Tag Archives: saudi arabia

Saudi Bin Ladin Group cuts 100,000 jobs

It has been recently filtered that the major Saudi Arabian construction company, Saudi Bin Ladin Group, has issued 77,000 final exit visas meaning it had terminated 77,000 foreign workers.

Rumors further says that the group is planning to lay off up to 17,000 Saudi nationals, bringing the total number of job cuts to almost 100,000, representing almost half of its workforce.

Contacted by a local newspaper the construction giant replied that “adjusting the size of our manpower is a normal routine especially whenever projects are completed or near completion. Most of the released jobs had initially been recruited for contracted projects with specific time frames and deliverables” as reported by news agency Reuters.

As a matter of fact, Binladin has been under pressure since September last year, when it was suspended from receiving new state contracts after one of its cranes collapsed into Mecca’s Grand Mosque during a dust storm, killing 107 people.

In addition, the company is suffering from low oil prices that have led to government spending cuts to curb a record budget deficit.

As reported by ArabianBusiness, rumors say that Saudi Binladin group owe local and international banks a total of about 30 billion USD.

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“I will go on TV naked and resign if . . . “

Before revealing who made this bold statement to the press recently, we shall understand the current situation in the Real Estate market in the United Arab Emirates and Dubai in particular.

As we all know, the oil price has dropped by more than 50% in one year affecting not only the oil giants that had to slash investments and cut jobs but also the oil exporting Countries that registered a huge public deficit in 2015. According to Bloomberg, Saudi Arabia, one of the world leaders in terms of oil production and export, has accumulated a 98 billion dollars deficit (19.5% of GDP circa) during the past year.

The fiscal deficit has been covered, in most cases, by selling assets owned by sovereign wealth funds as reported by The National, with Saudi Arabia expected to have sold 70 billion USD worth of assets and Kuwait 30 billion USD. The position of the UAE seems to be much better thanks to the diversified economy that is less depending on oil revenues and its stash of wealth that amount to a staggering 275% of the GDP.

In a persisting low oil phase, however, the GCC countries have also initiate issuing new bonds and actively using the liquidity deposited in the local bank system to plug the accruing deficits. The occasion is also favorable to introduce the VAT, as already anticipated by this blog months ago, that is supposed to be operative from 2018 as reported by Emirates24/7 and to implement subsidies cuts to water, energy and fuel as lastly happened in Saudi Arabia where the fuel price jumped by 50% as reported by SaudiGazzette.

In this context of reduced spending power, it seems inevitable that some of the projects currently going on could be affected as stated by Alan Robertson, CEO of JLL MENA, and reported by ArabianBusiness.

dubai Real Estate troubles

He said: “2016 is expected to see more challenging conditions in the UAE real estate market as we begin to feel the impact of the continuing fall in oil prices and ongoing geopolitical tensions leading to reduced liquidity and pressure on government budgets“.

Of course the wars in Yemen and Syria are destabilizing the area and contributing in the creation of additional factors of anxiety for many investors.

The media started talking about liquidity problems affecting the completion of the projects and about oversupply that was pushing down the prices like the one published by GulfBusiness, discouraging the developer to complete their projects. The news flow had a worldwide echo and articles started popping in all major newspapers.

It is at this point that Mr. Ziad El Chaar, Managing Director of DAMAC Properties, made the bold statement to the Sunday Times that he will “go on TV naked and resign” if the worst predictions about Dubai’s property market are realized this year as reported by ArabianBusiness.

Damac Chief

Bold statement supported by the expert absolute certainty of the strong and healthy status of the Real Estate field in the Emirates.

Freed Sea turtle

The day I rescued a Sea Turtle from a fish trap!

It was a normal Friday in Saudi Arabia when I decided to go to the beach and enjoy the amazing Red Sea Coral Reef with some colleagues. We were well equipped, someone had a water proof camera (myself), someone else fishing gear and pretty much everybody was wearing a snorkel, goggles and suitable shoes to safely walk in a rocky sea.

We were taking funny photo when we noticed that something was violently moving in the shallow water close to us. We were firstly scared, because we thought it could have been a shark or some other dangerous fish, but then we realized it was a Sea Turtle trapped in a fishing net.

