First Saudi cinema opens with popcorn and ‘Black Panther”

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — The lights dimmed and the crowd of men and women erupted into applause and hoots Wednesday evening as Hollywood’s blockbuster “Black Panther” premiered in Saudi Arabia’s first movie theater.

Though it was a private, invitation-only screening, for many Saudis it marked one of the clearest moments of change to sweep the country in decades. It’s seen as part of a new era in which women will soon be allowed to drive and people in the kingdom will be able to go to concerts and fashion shows, and tuck into a bucket of popcorn in a cinema.

“It’s a new era, a new age. It’s that simple. Things are changing, progress is happening. We’re opening up and we’re catching up with everything that’s happening in the world,” said Rahaf Alhendi, who attended the showing.

Authorities said the public would be able to purchase tickets online Thursday for showings starting Friday. But there may be delays.

Movies screened in Saudi cinemas will be subject to approval by government censors, and Wednesday night’s premiere was no exception. Scenes of violence were not cut, but a final scene involving a kiss was axed.

Still, it’s a stark reversal for a country where public movie screenings were banned in the 1980s during a wave of ultraconservatism that swept Saudi Arabia. Many Saudi clerics view Western movies and even Arabic films made in Egypt and Lebanon as sinful.

Despite decades of ultraconservative dogma, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has pushed through a number of major social reforms with support from his father, King Salman, to satiate the desires of the country’s majority young population.

“This is a historic day for your country,” Adam Aron, CEO of AMC Entertainment, told the crowd at the screening. “It’s been about 37 years since you’ve been able to watch movies the way movies are meant to be watched in a theater, together on a big screen.”

U.S.-based AMC, one of the world’s biggest movie theater operators, only two weeks earlier signed a deal with Prince Mohammed to operate the first cinema in the kingdom. AMC and its local partner hurriedly transformed a concert hall in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, into a cinema complex for Wednesday’s screening.

Aron said the company plans to rip out the current concert-style seats and replace them with plush leather recliners and build three more screens in the complex to accommodate up to 5,000 movie-goers a day.

Samer Alsourani traveled from Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province for the event. He commended the crown prince for following through on his promises to modernize the country.

“This is the first time that we really see something that’s really being materialized,” he said.

The social reforms undertaken by the 32-year-old heir to the throne are part of his so-called Vision 2030, a blueprint for Saudi Arabia that aims to boost local spending and create jobs amid sustained lower oil prices.

The Saudi government projects that the opening of movie theaters will contribute more than 90 billion riyals ($24 billion) to the economy and create more than 30,000 jobs by 2030. The kingdom says there will be 300 cinemas with around 2,000 screens built by 2030.

AMC has partnered with a subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, known as the Public Investment Fund, to build up to 40 AMC cinemas across the country over the next five years.

Saudi Arabia had already started gradually loosening restrictions on movie screenings in the past few years, with local film festivals and screenings in makeshift theaters. For the most part, though, until now Saudis who wanted to watch a film in a movie theater had to drive to nearby Bahrain or the United Arab Emirates for weekend trips to the cinema.

In the 1970s, there were informal movie screenings but the experience could be interrupted by the country’s religious police, whose powers have since been curbed.

Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi writer, describes the theaters of the 1970s as being “like American drive-ins, except much more informal.” In an opinion piece for The Washington Post, he wrote that a friend once broke his leg at a screening in Medina when he jumped off a wall to escape the religious police and avoid arrest.

By the 1980s, movie screenings were largely banned unless they took place in private residential compounds for foreigners or at cultural centers run by foreign embassies.

Access to streaming services, such as Netflix, and satellite TV steadily eroded attempts by the government to censor what the Saudi public could view. By 2013, the film “Wadjda” made history by becoming the first Academy Award entry for Saudi Arabia, though it wasn’t nominated for the Oscars.

To adhere to the kingdom’s norms on gender segregation, certain screenings may be held for families and others for male-only crowds. But, generally movie theaters will not be gender segregated with “family sections” for women and related men and separate “single sections” for male-only crowds as is customary at restaurants and cafes.

Saudi Minister of Culture and Information Awwad Alawwad told The Associated Press the government aims to strike a balance between the country’s Islamic mores and people’s movie experiences.

“We want to ensure the movies are in line with our culture and respect for values. Meanwhile, we want to provide people with a beautiful show and really enjoy watching their own movies,” he said.

The new movie theater also came equipped with prayer rooms to accommodate the daily Muslim prayer times.

