Young Arabs are increasingly turning their backs on cushy public sector jobs in favour of working for private companies and starting their own businesses, a survey in 16 countries has found.
There has also been an erosion in optimism that the “Arab spring” uprisings in recent years against authoritarian governments across the region will translate into better lives for ordinary people, the survey found.
Kuwait has long grappled with its electricity supply. Every summer offers a reminder that the gap between power generation capacity and demand is woefully tight. In 2010, the working day stopped at midday to save power during the hottest months when Kuwaitis crank up their air conditioning. For the world’s ninth largest oil producer, this was pretty embarrassing.
The Middle-Eastern Gulf states have had a huge swing towards Asia in trade but investment dinars have not followed to the same degree. Ahmad Al-Hamad is looking to change that.
Asiya Investments is part of the listed Kuwait China Investment Company and already runs about $450m in assets, more than 10 per cent of which comes from the Kuwait Investment Authority, the sovereign wealth fund.
Gulf states are intensifying their efforts to create jobs for nationals at the expense of expatriate workers as they face youth unemployment and pressure to prepare for a future less reliant on crude exports, writes Camilla Hall.
Kuwait has said it will reduce foreign workers by 100,000 a year, while hundreds of thousands of companies in Saudi Arabia faced a deadline last month to meet the proscribed quota of Saudi employees or risk having their licences removed.
Kuwait has introduced new corporate legislation as it tries to compete for foreign investment with its more successful regional peers, primarily the United Arab Emirates, write Camilla Hall and Simeon Kerr.
Notorious in the region for its recent economic underperformance, Kuwait is trying to move ahead with more coherent regulations in an effort to kick-start its non-oil economy and boost confidence in markets.
“Don’t forget, revolutions are expensive”, says Dimitris Tsitsiragos. He should know: his responsibilities as a vice president at the International Finance Corporation include north Africa and the Middle East, not least the countries hit by the Arab Spring.
The IFC, the World Bank’s private sector arm, has, in the last five years, boosted its annual commitments to the region by nearly 50 per cent to over $2bn. But, Tsitsiragos says it’s not enough: without more private sector involvement, the region cannot generate the investments required to produce faster economic growth and more jobs.
This Ramadan, Gulf residents received text messages with fasting tips to caution against overeating. The problem of expanding waistlines, however, is far from seasonal.
Kuwait, Qatar, The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain all figure on the list of the world’s top ten most obese nations. Seventy-seven per cent of Kuwaitis are overweight and 34 per cent are obese, putting the tiny country just behind the US, according to the latest research based on UN and World Health Organization data.
But as the obesity epidemic spread across the Persian Gulf, so too has another American phenomenon – the rise of the weight loss cottage industry.
For the Gulf resident who takes a morning shower with soap from The Body Shop, dons an H&M outfit and grabs a Starbucks skinny latte on the way to work, it may come as a surprise that the daily routine comes courtesy of a single office in dusty Kuwait City.
MH Alshaya, the Kuwaiti family-owned retailer founded in 1890, holds the franchise agreements to more than 50 popular brands in the region, as well as having a foothold in Turkey and Europe. The brands include household names from Victoria’s Secret and Harvey Nichols to Starbucks and PizzaExpress.
Another day, another minister resigns in oil-rich Kuwait.
This time it was the deputy prime minister and finance minister Mustafa Shimali, who has held the top finance job since 2007. He stepped down during a marathon 11-hour parliamentary grilling session where lawmakers quizzed him over financial irregularities in his departments. He denied the claims.
A Gulf-based budget airline might sound like a contradiction in terms. But as Camilla Hall reports, Flydubai is one of several carriers rapidly making low-cost travel a reality in the region.
It may have only 22 planes, but Flydubai has weathered the global financial crisis and is now expanding. Even among some of the world’s richest fliers, there are those who don’t mind a spot of cut-price flying – though without the bargain basement feel of some of the industry’s stalwarts.
The Arab spring has turned into a ka-ching [£££] for London’s new-build residential property market, according to real estate consultants Jones Lang LaSalle.
The value of Middle East investment in London’s new-build market almost doubled last year as unrest in the region prompted buyers to look for havens abroad, the property consultants say.
As Kuwaitis went to the polls on Thursday, in the fourth parliamentary elections since 2006, they had little hope of an end to the political bickering which has persistently held back the economy of the oil-rich Gulf state.
While the opposition is set to gain seats, increasing the pressure on the government for change, the result isn’t expected to produce a breakthrough. Kuwaitis face more of the same in economic terms – a general failure to keep pace in GDP growth with other Gulf oil states or to modernise at the same pace.
Every company you talk to these days has a new strategy for emerging markets – but not French Connection. Stephen Marks, the company’s laconic chairman, sees potential for “growth everywhere” and no need to reinvent its proven formula for any particular market.
The company plans to open 25 stores in China over the next three years – enough to double its presence in the country – while pushing further into other emerging markets including Russia, India, Turkey and South Korea.
Quantifying the economic collateral damage from unrest in the Middle East might seem a grim task, but it’s not all bad news.
The spike in oil prices provoked by political upheaval has boosted the rate of GDP growth in the oil exporting Gulf Cooperation Council states to an estimated 6.5 per cent for 2011, according to a new regional economic report from the Institute of International Finance. For regional oil importers – many of whom are embroiled in political riots – the picture is less attractive: as a group they will see a fall in growth of 0.5 percentage points in 2011.
Kuwait’s stock market may be one of the oldest and largest in the Arab world, but has long been synonymous with rampant market abuses such as insider trading and pump-and-dump trading by powerful merchant investors. That may be about to change.
Spurred on by the financial crisis, which caused the exchange to shed almost two thirds of its market capitalisation, Kuwait last year introduced a new regulatory framework, and this year established a dedicated Capital Markets Authority to enforce the new rulebook.