that drove away tourists and foreign investors, both major earners of foreign currency. Reserves have halved to about $17.5 billion since then.

The dollar shortage has forced Egypt to introduce capital controls that have hit trade and growth, while the value of the Egyptian pound has plummeted on the black market in recent weeks as expectations of a second devaluation this year mount.

The government has pushed ahead with its reform programme, including plans for a value added tax (VAT) and subsidy cuts that were put on hold when global oil prices dropped.

A VAT bill is in its final stages of preparation but has faced resistance in parliament due to concerns over inflation, which has touched seven-year highs since the currency was devalued by 13 percent in March.

Egypt’s ambitious home-grown fiscal reform programme formed the basis of a $3 billion three-year loan deal with the World Bank that was signed in December. But the cash has yet to be disbursed since the World Bank is waiting for parliament to ratify economic reforms including VAT.

A cabinet minister told Reuters last month that Egypt had started negotiations with the IMF and that the central bank was leading the talks.

A statement released by Capital Economics, an independent economic research company, also welcomed the news.

“If approved, this would help to plug Egypt’s external financing requirement and improve the economy’s growth prospects,” it said. “This would make a sizeable dent in Egypt’s gross external financing requirement, which we estimate to be around $25 billion over the coming year.”

 

(Reporting by Amina Ismail and Lin Noueihed; Additional reporting by David Lawder in Washington; Writing by Lin Noueihed; Editing by Tom Heneghan and James Dalgleish)

Read more

Morocco annual inflation rises to 2.3% in June

Comments (0) Business, Latest Updates from Reuters, Middle East

RABAT (Reuters) – Morocco’s annual consumer price inflation rose to 2.3 percent in June from 1.9 percent in May, due to higher food prices, the High Planning Authority said on Friday.

Annual food inflation jumped to 4.4 percent from 3.6 percent in the previous month as June coincided with the holy fasting month of Ramadan. Non-food price inflation rose slightly to 0.6 percent in the 12 months to June from an annual 0.5 percent in May.

Transport costs fell 0.6 percent, but hotels and restaurants were 2.4 percent more expensive, the agency said without giving details.

On a month-on-month basis, the consumer price index eased to 0.4 percent in June, down from 0.5 percent in May as food price inflation was steady at 0.8 percent.

 

(Reporting By Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Read more

After six months, Egypt finally settles wheat fungus row

Comments (0) Business, Latest Updates from Reuters, Middle East

ABU DHABI (Reuters) – Egypt’s agricultural quarantine authority settled a months-long dispute on Monday over wheat import specifications that have hampered the country’s massive state purchasing programme ahead of an anticipated new buying season.

Egyptian quarantine authorities’ earlier refusal to let in wheat infected with even the slightest amount of ergot, a fungus that can lead to hallucinations and irrational behaviour in large quantities but at trace levels is deemed harmless to humans, wreaked havoc in the market for supplying the world’s largest wheat buyer.

The quarantine authority said a new ministerial decree would allow it to accept imported wheat shipments containing up to 0.05 percent ergot, finally ending a long-standing zero tolerance policy that has puzzled global trade.

“A ministerial decision was taken and 0.05 percent ergot tolerance will now be endorsed,” Ibrahim Imbaby, head of the quarantine authority told Reuters by phone.

Imbaby did not give more details.

The decision comes a day after the country appointed a new head for its state wheat-importing body — one of the most influential positions in the global wheat market, ahead of the impending import season set to start this month.

The resolution to the ergot row also comes as Egypt’s domestic wheat purchases are being questioned and the earlier announced 5 million-tonne Egyptian wheat procurement figure for the season could be revised, leading to a greater import need.

The country is in the middle of a government-led recount of locally purchased wheat after the unusually high local procurement figure of 5 million tonnes, as opposed to around 3.5 million tonnes in earlier years, prompted allegations of fraud from industry officials, traders and lawmakers.

If the local purchase numbers were misrepresented Egypt might have to buy more foreign wheat to meet domestic demand while contending with a dollar shortage that has already sapped the country’s ability to import, making a resolution to the ergot squabble ever more pressing.

The quarantine’s zero tolerance policy was at odds with the more commonly accepted international standard of up to 0.05 percent already endorsed by the ministry of supplies and state grain buyer, the General Authority for Supply Commodities (GASC).

“The ministerial decree was issued after a committee in the import and export surveillance authority was formed and pressurised the agriculture ministry to issue a new decree,” one Cairo-based trader said.

The affair, which resulted in several shipments of wheat turned away at ports, a sharply lower participation at GASC tenders and higher wheat prices, was thought to be finally nearing a resolution when Prime Minister Sherif Ismail intervened in late June and said the country would adhere to the common 0.05 level.

His comments were expected to be followed by a decree changing the old regulations that governed agricultural quarantines and stipulated a zero tolerance policy.

But a decree failed to materialise until Monday’s decision and the agriculture ministry has told Reuters it had been hampered by a months-old judicial order from the prosecutor general that had banned all ergot from entering the country.

The order had followed the rejection of a French wheat shipment belonging to trading firm Bunge late last year. The firm subsequently filed a lawsuit contesting the decision.

Imbaby did not make clear how that legal hurdle had been overcome.

And after months of conflicting statements from various Egyptian agencies, some European traders remain skeptical.

“We are being cautious….they’ve changed their position so many times over ergot,” one European trader said.

 

(By Maha El Dahan. Additional reporting by Gus Trompiz in Paris; Editing by Veronica Brown and Greg Mahlich)

Read more