By Aya Batrawy, April 18, 2018
https://www.washingtonpost.com/

Sharjah ruler announces salary hike for non-Emirati employees

The salaries of non-Emirati Sharjah government employees will also be hiked by 10 per cent retroactively from the start of January this year. This comes following directions of His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, on Saturday.

In a video, His Highness said that he wanted to increase salaries of all employees in Sharjah government in the beginning of 2018. He issued directions for pay hike of Emirati staff. Now, he has directed salary raise for the non-Emirati employees, while appreciating their loyalty.

His Highness had ordered a Dh600 million ($163.3mln) increase in the salaries of the emirate’s government employees which was implemented on January 1, 2018, for only Emirati nationals, who shall no more be categorized below the 8th grade.

By Staff Writer, Khaleej Times, 15 APRIL, 2018
Copyright © 2018 Khaleej Times. All Rights Reserved. Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (Syndigate.info).
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Private sector’s share in GDP up 48%

JEDDAH — The private sector’s contribution to the gross domestic product of Saudi Arabia grew to 48.22 percent in 2017 while non-oil private sector GDP rose from SR1,227.5 billion in 2016 to SR1,236.6 billion in 2017, said a report issued by the Council of Saudi Chambers.

The CSC highlighted the private sector’s contribution to the GDP in different sectors irrespective of global economic downturn, including falling oil prices. The private sector registered the highest growth rate of 5.76 percent in electricity, gas and water sector, it added.

Mining and quarrying stood second with 5.68 percent, followed by financial, insurance and real estate services 2.92 percent, transport, storage and communications 2.83 percent, agriculture 2.35 percent and banking 0.82 percent.

The CSC report reviewed the real opportunities the private sector has in light of Vision 2030 through a series of initiatives offered by the government, which envision a leading role for the private sector in boosting the Kingdom’s economy in the coming years.

The government has allocated SR72 billion to support the private sector, the report said while commending its move to privatize education, health and other sectors. Vital locations have been allocated for educational institutions, markets and recreational centers and large portions of land have been set aside on the Corniche for tourism and industrial projects.

The report praised the government’s endeavors to create a suitable atmosphere for private sector’s growth and strengthen confidence of Saudi and international investors in the national economy. “The Kingdom has launched another program to encourage Saudi exports.”

The government has welcomed opinion of private sector regarding the various rules and regulations in order to improve them, the report said, adding that the commercial courts have started their activities. It praised the state’s support for small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

“Banks and financial institutions have been strengthened to issue products that meet the requirements of businesses, industries and other sectors,” the report said. They include financial products as well as support to small-scale business enterprises.

The council commended the government’s efforts to speed up issuance of licenses to business firms following international standards and regulations. The private sector’s increasing contributions to the GDP reflect on the good performance of the Saudi economy, the report said.

“This good performance is significant as it comes despite challenges at national, regional and international levels,” the CSC said. The economic indicators also showed good performance of the financial sector, foreign trade and stock market, it added.

This shows the success of five-year development plans and initiatives of Vision 2030 that were instrumental in expanding contribution of the private sector and diversifying the Kingdom’s economic base, the report pointed out.

Speaking about CSC’s strategic objectives, the report said: It boosts national development programs, strengthens business sectors in cooperation with government agencies, monitors economic changes at national and international levels, supports SMEs and contributes to Saudization of jobs. “Promotion of foreign economic relations, representation of Saudi businesses at international forums, activation of social responsibility initiatives and development of Saudi industries are other major objectives,” the report added.

Saudi Gazette report, 10 APRIL, 2018
http://saudigazette.com.sa

UAE most diversified economy in the region

The global growth forecast of 3.9 per cent for 2018 is unchanged

The UAE remains the most diversified economy in the region and introduction of value added tax (VAT) is a step in right direction, said David Mann, global chief economist of Standard Chartered Bank, in Dubai on Monday at the launch of its global focus report.

The report further states that growth in the region is likely to pick up but remain below trend. The bank forecasts that growth in the MENAP region will accelerate to 3.2 per cent in 2018 from an estimated 2.7 per cent in 2017.

