Bahrain retains title of top expat destination in the world

The appeal of the US as a destination for expatriates has slipped for the fifth consecutive year as Bahrain topped a global list for the second year running.

While the US fell to No. 47 out of 68 countries, dragged down by a steadily deteriorating reputation for safety and a perceived lack of affordable health care, the Gulf kingdom continued to shine for expats, according to the annual Expat Insider survey by Munich-based InterNations, a network of 3.2 million expatriates.

Just five years ago, the US held the fifth slot. The annual survey of more than 18,000 expats representing 178 nationalities covers everything from the cost of education and child care to family life, career prospects and perceptions of safety and political stability.

Two-thirds of expats in the US view job opportunities positively, but for the first time America placed among the 15 countries deemed the least safe and secure. Just 17 percent rated the personal safety of their children as “very good,” compared with a global average of 44 percent.

Expats are “afraid of gun violence,” said Malte Zeeck, a founder and co-chief executive of InterNations.

Bahrain tops the list for the second year in a row. The nation got high rankings for the ease of settling in, among other things.

Taiwan gained two spots to move into second place, with strong marks for job prospects and quality of life. Ecuador, where a massive earthquake in 2016 likely affected expat rankings in 2017, leapt from No. 25 to No. 3, showing improvement in just about every category.

The United Kingdom also tumbled this year, falling from No. 21 to No. 59 on the list. Expats cited a high cost of living, with 47 percent considering that a potential negative before moving. (Thirty-eight percent of UK expats live in London, a notoriously expensive city.) And, yes, the weather got poor marks, with just 3 percent rating it as “very good,” which affected the country’s No. 64 ranking for personal happiness.

If a new measure for digital life had not been added to the survey’s quality of life questions, the US and the UK would have fared even worse in the overall ranking.

Expats in both countries said it was easy to get unfettered high-speed digital access at home and to pay without cash, earning the US the 10-highest spot on this measure and the U.K. the No. 15 rank. High marks for digital life also helped lift Israel to No. 22 in the overall ranking, up from No. 44.

Hong Kong trailed Myanmar, Russia and China with its overall ranking of 56. That’s a big decline from its standing at No. 33 last year. The special administrative enclave of China was dragged down by poor scores for work-life balance and cost of living.

The average full-time work week in Hong Kong was 46.8 hours, compared with a global average of 44 hours. There were some bright spots for the Asian tiger: Seventy-nine percent of expats were positive on Hong Kong’s economy, compared with 69 percent the prior year, and the country won the top ranking on transportation infrastructure.

There were 66.2 million expatriates worldwide in 2017, according to a July research report by market researcher Finaccord. The company forecasts that the expat population will climb to 87.5 million by 2021.

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06 Sep 2018

GCC prominent among 22 sovereigns with liquid assets over 25% of GDP

JEDDAH — The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are among the 22 sovereigns with liquid assets exceeding 25% of GDP, and three of them have liquid assets worth more than 100% of GDP, S&P Global Ratings said in its report titled “Government Liquid Assets And Sovereign Ratings: Size Matters” released Monday.

The seven sovereigns rated by S&P Global Ratings have liquid government assets totaling more than 100% of GDP; notably, three are members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Of the seven sovereigns whose assets exceed 100% of GDP, more than half are hydrocarbon producers: Kuwait, Norway, Abu Dhabi, and Qatar. Combined, the seven have accumulated $3 trillion in assets (200% of GDP on average) to date. Such assets, which are typically managed by sovereign wealth funds, represent the largest component of our estimates. The majority of these assets are invested externally, the report noted.

“In our opinion, when a stock of government assets is that large, a sufficient portion will very likely be available for use in combatting the effects of pronounced economic cycles, without materially impairing the sovereign’s balance sheet.”

S&P Global Ratings considers all of a sovereign’s external general government assets to be liquid if the amount exceeds 100% of GDP when calculating net general government debt and narrow net external debt ratios. “We believe that the sovereign will be able to utilize a significant portion of its assets in the event of financial distress to support its creditworthiness.”

The report added that the average rating on the seven sovereigns is ‘AA’, compared with an average of ‘BBB-‘ on all sovereigns S&P rated globally.

