The sultanate of Oman appears set to play a key role in Iran’s efforts to reintegrate into the regional and global economy. While other Middle Eastern states kept their distance during Iran’s years of isolation, Oman stuck with its longtime trading partner and is now set to reap the benefits, as the two countries move ahead with large-scale joint economic initiatives.

A long-planned $60bn undersea gas pipeline project has been given fresh impetus since sanctions on Iran were lifted earlier this year. The Korea Gas Corporation, a partly state-owned South Korean energy company, is reported to be nearing an agreement to build pipelines that will pump 20m cubic metres of Iranian gas a day to Oman, where it will be converted into Liquefied Natural Gas for international export. Read more

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. Read more

March 2011

A three-week teachers’ strike in Oman suggests that the genie of unrest is out of the bottle in this unassuming corner of the oil-rich Gulf.

The strike has affected up to three quarters of Oman’s roughly 1,000 schools, where open dissent is becoming a regular occurrence since the strategic sultanate had its own outburst of Arab spring-inspired unrest in March 2011. Read more

Distressed debt players who took a bet on bonds issued by Blue City of Oman should be cheered by a chance to get out.

The Gulf country’s sovereign wealth fund has offered to buy “class B” subordinated notes of the ailing real estate project – a $20bn beachside development that stalled as the financial crisis took a grip. Read more

New Islamic banks in Oman are bolstering their balance sheets to challenge the country’s larger conventional lenders after the sultanate allowed sharia-compliant lending for the first time last year.

This month, Al Izz Islamic bank, Oman’s second dedicated Islamic bank, opened subscription for its initial public offering of 40 per cent of the lender. So far, it says interest has been strong. Read more

“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 jobsRead more

Halwani Bros, a Saudi food producer, seems to think it has a recipe for labour market transformation – beyond the dense, sesame halawa dessert, for which it is famous. The 60-year-old, Riyadh-listed company has set a minimum wage of SAR3,000 ($800) per month for Saudi employees, according to a report in Arab News.

The move may only benefit 80 nationals employed at food production plants across the kingdom, as well as 50 more that the company plans to hire – but the decision could have far-reaching ramifications for other Saudis. Read more

HSBC is hoping to extend its red and white tentacles across Oman, the oil-rich Gulf state, after it agreed to merge its local unit with publicly-traded Oman International Bank.

HSBC plans to take a 51 per cent stake in the combined entity which will be re-named HSBC Bank Oman, the company said today. As part of the deal, HSBC will inject $97.4m into the joint lender. But why merge when other banks just expand? Read more

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.  Read more

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. Read more

OmanOman’s SMN Power Holding, the Gulf country’s biggest power company has sprung a surprise with an announcement that it’s selling $64m of shares despite the general gloom in the markets and a dearth of initial public offerings in the region.

The company which is three-way joint venture between Mubadala Development, an Abu Dhabi government investment arm, International Power mostly owned by GDF Suez, and Oman’s National Trading, is selling 35 per cent of its total share capital, the company said in an e-mailed statement on Sunday. Read more

By Camilla Hall in Abu Dhabi

King Abdullah in London

For years, petrodollars burnt holes in Gulf states’ pockets. What could not be spent at home, went straight into investments abroad. Buying US treasuries, London palaces or football clubs was a norm. But in the aftermath of the Arab spring, leaders in Middle Eastern countries have had to reconsider where to put their revenues. Instead of foreign assets and luxury, the surplus money is spent on creating jobs, building new homes and helping other states in the region.  Read more

Dubai Islamic BankThe Middle East may be the heart of Islam and its investors may have plenty of liquidity, but the region’s Islamic banking sector remains relatively immature and undeveloped compared to markets in Muslim south Asia.

But although the recent turmoil in the Middle East has certainly done the local Islamic finance industry no favours, new financial products and regulations are appearing across the region, helping the sector mature both in core Gulf countries and those such as Jordan and Oman that have so far had have limited sharia-compliant options. Read more

After a quiet year for initial public offerings in the Gulf, many have hoped that a share sale by Nawras, a successful Omani telecoms company, might open the door for other companies to follow, but it seems the non-alcoholic champagne might have to be re-corked for now.

Nawras’ IPO closed today at OR0.702 ($1.8) per share, the lowest end of the mooted price range, and that only after bankers kept order books open for an extra week to attract more retail investors. Read more

By Andrew Whiffin and Andrew England

The import-dependent Gulf states were left facing a troubling question when a food crisis sent the prices of staples such as rice and wheat soaring two years ago: how could they secure food for their expanding populations if crises recurred?

At the time a spectacular construction boom was already driving up people’s rents and inflationary pressures in the oil-rich states; then some foreign food producers began imposing restrictions on their exports. Leaders were shaken into action. Read more

The trade winds of the Indian Ocean helped sailors move goods from the subcontinent to the Gulf and Africa. Despite strong commercial and labour links, there has been an historic mismatch in the amount of investment flowing in the other direction, from the oil-rich Gulf to India.

But the currents appear to be shifting, as UAE telecoms operator Etisalat’s nears a deal to take a 26 per cent stake in India’s second-largest mobile phone operator, Reliance Communications and today’s announcement by UAE’s Evolvence Capital that it will launch its third India-focused private equity fund. Read more