“We expect a broad- based pick-up, with most economies seeing an uptick. In the GCC, we see growth rising to 2 per cent in 2018 from an estimated 0.3 per cent in 2017. The recent rise in global oil prices should cause sentiment to bottom out, and is unlikely to derail policy makers’ efforts to diversify oil-centric economies. We expect interest rates to rise across the MENAP region alongside FFTR hikes; the notable exception is Egypt, where we expect the central bank to continue with gradual easing in 2018,” he said.
Discussing the details of the global report, Dhuha Fadhel, senior economist, Thematic Research, said: ” There is a need for institutions to look at fiscal policy reforms with target set for short-term to long-term goals.”
“We see 2.6 per cent GDP growth in the UAE in 2018. Economic activity is likely to be supported by implementation of infrastructure projects in the run up to Expo 2020 Dubai,” said Bilal Khan, senior economist for Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan (Menap). “Although our 2018 forecast is higher than our 0.9 per cent estimate for last year, we are more cautious on the growth outlook than the IMF’s 3.2 per cent forecast. Despite the UAE’s participation in the Opec+ agreement to limit output (extended until the end of 2018), a low base for oil GDP should support headline growth this year. Nevertheless, broader consumer and investor sentiment are likely to recover only gradually from recent weakness,” he added.
Global perspective

The global growth forecast of 3.9 per cent for 2018 is unchanged since the previous edition of global focus report, a similar pace to 2017.

“Our optimism is justified by the almost universally strong economic sentiment seen around the world in early 2018. However, we are also ‘uncomfortable’ about the global economic outlook in 2018 and beyond,” Khan said.

“First, we see a risk that US disengagement with the world may become more disruptive, as demonstrated by the recent escalation of protectionist measures against China. Second, expected tightening by major central banks following the most aggressive period of G3 balance-sheet expansion in the QE era may cause markets to demand more risk premium. The impact of this on over-leveraged economies must be watched carefully, particularly since it has been so long since funding cost rose significantly. We are also watching local elections in India, and general elections in Mexico and Malaysia,” he said.

By Sandhya D’Mello, Khaleej Times, 09 APRIL, 2018
Copyright © 2018 Khaleej Times. All Rights Reserved. Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (Syndigate.info).
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Bahrain issues $1 billion seven-year Sukuk offering

The Kingdom of Bahrain has successfully priced a Rule 144A/RegS international $1 billion 6.875 per cent October 2025 sukuk offering.

The financing exercise forms part of the Kingdom’s prudent approach in managing its funding requirements. The transaction received strong global investor interest, with the orderbook peaking at around $2.1 billion (2.1x of the total amount raised) from more than 100 investors.

The Kingdom embarked on an extensive and well attended global roadshow, meeting more than 70 investors in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the United States. Based on investor feedback, the Kingdom elected to pursue the most optimal cost-efficient debt capital markets format, issuing a single tranche sukuk offering, taking into account various factors, including the prevalent market backdrop, the performance of recent Emerging Markets debt capital markets issuances as well as investor’s feedback to proactively manage the performance of Bahrain’s securities in the secondary market.

The Kingdom elected to release price guidance at ‘seven per cent area’ on 28 March 2018 at GCC opening hours. The orderbook recorded strong momentum and was sufficiently covered by 11:00am UK time, enabling the Kingdom to tighten final pricing to yield 6.875 per cent and price a successful $1 billion sukuk offering.

The offering attracted a globally diversified orderbook from both Islamic and conventional investors, with 59 per cent of the notes distributed in MENA, 16 per cent in Europe, 14 per cent in UK, nine per cent in the US and two per cent into Asia. Distribution by investor type comprised 63 per cent of Banks/Private Banks, 33 per cent of Fund Managers, three per cent of Pensions and Insurance, and one per cent others.

The Kingdom of Bahrain continues to benefit from a strong bid to its sukuk securities, as evidenced by the new issuance which priced inside the Government’s conventional bond yield curve.

“Bahrain has fostered a long-term relationship with debt capital markets investors, and we are pleased to see strong appetite to the transaction despite the volatile market conditions”, said Salman Alkhalifa, Executive Director of Banking Operations at the Central Bank of Bahrain.

The Kingdom is expected to raise financings through other sources of funding, including local debt capital markets and potentially could seek to come back to the international debt capital markets at a later stage in 2018.

BNP Paribas, Citi, Gulf International Bank, National Bank of Bahrain and Standard Chartered Bank acted as Joint Lead-Managers and Joint Bookrunners on the transaction.

by Jessica Combes, 29 March 2018
http://www.cpifinancial.net/

GCC construction deals set to rise to $148.7bn in 2018

New research says the UAE will award a third of the region’s construction contracts this year

Rising oil prices and increased government spending is fuelling demand in the GCC’s construction sector, with contractor awards across the region’s markets expected to be worth $148.7 billion in 2018, according to a new report.

Research specialists Ventures Onsite said the UAE will remain as the undisputed leader in the GCC total construction contractor awards for the year.

In 2018, an estimated $79.1 billion worth of construction contractor awards will be attributed to buildings in the Gulf region, followed by energy projects ($44.9 billion), and infrastructure ($24.6 billion).

