Concern in Lebanon as mobile data rates surge

A Lebanese woman checks her phone in the capital Beirut. (AFP file photo)
A Lebanese woman checks her phone in the capital Beirut. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 02 July 2022

Concern in Lebanon as mobile data rates surge

A Lebanese woman checks her phone in the capital Beirut. (AFP file photo)
  • Subscribers ‘thinking twice before downloading a video or picture using 3G or 4G service’

BEIRUT: The adoption of new tariffs for phone services and subscriptions in Lebanon has caused concern.

Pricing will now follow the dollar exchange rate on the Sayrafa platform, which is about LBP25,200. Prices used to be calculated according to the official exchange rate of LBP1,515.

The tariff raise came into force on Friday.

People woke up on Friday to text messages sent by telecom operators calculating their balances according to the Sayrafa exchange rate, surprised by the value of their balance tumbling to below $1.

BACKGROUND

Young people’s phones fell silent, with some preferring to stay at home because the cost of home internet services remains the same.

In May, the Cabinet approved the decision to increase the tariffs and fees for landline, mobile calls, and the internet starting July 1.

They will be calculated by dividing the previous dollar bill by three and then paying it in Lebanese pounds per the Sayrafa platform rate.

But people are struggling to accept the new prices, despite the help offered to students and security services by telecom companies Touch and Alfa.

Rabih, a 17-year-old student, said: “I had LBP75,000 in my balance, which used to amount to $49 according to the official rate. The amount shrank today to 30 (US) cents.”

Based on comparison tables between the prices in dollars and the prices adopted now, prices have fallen by about 300 percent in dollars, while their calculation according to the Lebanese pound rate shows a significant increase ranging from 500 to 700 percent.

The Lebanese currency has lost more than 95 percent of its value, leading to significant price differences.

The price table circulated by telecom companies shows that a 30-day prepaid card which used to cost $22.7 — equivalent to about LBP34,000 per the official dollar exchange rate — now costs $7.58.

But, if calculated based on the Sayrafa rate, its cost rises to LBP191,000, which means an increase of about 560 percent.

The telecom companies confirmed that the step came in response to the “necessity to maintain the continuity of the telecom sector and the provided services, amid the economic and financial crisis and the increase of the high cost of power insurance for plants, and since this sector is one of the most important pillars of the national economy.”

Activists warned that “audio messages and videos should not be sent when using the 4G service because they will consume all phone data.”

Young people’s phones fell silent, with some preferring to stay at home because the cost of home internet services remains the same.

The Lebanese are thinking twice before downloading a video or picture using the 3G or 4G service.

People relying on this service hesitate before opening any video received. Sending morning flowers and evening greetings has decreased significantly in recent days.

Abbas, a private internet service distributor, said: “We raised our prices but all distributors agreed to calculate their prices according to the rate of LBP10,000 for the dollar instead of the Sayrafa rate of about LBP25,000 to compete with the Ogero service affiliated to the Ministry of Telecommunications and maintain our subscribers. Our prices took into consideration the costs of transportation, generator subscriptions, and employees. I don’t deny that some subscribers decided to opt for the Ogero service because it is cheaper than ours by LBP60,000.

“But they forgot that Ogero is suffering from fuel shortage, preventing it from securing the service around-the-clock. Many operators are forced to turn off their machines as a result of their inability to secure dollars to buy diesel and operate the generators.

“Moreover, Ogero faces problems in installing new internet cables because of the high transportation cost of employees who have to move around between the clients’ houses to offer their services.”

The lifestyle of the Lebanese is undergoing major changes, especially young people who now have to reconsider the time they allocate for talking on the phone and internet use.

Abbas said that coffee shops offering free internet had “significantly raised” their food and beverage prices to provide their customers with this service. “If they start incurring losses, they might start slowing down the internet to reduce its use.”

Rabih said that he and his friends had decided to stay at home to use the home internet for their phone calls and chats, even though the home internet bill had increased from LBP100,000 to more than LBP400,000.

He feared the lifestyle they had become used to might change, and he worried about the state of their education next year if they returned to remote learning.

Telecom services are the only ones falling under the official dollar rate. Other services are priced based on the black market exchange rate, while the remaining subsidized medicines are in line with the Sayrafa platform rate.

But the tariff increases have not triggered any reaction in the streets as happened in 2019 when the Ministry of Telecommunications discussed the possibility of imposing a $6 fee on WhatsApp.

It backtracked on this plan in response to public pressure.


Egypt appoints 13 new ministers in Cabinet reshuffle

Egypt appoints 13 new ministers in Cabinet reshuffle
Updated 44 min 52 sec ago

Egypt appoints 13 new ministers in Cabinet reshuffle

Egypt appoints 13 new ministers in Cabinet reshuffle
  • Secretary-General of the House of Representatives Ahmed Manaa invited Parliament’s 596 MPs to attend the meeting without disclosing further information

CAIRO: President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt announced a Cabinet reshuffle Saturday to improve his administration's performance as it faces towering economic challenges stemming largely from Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The Cabinet shake-up, which was approved by parliament in an emergency session, affected 13 portfolios, including health, education, culture, local development and irrigation ministries.
Also included in the reshuffle was the tourism portfolio, a key job at a time when Egypt is struggling to revive the lucrative sector decimated by years of turmoil, the pandemic and most recently the war in Europe.
The changes, however, didn’t affect key ministries including foreign, finance, defense and the interior, which is responsible for the police force.
El-Sisi said the shake-up came in consultation with Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly. He said in a Facebook post that the changes aimed at “developing the governmental performance in some important files ... which contribute to protecting the state’s interests and capabilities.”
The new ministers are expected to be sworn in before el-Sissi later Saturday or early Sunday.
Egypt’s economy has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing war in Ukraine, which rattled global markets and hiked oil and food prices across the world.