“Our ratings on Kuwait and Abu Dhabi remained stable at ‘AA’ throughout the recent slump in oil prices, underlining the rating stability provided by having large liquid assets,” it said, adding that “our rating on Qatar moved to ‘AA-‘ from ‘AA’ in August 2017.”

It noted that Bahrain, Oman, and Saudi Arabia felt the drop in prices more keenly and their stock of liquid assets is below 100% of GDP.

“We estimate that the nominal value of overall GCC government liquid assets fell by roughly $90 billion in 2015, although Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and, at that time, Saudi Arabia’s liquid-assets-to-GDP ratios stayed well above 100%. The decline was mainly because governments used their assets, or the investment returns they generated, to finance fiscal deficits caused by the drop in oil prices,” the report noted.

However, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi were the exceptions, “where we estimate nominal asset growth.”

In Kuwait’s case, this resulted from a legal requirement for the government to transfer 10% of revenues to the country’s Future Generations Fund, a high nominal stock of assets that provided significant annual returns, and relatively low fiscal break-even levels, the report further said.

Similarly, Abu Dhabi has a huge amount of nominal government assets and was largely able to contain its fiscal deficits.

“Excluding Kuwait, we expect the average liquid-asset-to-GDP ratio for all GCC members will remain flat at about 110% of GDP until 2021. However, on average, we expect the ratios will decline by about 8% (or 14% of GDP) in 2018 versus 2017.”

Key to the deterioration this year is a strong denominator effect.

S&P Global Ratings expects GDP to recover faster than asset growth, in line with oil price assumptions for 2018, and as continued government spending maintains fiscal deficits but boosts economic activity. When an economy relies heavily on oil, nominal GDP plummets alongside oil prices (all other factors remaining unchanged), as they did in 2014. This leads to an increase in the ratio of general government assets to GDP despite a nominal decline in assets (because nominal GDP declined more than assets), as illustrated in Kuwait’s 2015 data, the report explained.

By Staff Writer, The Saudi Gazette,27 AUGUST, 2018
© Copyright 2018 The Saudi Gazette. All Rights Reserved. Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (

Recently discovered oilfield expected to produce 200,000 barrels of oil daily

MANAMA: Bahrain’s oil reserve has reached about one billion barrels but is expected to increase to 80bn of shale oil and between 10 and 20 trillion cubic feet of deep gas with the new oil and gas discoveries.

The government expects production of 200,000 barrels of oil daily from its recently discovered oilfield, said economic expert Dr Jaffar Al Saegh.

“Saudi Arabia’s plan to increase in future Bahrain’s share from the offshore Abu Safa oilfield, shared with Bahrain, to about 75pc will add to the kingdom’s revenues nearly $1.5bn annually should oil prices remain at around $70 per barrel,” he told our sister paper Akhbar Al Khaleej.

05 Aug 2018

Bahrain construction sector grows amid new infrastructure and energy projects

Rising investment in infrastructure and stronger capital inflows for industrial expansion are combining to boost activity in Bahrain’s construction sector, which expanded by 6.7% year-on-year (y-o-y) in the first quarter of 2018, according to data released by the Information and eGovernment Authority last month.

Given that the sector makes up around 7.5% of overall economic activity, construction growth, along with first quarter gains in manufacturing (4.2%) and real estate and business activity (3.7%), contributed to the non-oil sector’s y-o-y expansion of 1.9%.

The sector’s strong performance helped to offset a 14.7% contraction in the oil industry, caused by a drop in production. However, the weaker showing by the energy sector drew overall GDP into negative territory, contracting by 1.2% y-o-y in the quarter.

Infrastructure projects drive activity
Construction is expected to continue to be a driving force for the economy in the short to medium term, with the increased flow of state-backed infrastructure developments filling order books and injecting capital into the country, according to a report from the National Bank of Kuwait (NBK).

Released in mid-June, the report said plans to carry out $8bn in infrastructure projects in areas such as transport, utilities and housing – the country’s largest-ever pipeline – will underpin non-oil growth, which the bank forecasts will expand by 4.7% this year and 4.5% next. NBK predicts headline GDP growth will recover to 3.8% over the next two years.

Rising activity levels in the construction sector were key factors in increased lending by Bahrain’s banks, which posted 9.7% credit growth in the first quarter, more than three times the 2.9% growth recorded during the same period in 2017.