The total value of expected construction contractor awards in 2018 is slightly up on the 2017 figure ($147.8 billion), according to Ventures, as economic activity picks up across the region amid a revival in non-oil sector growth and broad fiscal reforms.

According to Ventures, the UAE will hold a 33 percent share ($50.4 billion) of the Gulf region’s total construction contractor awards in 2018, followed by Saudi Arabia, with a 27 percent share ($40 billion).

The buildings segment will register the most growth year-on-year, with the UAE leading the way here as well. The expectedS$79.1 billion of building construction contractor awards across the GCC in 2018 is 10 percent up on the previous year, with the UAE comprising $37.3 billion of that figure.

The report has been released ahead of the Hardware + Tools Middle East 2018 trade fair, which takes place next week at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre.

The three-day event is the Middle East’s only dedicated exhibition for tools, hardware, materials, equipment and machinery, and is expected to feature 115 exhibitors showcasing 180-plus brands targeting the region’s revived construction sector.

By Staff writer, 31 Mar 2018
http://www.arabianbusiness.com

Bahrain makes biggest oil discovery since 1932

Bahrain, the smallest oil producer in the Arabian Gulf, has made an oil discovery off its west coast – the largest since the commodity was first discovered in the country in 1932.

“The find represents the largest discovery of oil in the kingdom since 1932, when extraction started on Bahrain’s first oil well within the Bahrain Oil Field,” the state-run Bahrain News Agency reported on Sunday. “The new resource is forecast to contain highly significant quantities of tight oil and deep gas, understood to dwarf Bahrain’s current reserves.”

Most of Bahrain’s current oil production, which averages 210,000 barrels per day, comes from the offshore Abu Safah field, which it shares with Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter. Bahrain produces around 50,000 bpd from the Bahrain Oil Field, according to the Energy Information Administration.

“The discovery, which is expected to support extensive, long-term downstream activities, follows a recent uplift in oil and gas exploration projects,” the news agency said. “Last year the [Higher] Committee [for Natural Resources and Economic Security] took the decision to accelerate initiatives to explore sites to the west of Bahrain, which resulted in the discovery of the resource and oil being struck in the fourth quarter of 2017.”

Bahrain will start the development of its tight gas reserves this year, the minister of oil told The National in January, even as the country prepares to bring online a liquefied natural gas import terminal in 2019 to meet its rising domestic demand.

Dania Saadi,April 1, 2018
https://www.thenational.ae/

BREAKING: Bahrain to build world’s tallest building

1st April (Manama) The tiny kingdom of Bahrain has shocked the world by announcing it has commenced work on what will become the world’s tallest building.

The tower, to be called LOOF LIRPA, will stand 1,130 metres tall when completed, which will be within the next 36 months.

The incredible 200 floor tower will drawf the world’s current record holder, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, which is 830 meters and 156 floors.

During a press conference in Manama to announce what will also be the world’s greatest construction project, Chief project engineer Mr. David Hartley, representing the development company behind the massive project, announced that neighbouring Gulf states will be visible from the upper floors of the new super tower.

Asked about the significance of the tower being named LOOF LIRPA, Mr. Hartley explained that it was an inspired choice and anyone writing the name backwards would immediately understand.

April 1, 2018
http://www.gulf-insider.com/b

Oman’s healthcare spending to reach $4.9bln in 2022

From an estimated $3.2 billion in 2017, Current Healthcare Expenditure in Oman is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.1 per cent to $4.9 billion in 2022, according to the GCC Healthcare Industry report published by Alpen Capital, an investment banking advisory firm.

The second-fastest growth in the region is attributable to rapidly rising population, the roll-out of mandatory insurance during the year and rising cost of care. Further, treatment of non-communicable diseases and preventive care measures are accounting for a large portion of the healthcare expenditure.

Consequently, Current Healthcare Expenditure on outpatient and inpatient services in Oman is projected to grow at an annualised average rate of 10.0 per cent to $1.5 billion and $2.3 billion, respectively, by 2022. Expenditure on other healthcare services is expected to grow at a compounded annual average rate of 6.6 per cent during the projected years. To accommodate the growing base of patients, the bed requirement in Oman is anticipated to grow at a CAGR of 3.2 per cent through 2022, translating into a demand for more than 1,100 new beds to reach a capacity of 7,937 beds.
“GCC healthcare industry continues to offer a wide gamut of investment opportunities. Though traditionally regional governments played an instrumental role in building the sector, shrinking oil revenues have slowed spending. At the same time, the role of private sector is increasing, encouraged by government incentives, mandatory health insurance and other reforms. Given the changing demographic and epidemiologic structure, mandatory health insurance, and government initiatives to encourage private sector participation, we expect to see steady growth in private sector investments in the healthcare industry,” says Sameena Ahmad, Managing Director, Alpen Capital (ME Ltd).

