SR70bn pilgrimage bonanza forecast

Updated 25 September 2014
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SR70bn pilgrimage bonanza forecast

Economists predict more than SR70 billion in revenues from this year’s Haj and Umrah seasons, according to experts.
Abdullah Al-Marzoouq, a professor of Haj economy at Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah, told Arab News there are positive indicators for enhanced Haj profits.
“This is thanks to the 9 million pilgrims who will have performed Haj and Umrah this year,” he said.
Al-Marzoouq called for greater efforts to create more job opportunities for Saudis during the Haj and Umrah seasons.
Abdulkhaleq Al-Kashef, director of the Haj Research Center, said that Haj service companies will undoubtedly take advantage of the upcoming Haj season.
“The large Haj and Umrah market will increase the sale of Saudi products, which includes gift items,” said Khaled Ramadan, the manager of a Haj and Umrah service company.
Ramadan told Arab News that Saudi-made gift items are facing big competition from Chinese products.
He stressed the need for strengthening the capabilities of young Saudi men and women in making innovative gift items with a Makkah and Madinah touch for sale among pilgrims and other visitors.
Ramadan believes that Saudi products could make a revenue of SR500 million to SR800 million annually if properly marketed.
Saleh Al-Rasheed, the owner of a shop selling souvenirs and gifts, urged Saudi youth to start small and medium-sized enterprises to produce gift items to market among pilgrims.
“This is a potential goldmine for young Saudis,” he said.
“It can also create more seasonal jobs for Saudis during the Haj season,” he added.
The Ministry of Haj, meanwhile, has implemented a plan to crack down on fake Haj operators who fleece customers by collecting money for Haj in advance and then vanish without a trace. Bogus operators often shut down their offices and keep their mobiles switched off, leaving their victims in the lurch.
The ministry is also monitoring the service category of Haj operators, since many claim to offer “VIP” services in order to con their victims into paying higher amounts.
Authorities have advised residents to be cautious while dealing with Haj operators.
“The Haj Ministry will closely monitor the marketing and advertisement campaigns of local Haj operators to prevent fraud,” said Haj Minister Bandar Hajjar.


Palestinians in financial crisis after Israel, US moves

Updated 22 March 2019
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Palestinians in financial crisis after Israel, US moves

  • A Ramallah-based economics professor said the Palestinian economy more generally, remain totally controlled by and reliant on Israel
  • Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts have been at a standstill since 2014

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: The Palestinian Authority faces a suffocating financial crisis after deep US aid cuts and an Israeli move to withhold tax transfers, sparking fears for the stability of the West Bank.
The authority, headed by President Mahmud Abbas, announced a package of emergency measures on March 10, including halving the salaries of many civil servants.
The United States has cut more than $500 million in Palestinian aid in the last year, though only a fraction of that went directly to the PA.
The PA has decided to refuse what little US aid remains on offer for fear of civil suits under new legislation passed by Congress.
Israel has also announced it intends to deduct around $10 million a month in taxes it collects for the PA in a dispute over payments to the families of prisoners in Israeli jails.
In response, Abbas has refused to receive any funds at all, labelling the Israeli reductions theft.
That will leave his government with a monthly shortfall of around $190 million for the length of the crisis.
The money makes up more than 50 percent of the PA’s monthly revenues, with other funds coming from local taxes and foreign aid.

While the impact of the cuts is still being assessed, analysts fear it could affect the stability of the occupied West Bank.
“If the economic situation remains so difficult and the PA is unable to pay salaries and provide services, in addition to continuing (Israeli) settlement expansion it will lead to an explosion,” political analyst Jihad Harb said.
Abbas cut off relations with the US administration after President Donald Trump declared the disputed city of Jerusalem Israel’s capital in December 2017.
The right-wing Israeli government, strongly backed by the US, has since sought to squeeze Abbas.
After a deadly anti-Israeli attack last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would withhold $138 million (123 million euros) in Palestinian revenues over the course of a year.
Israel collects around $190 million a month in customs duties levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through its ports, and then transfers the money to the PA.
Israel said the amount it intended to withhold was equal to what is paid by the PA to the families of prisoners, or prisoners themselves, jailed for attacks on Israelis last year.
Many Palestinians view prisoners and those killed while carrying out attacks as heroes of the fight against Israeli occupation.
Israel says the payments encourage further violence.
Abbas recently accused Netanyahu’s government of causing a “crippling economic crisis in the Palestinian Authority.”
The PA also said in January it would refuse all further US government aid for fear of lawsuits under new US legislation targeting alleged support for “terrorism.”

Finance Minister Shukri Bishara announced earlier this month he had been forced to “adopt an emergency budget that includes restricted austerity measures.”
Government employees paid over 2,000 shekels ($555) will receive only half their salaries until further notice.
Prisoner payments would continue in full, Bishara added.
Nasser Abdel Karim, a Ramallah-based economics professor, told AFP the PA, and the Palestinian economy more generally, remain totally controlled by and reliant on Israel.
The PA undertook similar financial measures in 2012 when Israel withheld taxes over Palestinian efforts to gain international recognition at the United Nations.
Abdel Karim said such crises are “repeated and disappear according to the development of the relationship between the Palestinian Authority and Israel or the countries that support (the PA).”
Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including now annexed east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967 and Abbas’s government has only limited autonomy in West Bank towns and cities.
“The problem is the lack of cash,” economic journalist Jafar Sadaqa told AFP.
He said that while the PA had faced financial crises before, “this time is different because it comes as a cumulative result of political decisions taken by the United States.”
Abbas appointed longtime ally Mohammad Shtayyeh as prime minister on March 10 to head a new government to oversee the crisis.
Abdel Karim believes the crisis could worsen after an Israeli general election next month “if a more right-wing Israeli government wins.”
Netanyahu’s outgoing government is already regarded as the most right-wing in Israel’s history but on April 9 parties even further to the right have a realistic chance of winning seats in parliament for the first time.
Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts have been at a standstill since 2014, when a drive for a deal by the administration of President Barack Obama collapsed in the face of persistent Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank.