Gulf in the News – March 8, 2013

‘Friends of Yemen’ group wants aid on faster pace

Source: The Saudi Gazette (Read full story)

International donors must speed up aid to impoverished Yemen to help it complete its delicate political transition and fight Al-Qaeda, ministers warned at a meeting of the “Friends of Yemen” group in London Thursday. The grouping of more than 35 countries and international organizations pledged $7.9 billion (6.06 billion euros) of aid to Yemen in 2012, but little of the funding has been distributed so far. “Yemen is now at a very important and dangerous crossroads,” Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi told a joint press conference with his British and Saudi counterparts, who co-chaired the London meeting.

UAE human-rights group approves ‘smooth’ trial of 94 charged with sedition

Source: The National (Read full story)

The Emirates Human Rights Association (EHRA) says proceedings in the first court hearing into an alleged illegal secret organisation went smoothly and in a very transparent manner. In a statement to the state news agency Wam, EHRA said it took part in the hearing, held at the State Security Court. “The hearing went very smoothly, where the judge allowed the defendants the right to speak and to express their demands through the defence lawyers,” the association said. EHRA said the defendants looked in good health and there was no evidence.

Saudi investors chase growth in consumer-driven stocks

Source: Trade Arabia (Read full story)

A key concern for the retail sector however is increased costs from the government’s efforts to increase employment of Saudi nationals by setting quotas. Last November, the labour ministry said it would impose fees on companies that hired more foreign workers than Saudis. Since foreign workers are generally cheaper than Saudis, and retail outlets are heavily dependent on foreign staff, the policy could have a significant impact in curbing earnings growth, although the precise effect is not yet known. So investors are also looking at other sectors exposed to rising domestic demand. Mouwasat Medical Services, which operates hospitals and pharmacies, is one target; its shares are up 12.6 percent so far this year.

Plan for transit passengers to become tourists

Source: The Peninsula (Read full story)

Meanwhile, Qatar has climbed one notch in rankings in the world travel and tourism competitiveness report released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) yesterday. Qatar is ranked second in the MENA region and 41st overall in the report. Qatar is up one place since the last assessment in 2011, in which it was ranked 42nd out of 139 countries and third in the MENA region. The United Arab Emirates leads 15 countries in the MENA rankings, while Switzerland, Germany and Austria occupy the top three spots overall, in that order. According to the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2013, the ease of hiring foreign labour (ranked fourth) and quality of education were the driving forces enabling Qatar to find high-quality human resources (seventh) inside and outside the country.

Saudi females celebrate achievements, call for greater rights on Women’s Day

Source: The Saudi Gazette (Read full story)

Saudi columnist Amira Kashgari said the main issues facing women are related to legal and civil rights. “It is gratifying to see that women are being recognized and placed in high positions, yet there are civil rights that should go line in line with employment rights,” she said. Kashgari described Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah’s decision to nominate women to the consultative Shoura Council and appoint them in other key positions as a “remarkable move.” She, however, added that Saudi women in all layers of society are still fighting for their legal rights of divorce, financial support and child custody in courts.

GCC banks seen active in debt markets in 2013

Source: Arabian Business (Read full story)

Banks in the GCC are expected to maintain issuance levels this year as they aim to capitalise on investors’ global search for higher yields, according to Standard & Poor’s.The rating agency said in a new report that GCC banks drove issuance volumes “significantly higher” in 2012 compared to the previous year. And analysts added that they expect the volumes to remain high throughout 2013. “We noted a sharp rebound in Gulf banks’ activity in debt capital markets in 2012 as they took the opportunity to issue long-term debt at healthy prices under the favorable market conditions,” said Standard & Poor’s credit analyst Timucin Engin.