“Even though regional governments continue to shoulder a sizeable part of the healthcare expenditure, in the backdrop of budget deficits, the importance of private sector participation is being widely discussed across the GCC nations. With increasing opportunities for the private sector, the healthcare industry is witnessing a surge in mergers and acquisitions.
The inorganic route is being adopted by new players to enter the market and by existing providers to expand market share, physician practices and medical capabilities,” says Krishna Dhanak (pictured), Executive Director, Alpen Capital (ME) Ltd.
According to Alpen Capital, Current Healthcare Expenditure (CHE) in the GCC is projected to reach $104.6 billion in 2022, registering a CAGR of 6.6 per cent from an estimated $76.1 billion in 2017. Expanding population, high prevalence of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), rising cost of treatment and increasing penetration of health insurance are the factors auguring growth.
Given the ageing population and an expected increase in the frequency of visits to clinics for treatment and preventive care, the outpatient market size in the region is predicted to grow at an annualised average rate of 7.4 per cent to $32.0 billion between 2017 and 2022.

The inpatient market is anticipated to increase at a CAGR of 6.9 per cent to $45.4 billion. Current Health Expenditure on ‘Others’ is expected to grow at a compounded annual average rate of 5.2 per cent during the forecast period. Growing size of population, and rising cost of medicine and ancillary services will be the forces driving the spending on other healthcare services.

Between 2017 and 2022, country wise CHE is anticipated to expand at annual average growth rates between 2.6 per cent to 9.6 per cent. The growth range is wide due to country-specific projections of population, cost of healthcare and other factors. The UAE and Oman are likely to witness growth rates of above 9 per cent, in anticipation of a fast-growing population, implementation of mandatory health insurance and above regional average medical inflation rates. Saudi Arabia, which is the region’s largest market, is expected to see a 6.1 per cent growth in CHE.

In view of the anticipated rise in number of patients, the region is expected to require 12,358 new hospital beds by 2022. This translates into an estimated annual average growth of 2.2 per cent from 2017 to reach a collective bed capacity of 118,295. The high incidence of chronic cases has led to an increase in demand for beds, particularly in specialised areas of care.

Although the general hospitals are not running at optimal capacity, the need for beds is rising due to limited availability of specialty hospitals, long-term care centres and rehabilitation centres, among others.

By Staff Writer, 29 MARCH, 2018
© Oman Daily Observer 2018
https://www.zawya.com/

Transformation of women’s role is key to driving Saudi economy

It’s been wonderful to see how fast the transformation of the role of women is occurring across the Kingdom

The month of March has seen two major celebrations honoring women and their role in society across the Kingdom — International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day. With the current reform drive in the Kingdom that aims to see women play a more active role in society this year, these celebrations seem more profound than ever before.

International Women’s Day was marked in Saudi Arabia in a way we have never seen before. For example, we saw women joining together in a celebratory jog across Jeddah, and the BinDawood group honored the occasion by releasing data that supports the trend that Saudi female millennials are driving the growth of e-commerce in the Kingdom (they are the largest customer group of Danube’s e-commerce platform and app).

As a young leader of the group that has pioneered the development of the retail industry in Saudi Arabia and as a business leader, it’s been wonderful to see how fast the transformation of the role of women is occurring across the Kingdom. This transformation underpins Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Vision 2030 goals and the role women will play in driving Saudi Arabia’s economy.

As a business, BinDawood has a long legacy of championing and supporting women. For example, this week for Mother’s Day, we launched multiple video campaigns that praise and commend Saudi working mothers and honor them as the person with most responsibility in the family. Across all our Danube stores, our female customers were presented with roses and cards as a gesture of acknowledgment of the female contribution to Saudi society.

These sentiments in our marketing efforts are also backed up by our business practices where we actively seek to hire Saudi women across our teams and business units. Currently, women make up approximately 20 percent of the Saudi workforce. As a group, we employ over 10,000 people across our business entities and part of our vision is to become the retail sector’s preferred employer. That vision includes hiring more women.

There remain many barriers including organizational, attitudinal and societal, to the advancement of Saudi women in paid employment. However, as the leading retail group in Saudi Arabia, we understand that an inclusive workforce is a crucial factor to our success.

By Staff Writer, Arab News
Copyright: Arab News © 2018 All rights reserved. Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (Syndigate.info).
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