A major development in the construction phase is local company Aluminium Bahrain’s $3bn Line 6 smelter expansion.

Expected to come on-line in January next year, the new line will lift annual output by around 540,000 tonnes to 1.5m, and will see the company account for some 25% of the GCC’s aluminium production capacity, Tim Murray, the firm’s CEO, told OBG.

Oil finds and downstream upgrades bolster prospects
While non-oil sector developments have largely driven recent construction activity, the need for new infrastructure to support recent energy finds should also provide a fillip in the coming years.

Announced at the beginning of April, the finds in the Khaleej Al Bahrain basin amount to as much as 80bn barrels of oil and up to 20trn cu feet of gas, representing the country’s first major hydrocarbons discovery since 1932.

Although it is estimated that production will not begin before 2023 or later, construction work is required in the near term to install the necessary infrastructure and capacity to extract and process the reserves.

The construction sector is also expected to benefit from the ongoing $5bn modernisation programme undertaken by the national oil producer, Bahrain Petroleum Company (Bapco).

Due for completion in 2022, the plan aims to upgrade existing infrastructure, improve efficiency and lift processing capacity at the Sitra oil refinery from 267,000 barrels per day to 360,000.

The work associated with the rollout, combined with the energy finds, is encouraging domestic contractors to take on more staff and prepare for an extended period of increased activity, according to Issam Abu Hamad, executive director of construction and associated activities firm Mechanical Contracting and Services Company.

“We were already planning for three to four years of growth due to the Bapco modernisation programme, which we expected to be followed by a drop-off in work,” he told OBG. “However, with the new oil find announcement, this dynamic may change and could mean some more sustained long-term growth for Bahraini contractors.”

@Oxford Business Group, 31 JULY, 2018

Cost of living in UAE drops as rents fall

The cost of living in the UAE continued to drop in the first-half of 2018, thanks to fall in rents, lower government public service fees, freeze and reduction in school fees and, most importantly, rising strength of the dirham against major currencies. It also improved residents’ purchasing power and quality of life.

According to mid-year Cost of Living Index released by Numbeo, Dubai and Abu Dhabi were rated 113 and 97, respectively, in the list of most expensive cities during the first-half of 2018 as compared to 72 and 93, respectively, during H1 2017. This reflects that the country’s two biggest emirates became more affordable for the residents and tourists.

The data showed that the purchasing power of Dubai residents improved from 101.67 points in H1 2017 to 153.68 in the first-half of 2018. While cost of living index improved from 73.95 to 53.32 during the comparative period. Among other sub-indexes, the emirate further improved its rating in safety index, healthcare index, property price to income ratio, pollution index and climate index during the comparative period. All these factors further improved the quality of life index as well in Dubai.

But Traffic Commute Time was the sole index where the emirate’s rating declined during comparative period.

While Abu Dhabi fared well in quality of life, safety and healthcare indexes but rating for purchasing power and traffic commute time indexes fell during the first-half of 2018 as compared to the same period last year.

Ambareen Musa, founder and CEO of, said that while VAT has driven up the prices of various products and services in the UAE moderately, a steady fall in residential rents has served as a cushion to keep inflation in check.

“Housing and utilities have the highest weightage in the UAE’s Consumer Price Index (34 per cent), and a look at CPI statistics shows a continuous decline in this category month-on-month,” Musa said.

She opined that wide-ranging policy measures by the UAE government including a three-year freeze on government public services fees and a Central Bank cap on banking fees among others, will also help boost consumer confidence and keep cost of living in check.

Robert Jackson, regional director, RICS, said most significant cost of living decrease has been prevalent in accommodation, whether residents are looking to purchase or indeed rent.

“With increased accommodation being added to the market, continued downward pressure on property costs and lease rates has helped the consumer. We have also witnessed many residents move to smaller and more affordable housing options as this sector has seen significant product delivery and in doing so, residents are encountering lower costs surrounding fees and utilities,” Jackson said.

He pointed out that there needs to be a balance between cost of living and earnings.

“The growth of Dubai revolves around the population growth (resident and short-term/tourism) and several of the fee reductions are aimed as stimuli to keep people in Dubai or attract people to Dubai. The details surrounding the 10-year visas and 100 per cent onshore foreign owned businesses are keenly awaited and could provide necessary incentive to keep the underlying population growth and job creation on an upwards trend,” he added.

