Lebanon workers go on strike over escalating crisis

Lebanon workers go on strike over escalating crisis
A demonstrator carries a national flag during a protest against mounting economic hardships, near the Central Bank building, in Beirut. (Reuters)
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Updated 18 June 2021

Lebanon workers go on strike over escalating crisis

Lebanon workers go on strike over escalating crisis
  • Lebanon has been without a fully functioning government since August
  • The crisis, festering since 2019, has reached new heights in recent weeks

BEIRUT: The trade unions affiliated with the General Labor Union in Lebanon carried out a general strike on Thursday to protest the country’s deteriorating economic conditions as they also pressed for a new government.

The strike paralyzed the state’s official departments and the banking sector as the private institutions stopped working for one hour in solidarity.

Protesters demanding the formation of a government did not, however, bother the ruling political authority, which also participated in the strike alongside private banks, making it impossible to know whom the workers were protesting against.

Short roadblocks were reported in Beirut and other areas before security forces quickly reopened the roads.

Lebanon has been without a functioning government since August while Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, named to the post in October, has failed to gain support from Lebanese President Michel Aoun over his Cabinet picks.

All mediations to resolve the issues facing the formation of a new government have been halted because of prolonged political bickering. Hezbollah’s two allies — the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri — cannot come to terms with Aoun, who insists on naming Christian ministers and, according to Berri, wants to obtain the blocking third in the government.

Aoun says Berri is seeking to “marginalize the role of the president, limit his powers, obstruct and exclude him.”

In light of the political stalemate, Anne Grillo, France’s ambassador to Lebanon, met with FPM lawmaker Gebran Bassil at his home. Bassil’s media office said their discussion focused on “the importance of forming the government despite all obstacles impeding it.”

Thursday’s strike in and around Beirut received mixed reactions.

Activists in the protest not affiliated with any party in power believed the General Labor Union’s strike had actually turned into a “movement against the people” after the FPM and the Future Movement joined the strike.

Other protesters, who refrained from participating in Thursday’s movement, said the “oppressor has assumed the identity of the oppressed.”

Halima Qaqour, a specialist in public international law, who was active in previous protests, told Arab News: “The civil society’s reluctance to participate in the General Labor Union strike is due to the fact that this union represents the ruling parties and we will not engage in this game. We say everyone must be held accountable and pay the price.”

There were a few reasons why people did not respond to the strike.

“The General Labor Union cannot mobilize people to protest. The people have become politically aware and they simply do not want to take to the streets,” Qaqour said.

“People are divided into three groups: A group awaiting the parliamentary elections to see some accountability, a group that has lost all hope and is trying to leave Lebanon, and another that is gathering under non-sectarian parties and preparing political projects for the upcoming stage."

Thursday’s strike could just be the beginning as those who participated said it was only a trial run for future protests “that may be more painful.”

Qaqour said the timing was not right for this protest but predicted more strikes.

“The people are the ones who decide when it is time to take to the streets again, and that time is yet to come,” she said.

In front of the General Labor Union headquarters in Beirut, several union representatives and trade unions gathered. Bechara Al-Asmar, head of the General Labor Union, defended the strike, saying the labor union is “the only unifying force in Lebanon without any bias and was able to gather both loyalists and opponents.”

Al-Asmar rejected “all accusations claiming that the union always gives in to politicians,” saying that the movements that accompanied the strike were “civilized” as there was no attack on public and private property.

He added that the union operates under one slogan, which is to save what is left of Lebanon by forming a new government and preserving institutions.

Al-Asmar addressed the politicians by saying: “Stop leaving your people for dead and form a salvation government. If you do not take this initiative, chaos will prevail.”

He also addressed those who criticize the General Labor Union and urged those who want to change this authority “should do so at the polls.”


Amazon to rebrand Souq.com Egypt site this year

Amazon to rebrand Souq.com Egypt site this year
Updated 27 min 53 sec ago

Amazon to rebrand Souq.com Egypt site this year

Amazon to rebrand Souq.com Egypt site this year
  • Souq.com sellers in Egypt encouraged to set up on Amazon.eg

CAIRO: Amazon said it plans to rebrand the Egyptian version of Souq.com as Amazon.eg this year, following similar moves in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Sales partners previously registered on Amazon’s Souq.com affiliate can access their accounts through the Amazon Seller Center in preparation for selling their products on the Amazon Egypt website immediately after its launch.

Amazon acquired Middle East etailer Souq.com in 2017 from Syrian entrepreneur Ronaldo Mouchawar.

On May 1, 2019, Souq.com UAE became known as Amazon.ae. On June 17 last year, Amazon launched its dedicated Saudi website Amazon.sa, rebranding the old Souq.com website.

Amazon announced plans in March to hire 1,500 new employees in Saudi Arabia and add 11 buildings to its network. The expansion will boost storage capacity in the Kingdom by 89 percent and its geographical delivery network by 58 percent.

The company operates an extensive logistics network and local operations across Egypt, which includes the main warehouse supported by 15 delivery stations across the country.


Sawiris creates $1.4 billion fund for gold mining assets, seeks outside investors

Sawiris creates $1.4 billion fund for gold mining assets, seeks outside investors
Updated 27 July 2021

Sawiris creates $1.4 billion fund for gold mining assets, seeks outside investors

Sawiris creates $1.4 billion fund for gold mining assets, seeks outside investors
  • Fund took $100 million from an unnamed strategic partner
  • Fund will be open to outside investors

LUXEMBOURG: La Mancha Holdings, owned by Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris, has launched a $1.4 billion fund to hold his gold mining assets and pursue new opportunities in precious and electric-vehicle metals.