Vehicle accident in southern Egypt kills 9, injures 18

Vehicle accident in southern Egypt kills 9, injures 18
Updated 13 August 2022

Vehicle accident in southern Egypt kills 9, injures 18

Vehicle accident in southern Egypt kills 9, injures 18

CAIRO: A vehicle accident involving an overturned microbus in southern Egypt killed at least nine people and injured eight, authorities said Saturday.
The crash took place Friday when the passenger vehicle overturned following a tire blowout on a highway in Minya province 273 kilometers (170 miles) south of the capital Cairo, provincial authorities said in a statement.
The microbus, a sort of mass transit minivan, was transporting people from Sohag province to Cairo, the statement said.
Ambulances rushed to the site and moved the injured to hospitals in Minya, the statement added.
Deadly traffic accidents claim thousands of lives every year in Egypt, which has a poor transportation safety record. The crashes and collisions are mostly caused by speeding, bad roads or poor enforcement of traffic laws.
Earlier this month, a microbus collided with a truck in Sohag, killing at least 17 people and injuring four others. In July, a passenger bus slammed into a parked trailer truck in Minya, leaving 23 dead and a least 30 wounded.


UAE FM, Ukrainian counterpart discuss relations

UAE FM, Ukrainian counterpart discuss relations
Updated 13 August 2022

UAE FM, Ukrainian counterpart discuss relations

UAE FM, Ukrainian counterpart discuss relations

DUBAI: The UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, discussed on Friday with the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, bilateral relations between their countries, the prospects for cooperation and ways to enhance them.

Both officials also reviewed the latest developments in the Ukraine, in addition to a number of regional and international issues of common interest, UAE state news agency WAM reported. 

During the phone call, Sheikh Abdullah praised the United Nations-backed agreement recently signed in Istanbul between Ukraine, Russia and Turkey, which provides for the safe export of grain through the Black Sea to global markets.

He reiterated the UAE's commitment to support all efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Ukraine and reach a political settlement of the crisis.


Adviser to Iran’s nuclear negotiating team ‘won’t shed tears’ over Salman Rushdie attack 

Adviser to Iran’s nuclear negotiating team ‘won’t shed tears’ over Salman Rushdie attack 
Updated 13 August 2022

Adviser to Iran’s nuclear negotiating team ‘won’t shed tears’ over Salman Rushdie attack 

Adviser to Iran’s nuclear negotiating team ‘won’t shed tears’ over Salman Rushdie attack 
  • Mohammad Marandi: ‘I wont be shedding tears for a writer who spouts endless hatred and contempt for Muslims and Islam’

Iran’s advisor to the nuclear negotiating team, Mohammad Marandi, said he will not be “shedding tears” over Salman Rushdie who was fatally stabbed on Friday at a literary event in New York state. 

“I wont be shedding tears for a writer who spouts endless hatred and contempt for Muslims and Islam,” Marandi said in a tweet following the incident. 

Salman Rushdie, who spent years in hiding after an Iranian fatwa ordered his killing, was on a ventilator and could lose an eye following the attack. The British author of “The Satanic Verses,” which sparked fury among some Muslims, had to be airlifted to hospital for emergency surgery following the attack.

Marandi also expressed his surprise at the timing of the attack on Rushdie, which followed Washington’s thwarting of an assassination attempt targeting the former National Security Adviser, John Bolton, calling it “odd.”

The Department of Justice charged an Iranian military operative on Wednesday with plotting to assassinate Bolton.


Tunisian government, unions agree to talks on IMF reform program

Tunisian government, unions agree to talks on IMF reform program
Updated 12 August 2022

Tunisian government, unions agree to talks on IMF reform program

Tunisian government, unions agree to talks on IMF reform program
  • Prime Minister Najla Bouden, UGTT labour union chief Noureddine Taboubi and UTICA commerce union chief Samir Majoul had agreed a "social contract" to tackle national challenges
  • The UGTT reposted the statement on its Facebook page

TUNIS: Tunisia’s government and both its main labor and commerce unions agreed on Friday to start talks on Monday over economic reforms required by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a rescue program.
State news agency TAP reported that Prime Minister Najla Bouden, UGTT labor union chief Noureddine Taboubi and UTICA commerce union chief Samir Majoul had agreed a “social contract” to tackle national challenges, citing a government statement.
The UGTT reposted the statement on its Facebook page.
The labor union, which represents a vast syndicate of workers, has been a staunch critic of IMF economic reforms proposed by the government, including subsidy cuts, a public sector wage freeze and the restructuring of state-owned companies.
It previously said, such reforms would increase the suffering of Tunisians and lead to an imminent social implosion.
Tunisia is seeking $4 billion in IMF support amid the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine, though diplomat sources told Reuters any IMF program approved would be unlikely to reach that level.
The IMF wants the UGTT, a powerful union that has a million members and has previously paralyzed parts of the economy in protest, to formally agree to government reforms.
Efforts to secure the IMF bailout have been complicated by Tunisia’s political upheavals since President Kais Saied seized most powers a year ago, shutting down parliament and moving to rule by decree.
Last month, he pushed through a new constitution formalising many of the expanded powers he has assumed in a referendum. Official figures showed that 31 percent of Tunisians took part, but opposition groups have rejected the figure, calling it inflated.