According to property portal’s first-half 2018 figures, average apartment rentals fell moderately in Abu Dhabi with the largest decreased 9-10 per cent. Buyers and renters continue to have the upper hand in the Abu Dhabi property market, but price decreases are overall slightly more modest than in Dubai.

Haider Ali Khan, CEO of Bayut, said tenants and buyers are firmly in the driving seat, with renters likely to bargain with landlords to negotiate a lower rent, or upgrade by moving to a larger property or a new area.

“The decrease in sales prices opens up opportunities for buyers too. Whether you are renting or buying, it is a good time to make a move in the Dubai property market,” he said.

Vijay Valecha, chief market analyst at Century Financial Brokers, said a combination of government initiatives as well as a slump in real estate have contributed to the decline in the cost of living in the first-half of this year.

He emphasises that the recent government initiatives such as reduction in licensing fees for establishment and cut in municipality fees for hospitality sector get transmitted through the general economy to the residents and help in toning down the inflationary expectations.

“However, we should not forget the role of recent US dollar appreciation which has increased the purchasing power of UAE residents as dirham is pegged to the greenback. Looks like happier times are here for the people of UAE,” Valecha added.

Syed Ali Naqvi, authorised consultant, Nexus Insurance Brokers, says drop in rent and low inflation make Dubai more affordable for expats.

He noted that though there is a marginal increase in the prices of goods following VAT implementation, so people are now more circumspect in their expenditures.

Globally, according to Numbeo, European cities, especially Switzerland, dominate the list of the most expensive cities. Hamilton, Zurich, Basel, Lausanne, Bern, Geneva, Reykjavik, Lugano, Stavanger and Oslo round off the top most costliest cities in the world.

Waheed Abbas, July 18, 2018

Saudi Arabia boosts fintech drive with UAE and Bahrain talks

LONDON – Saudi Arabia is discussing a coordinated approach to the regulation and nurturing of fintech startups with the UAE and Bahrain.

Such discussions form part of the Kingdom’s attempts to boost its nascent fintech ecosystem and to encourage the increased adoption of technology by incumbent lenders.

Discussions with central banks in the UAE and Bahrain would help to coordinate the fintech activities of financial centers around the Gulf region, all of whom are seeking to attract international and domestic entrepreneurs, said Mishari Al-Assailan, the acting head of Fintech Saudi, the division of the Saudi central bank charged with growing the sector in the Kingdom.

“We’re working on establishing some collaborations where we would give different assignments between different central banks and fintech hubs to develop a (common) GCC output when it comes to fintech,” he told Arab News.

Speaking at the “Unlocking the Fintech Scene in Saudi Arabia” event held in London on Friday, Al-Assailan said that it was important to develop a common approach to regulation among the region’s various fintech “sandboxes,” which enable startups to begin operating under a light-touch regulatory model.

“We’re all working today on excelling in our own sandboxes, but then there should be a GCC sandbox that ties into the rest of the Middle East,” he said.

“It’s hard to establish fintech firms (that can enter other markets) unless you have an infrastructure like the US that is quite open. We need to find a proper model for fintechs to jump in, get regulated quickly and if they do get regulated, everyone after them should use the same process.”

Saudi Arabia’s Capital Market Authority earlier this week approved the Kingdom’s first fintech licenses to Manafa Capital and Scopeer — both of which are fully Saudi-owned — to offer crowdfunding investment services on a trial basis.

The development of a fintech ecosystem is a significant component of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 economic diversification strategy, and is seen as essential for broadening the country’s investment base and a transition toward a cashless digital economy.

Fintech initiatives in the Kingdom, however, have thus far trailed similar schemes launched in Bahrain and the UAE. Abu Dhabi Global Market launched its RegLab sandbox in November 2016, while fellow finance hub the Dubai International Financial Center launched “FinTech Hive,” the region’s first fintech accelerator program, in January 2017.

There are at present only about 20 Saudi fintech startups, according to Al-Assailan.

He conceded that the Kingdom had been slow to develop its fintech infrastructure in comparison with others, but expressed confidence that startups would be attracted by the size of the Saudi market.

“People used to go to the UAE and Bahrain because we didn’t have the infrastructure,” he said. “But most of those fintechs in the UAE and Bahrain want to sell into Saudi Arabia, because we have the market and the purchasing power and that by itself is an advantage for us.”

The new emphasis on fintech from Vision 2030 has subsequently made the Kingdom a more attractive destination for startups, according to an American fintech entrepreneur who has previously worked in Saudi Arabia.

“They’re coming late to the party, yes, but I don’t think that the timing is the only factor that will influence the companies that are looking to work in this space,” he said, asking not to be named.

“Obviously the UAE has a very well-developed ecosystem, but my experience is that with Vision 2030 Saudi Arabia now really wants to put its money where its mouth is.”

“The companies that have the really good ideas, if they’re knocking on the right doors, will find the support they need and probably more than you’d get in other countries.”

Fintech segments such as roboadvisory services, robobanking, crowdfunding and payment aggregation all offer significant growth opportunities, according to Al-Assailan.

In addition to the development of an ecosystem for startups, Fintech Saudi sees educating the Kingdom’s incumbent banks about the need to embrace technology in line with their counterparts in Europe, the US and elsewhere as important.

“It’s the future and it’s happening whether you like it or not,” he said.

“Banks need to realize that at some point you need to hire more developers than accountants into the bank, and that’s what we’re trying to preach.”

The development of robobanking lending facilities for the Kingdom’s SME sector was a particular priority, he said, given the central role of small businesses in Vision 2030.

“If we develop AI and robo capabilities to automatically approve and assign loans for SMEs and startups, this would boost the economy in a very efficient way,” he said.
Copyright: Arab News © 2018 All rights reserved. Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (

13 JULY, 2018
By John Everington, Arab News

UAE economy likely to rebound in 2018

This will be driven by oil prices, an expansionary fiscal stance and an upswing in investment

The UAE economy is expected to grow faster in 2018, driven primarily by recovering oil prices, an expansionary fiscal stance and an upswing in investment ahead of Expo 2020.

Analysts at the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) said the UAE’s GDP growth would bounce back to 2.6 per cent in 2018 after a difficult year, when growth slowed to a seven-year low to 1.5 per cent in 2017.

Last month, the Central Bank of the UAE lifted its growth forecast for the country’s non-oil GDP to 3.9 per cent in 2018 from 3.6 per cent on the back of improving domestic economic activity and better prospects for the global economy. The regulator said economic activity has continued to improve during the first quarter of 2018, underpinned by the revival of oil prices and a stronger growth in non-oil activity.

The accountancy and finance body in its ‘Economic Insight: Middle East Q2 2018’ report produced by Oxford Economics, however, warned that general prices are expected to increase as inflation will rise to four per cent this year.

“The UAE’s growth will be primarily driven by recovering oil prices, an expansionary fiscal stance at the federal and emirate levels, a buoyant trade and tourism environment and a pick-up in investment ahead of Expo 2020 in Dubai,” it said.

Michael Armstrong, ICAEW regional director for the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, said the UAE is on the right track to economic diversification and is implementing necessary fiscal reforms to support these efforts.

“The introduction of VAT is an important step towards diversifying government revenue and building tax capacity. We’re also encouraged by the recent announcements to reform business ownership laws and residency visa rules. This will definitely help in attracting more foreign direct investment and in creating more stability in the market,” said Armstrong.

“Oil sector growth is expected to be limited this year, especially given the UAE’s increasing compliance with the production cuts, which averaged 124 per cent in the first three months of this year,” the report said.

In 2017, the oil sector contracted by 1.6 per cent, mainly because of the Opec-plus mandate that saw the UAE cut its oil production by 150,000 barrels per day (b/d) from an average of 3.09 million b/d in fourth quarter 2016 to an average of 2.89 million in the fourth quarter of 2017, representing a drop of nearly 6.4 per cent.

The report said the non-oil sector on the other hand proved to be resilient last year despite the unfavourable macroeconomic environment and regional economic slowdown, growing by three per cent. “The non-oil sector is expected to grow 3.7 per cent in 2018, supported by improving business sentiments, a buoyant trade and tourism environment and higher public spending. Since the UAE is a highly open economy with trade value accounting for more than twice the country’s GDP, any growth in regional and global economic activity will contribute positively to the country’s economic output this year.”

According to the ICAEW, the outlook for the UAE’s tourism industry is highly positive.