The fund, La Mancha Fund SCSp, took on $100 million from an unnamed “strategic partner” and will soon be open to outside investors, Luxembourg-based La Mancha said in an emailed statement.

“Creating a fund is the natural consequence of what we have been doing since we vended-in our operational assets into Evolution and Endeavour in 2015,” Sawiris said in the statement. “Transitioning to a fund structure and welcoming new investors is timely when we are seeing opportunities in a gold mining sector which is fragmented and needs further consolidation.”

The fund will mainly be focused on gold and precious metals miners, but may also invest in EV battery metals. It will seek to acquire significant stakes in listed junior mineral resource companies with the goal of creating value over a three-to-five-year horizon.

As part of its mandate, the fund will seek to improve ESG metrics within its portfolio
companies during its investment tenure, it said in the statement.


Saudi Central Bank steps up efforts to increase locals in financial sector

Saudi Central Bank steps up efforts to increase locals in financial sector
Updated 27 July 2021

Saudi Central Bank steps up efforts to increase locals in financial sector

Saudi Central Bank steps up efforts to increase locals in financial sector
  • SAMA working with Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development and Human Resources Development Fund
  • Initiative could create 200,000 jobs - economist

RIYADH: The Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) has signed an agreement with other government entities to increase the number of locals in the financial sector, a move that might lead to the creation of more than 200,000 jobs for nationals.

SAMA signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development (HRSD), in partnership with the Human Resources Development Fund (Hadaf), SPA reported on Monday.

“This MoU aims to increase localization, provide human competencies capable of meeting the requirements of the financial sector, and create more than 203,000 jobs in the sector,” independent economist Fadhel Al Buainain told Arab News.

The measures will establish sustainable strategic steps to ensure the creation of more jobs and prepare young people to fill them, he said.

For decades, the Saudi financial sector was made up only of banks, but since the entry of new financial entities such as investment institutions, financial companies and the insurance sector, localization of jobs has become more important, to achieve sufficiency, strategic security and address unemployment, said Al Buainain.

Supporting specialized financial colleges and creating a college for banking sciences are among the tools that will help achieve the sector’s localization goals, he said.


Global interest in clean hydrogen surges as Mideast works to boost supply

Global interest in clean hydrogen surges as Mideast works to boost supply
Updated 27 July 2021

Global interest in clean hydrogen surges as Mideast works to boost supply

Global interest in clean hydrogen surges as Mideast works to boost supply
  • Hydrogen could account for 25 percent of global energy consumption by 2050

DUBAI: Interest in clean hydrogen is rising across the globe, as countries explore ways to decarbonize, a new World Energy Council report showed.

Hydrogen could account for between 6 percent and 25 percent of global energy consumption by 2050, according to the publication titled Hydrogen on the Horizon: ready, almost set, go?.

Different regions play a role in the current hydrogen energy transition, the report said, with countries in the Middle East and North Africa focusing on the supply side.

Saudi Arabia, in July, unveiled plans for a $5 billion green hydrogen facility – the world’s largest such project at the time. Other Middle East countries, including the UAE, Oman and Egypt have also announced major projects to exploit the expected demand.

An earlier report by Dii Desert Energy and Roland Berger said the Gulf region alone could create a $200 billion green hydrogen industry by 2050.

The region also benefits from its strategic geographic location being between the European and Asian markets, which the World Energy Council report described as demand-focused markets.

Different countries also have different ideas of how to utilize clean hydrogen, the report said.

Asia shows a greater focus on hydrogen as a liquid fuel in the form of ammonia, and as a fuel for shipping and road transport, while Europe wants to use hydrogen to decarbonize hard-to-abate sectors such as heavy industries and mass transportation.

“How countries want to produce and consume clean energy, and their immediate national priorities, will shape large-scale hydrogen development and end-user uptake,” Angela Wilkinson, Secretary General and CEO of the World Energy Council said.

It is important to identify user priorities to “better understand hydrogen’s real potential,” she said.

Jeroen van Hoof, global energy, utilities, and resources leader at PwC said this decade is crucial to develop hydrogen projects – including infrastructure to produce, import, distribute and use hydrogen at a large scale.

“If we do this successfully over the next few years, it can pave the way for hydrogen demand to grow exponentially beyond 2030,” he added.

But the report identified several challenges in this global endeavor, including concerns on the cost of low-carbon hydrogen, which is still more expensive than other energy sources.

The report said countries need to collaborate to create a global value chain and unlock the potential of hydrogen for the global economy.


Global markets regulators team up to keep watch on SPACs

Global markets regulators team up to keep watch on SPACs
Updated 27 July 2021

Global markets regulators team up to keep watch on SPACs

Global markets regulators team up to keep watch on SPACs
  • SPACS may raise regulatory concerns, said the International Organization of Securities Commissions

LONDON: Global securities markets regulators said on Tuesday they have begun monitoring special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, due to potential regulatory concerns.
SPACs are shell companies that list themselves on the stock market and use the proceeds to buy other companies.
It is a form of investment that soared last year on Wall Street, gathered steam in Europe this year and is now spreading into emerging markets.
“While SPACs may offer alternative sources of funding and provide opportunities for investors, they may also raise regulatory concerns,” the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) said in a statement.
IOSCO, whose members include the US Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), the Financial Conduct Authority in Britain and regulators in the European Union, Asia, Latin America and Africa, said its new SPAC network met for the first time on Monday to share information.
“I am pleased that so many members of IOSCO have joined the SPACs network to exchange experiences on non-traditional IPOs via SPACs and discuss emerging issues related to investor protection and fair, orderly and efficient markets,” said Jean-Paul Servais, chairman of Belgium’s markets watchdog and Vice-Chair of IOSCO’s board.
The markets watchdogs which are members of IOSCO have the power to take action to protect investors in their jurisdictions.