“More positively, the UAE federal government is expected to increase spending by 5.6 per cent. Dubai, which traditionally accounts for 25 to 30 per cent of the UAE’s GDP, will lift spending by 20 per cent in preparation for Expo 2020, with the allocation for infrastructure alone leaping by 46.5 per cent. The UAE continues to be the top destination in Mena for inward FDI, attracting $11 billion in 2017,” said the report.

Mohamed Bardastani, ICAEW economic advisor and senior economist for Middle East at Oxford Economics, said Middle East economies will see a pick up in GDP growth this year and in 2019 but “this doesn’t mean we should let complacency set in”.

With growing global trade tensions, geopolitical risks and rising interest rates, economic reforms are more necessary than ever in order to ensure stronger, sustainable and inclusive growth,” he said.

By Issac John, Khaleej Times,  03 JULY, 2018

Copyright © 2018 Khaleej Times. All Rights Reserved. Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (

Saudi women driving could add $90bn to economy by 2030

Allowing Saudi women to drive could help the kingdom reap as much income as selling shares in Saudi Aramco.

The move, which went into effect on Sunday, could add as much as $90bn to economic output by 2030, with the benefits extending beyond that date, according to Bloomberg Economics. Selling as much as 5% stake in Saudi Arabian Oil Company at the most optimistic valuation could generate about $100 billion

Saudi Arabia ended its status as the last country on earth to prohibit women from taking to the wheel. A handful of women drove through the still-packed streets of the capital early Sunday while others drove in convoys around Riyadh neighborhoods in celebration of the ban’s end.

The decision would enable women to work without having to incur the cost of a driver or taxis.

“Lifting the ban on driving is likely to increase the number of women seeking jobs, boosting the size of the workforce and lifting overall incomes and output,” according to Ziad Daoud, Dubai-based chief Middle East economist for Bloomberg Economics.

“But it’ll take time before these gains are realised as the economy adapts to absorbing growing number of women seeking work.”

Ending the ban is one of the most socially-consequential reforms implemented by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It’s also a key part of his plan to veer the economy from its reliance on oil.

Zainab Fattah, Jun 24 2018

‘I pulled the car over and cried … It’s a dream,’ Careem’s first ‘captinah’

70% of Careem’s customers in Saudi Arabia are women, according to company statistics, a figure largely attributable to the kingdom’s now-obsolete ban on women driving

Reem Farahat waited for a ride request. Her phone pinged. “I’ve already cried twice,” she said, heading out to work as one of Saudi Arabia’s first female drivers for Careem.

The Dubai-based ride-hailing app, along with global behemoth Uber, reacted to Saudi King Salman’s September announcement of an end to the kingdom’s ban on female motorists by saying it would hire women in the conservative kingdom.

“This morning, when I got in the car, I felt the tears coming,” Reem said as she stocked her car with chilled water bottles for her riders.

“I pulled the car over and cried. I could not believe that we now drive… It’s a dream. I thought it would be totally normal, I’d just get in the car and go. I was surprised by my own reaction.”

She took a long pause.

‘I pulled the car over and cried … It’s a dream,’ Careem’s first ‘captinah’
70% of Careem’s customers in Saudi Arabia are women, according to company statistics, a figure largely attributable to the kingdom’s now-obsolete ban on women driving

Saudi national and newly licensed Reem Farahat an employee of Careem a chauffeur car booking service prepares for a customer shuttle using her car in the Saudi capital of Riyadh on June 24 2018 Photo: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images.
Reem Farahat waited for a ride request. Her phone pinged. “I’ve already cried twice,” she said, heading out to work as one of Saudi Arabia’s first female drivers for Careem.

The Dubai-based ride-hailing app, along with global behemoth Uber, reacted to Saudi King Salman’s September announcement of an end to the kingdom’s ban on female motorists by saying it would hire women in the conservative kingdom.

Saudi national and newly licensed Reem Farahat, an employee of Careem, a chauffeur car booking service, prepares for a customer shuttle using her car in the Saudi capital of Riyadh.
On Sunday, when the king’s decree took effect, nearly a dozen Careem “captainahs” – all Saudi women – were ready to pick up riders.

“This morning, when I got in the car, I felt the tears coming,” Reem said as she stocked her car with chilled water bottles for her riders.

“I pulled the car over and cried. I could not believe that we now drive… It’s a dream. I thought it would be totally normal, I’d just get in the car and go. I was surprised by my own reaction.”

She took a long pause.

“I didn’t expect it,” she said. “I’m doing this because I can. Because someone has to start.”

‘It’s you’
Seventy percent of Careem’s customers in Saudi Arabia are women, according to company statistics, a figure largely attributable to the kingdom’s now-obsolete ban on women driving.

Uber puts its equivalent figure closer to 80 percent.

At Careem’s offices on Sunday, staff gathered to celebrate the women’s first day on the job.

Farahat’s first ride request came just hours after the ban was officially lifted.

“This is my first ride. I’m excited. I’m excited to know who I’m picking up, what their reaction is going to be,” she said.

The driver – who also works with her father as a quality control consultant, is training in life coaching, and scuba dives with her sister off the Red Sea city of Jeddah – picked up Leila Ashry from a local cafe.

Walking towards the car, Leila spotted Reem, did a little jump of joy on the sidewalk, and was already chatting as she opened the door.

“Oh my god I can’t believe it’s you. I can’t believe you’re here. I can’t believe I’m here,” Leila said.

“I’ve been tweeting to my friends that my ride is coming and it’s a woman! And you’re so pretty! And I can sit in the front now – wait, can I actually sit in the front next to you?”

‘We automatically understand’
Some 2,000 women have signed up to get their Careem licenses since September, said Abdulla Elyas, co-founder and CPO – “chief people officer” – of the ride-hailing app. They are all Saudi women, from their 20s to their 50s.

Uber also plans to introduce women drivers to their service this autumn.

“They come from completely different backgrounds,” Elyas said.

“We have women who have degrees, a master’s degree. We have women who have no degree at all. We have women who want to do this full time. We have women who want to do this part time (for) an additional income, who are already working.”

Most of those who had been licensed by Sunday, like Reem, had permits from foreign countries, enabling them to skip driving courses and take the final exam for a Saudi license.

The “captainahs” can pick up any customer, man or woman.

Both the driver and rider have the right to end the ride at any point.

Leila, a young medical student with a pixie cut and bright smile, says she would still choose a woman.

“This automatically feels a lot safer… being a female and dealing with sexism on a day-to-day basis. There’s just something about it that feels wonderful. But it’s not only that. It’s also women joining the workforce,” she said.

Sitting in the front passenger seat, she recalled previous rides with male drivers.

“Before, sometimes they would stare at me from the mirror,” she said.

“It’s just like that thing we share with women, where we just automatically understand what it’s like to be in that position where you feel their eyes on you but you can’t say anything, you can’t do anything against it.”

She turned to chat to Reem, and sang a riff from a West Side Story tune before saying: “If you can do it, then I can do it.”

“See? That’s what I was talking about,” Reem said. “It’s that ripple effect.”

By AFP, 25 Jun 2018

Bahrain foreign direct investment grew 114% in 2017

Inflows of foreign direct investment (FDI) to Bahrain rose 114 percent in 2017, the fastest growth rate in the GCC, according to new data from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

The growth of FDI in Bahrain came even as global FDI fell 23 percent.

In a report, UNCTAD noted that the growth of investment in Bahrain was bolstered by a number of economic reforms, including amendments to the kingdom’s commercial properties law to allow 100 percent foreign ownership in certain sectors.

“Foreign direct investment creates jobs, diversifies the economy and fuels growth, so we are delighted to see such strong momentum, even against a challenging global backdrop,” said Khalid Al Rumaihi, the CEO of the Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB).

“This proves the growing interest in the GCC opportunity is translating into investment.”

Al Rumaihi added that Bahrain has “undertaken a number of significant initiatives in the first half of this year to build on this success and we expect to announce a number of further measures in the coming months, helping investors to access the GCC opportunity.”

Among the recent developments in Bahrain were the launch of Bahrain FinTech Bay, the largest fintech hub in the MENA region, as well as the establishment of a $100 million ‘Fund of Funds’ to help start-ups across the Middle East.

Additionally, the country launched the $1 billion Bahrain Energy Fund, the first of its kind in the GCC which will provide institutional investors access to local energy assets.

By Bernd Debusmann Jr, 22 Jun 2018