We approached the Turtle in an attempt to free it from the fish trap but the turtle wasn’t very happy of our presence. We insisted in pursuing our goal and tried our best to cut the fishing net that was literally strangling the poor marine creature.

Turtle Rescue Operation

The Turtle was very scared and tried to bite us more than once.

It was a complicated job since the turtle was biting and slapping our hands since it was very scared and the fishing net was super resilient. We did not have any cutting tool, hence we had to figure out how to free the turtle without hurting it.

Rescuing a Turtle

The delicate rescuing operation required 20 minutes and 4 people

Once the the first flap was freed, the turtle seemed realize we were helping and stopped being hostile and almost started cooperating with us. After the right flap, we managed to free the left one and then the head with a very delicate operation. The turtle cooperation was important since with a single bite it could have easily chopped off a finger.

The emotion in seeing the turtle free and happy was unique.

Freed Sea turtle

Also thanks to the turtle trust and cooperation, we managed to free it from the net

   As soon as we put it back in the water, it quickly disappeared leaving us proud of our actions.

Who should be ashamed of his misbehaving is the person who abandoned a fishing net in the middle of the coral reef, endangering many wild animals.

The slow but scaring propagation of MERS-CoV in Middle East and Asia

More than one year ago, in March/April 2014 to be precise, I was living and working in Saudi Arabia and was discretely preoccupied for the MERS (Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome) virus that was spreading in the Kingdom. It wasn’t a real breakout, since the daily cases were few, sometimes 1 sometimes 4 or 5. What scared me the most was the fact that the new cases reported were constant, meaning that the virus had a suitable carrier that was perfectly working.

Many associated the Virus with the camels new born season that in effect had caused the previous spike in the daily cases census. The spike had alarmed the international and local authorities that intervened to contain the infection. Saudi Arabia was the origin of the new Corona Virus and it was the Country with the highest number of cases reported.

After several weeks of general hysteria, the situation seemed becoming normal, with very few and isolated cases that seemed to happen just to remind us that the MERS Virus was still among us.

 After a period of relative tranquility, the MERS-CoV suddenly and powerfully appeared in South Korea where it spread and killed many people from May 2015 as reported by BBC News at the beginning of July 2015.

MERS CoV Global Situation Map by World Health Organization - photo from www.who.int

MERS CoV Global Situation Map by World Health Organization – photo from http://www.who.int

After the most recent outbreak, South Korea became one of the most severely hit Countries with hundreds cases that brought the local authorities to preventive quarantine measure for almost 7,000 people (as of end of July) and  provoked a collective fear of a pandemic in the population.

south-korea-mers-scare-wedding-photo

The level of alert in South Korea is so high that this wedding photo was taken with mask. – photo credit in the right corner

Surprisingly enough, concomitant with the recent outbreak in Korea, there has been a re-awakening of the virus even in Saudi Arabia with 22 new reported cases in the past 4 weeks. But while in Saudi we could have linked the presence of the virus to the camel farming activities, I am quite puzzled about its persistent presence in Far East. World Health Organization is strictly monitoring the evolution of the situation.

Iran Nuclear Deal by Shadi Ghanim

Have your say: Iran Nuclear Deal

I have read many articles about the Iran Nuclear Deal and got somehow confused because each and every Country directly involved in the deal has announced it to its respective population as a Victory, with a capital V (emblematic the cartoon published by The National and here reported as featured image).

The real question is: who’s going to benefit from this deal? 

While trying to answer this question, I came across an interesting article titled: “Who will cash in on the Iran nuclear deal?” where it is excellently reported how the European countries, especially those with Oil&Gas know-how will benefit from lifting the embargo. The French Total, the Norwegian Statoil and many German companies are eager to sign multi billion dollars contracts to expand Iranian extraction, refining and transportation of Natural Gas and Oil. Italy, who was not invited in the 5+1 committee and lost an estimated 45 billion Euro in the period 2010-2012, follows closely with oil giant Eni and its engineering arm Saipem, ready to get advantage of the situation.

This reasoning has been recently confirmed by Iranian authorities who confirmed that Oil&Gas Projects worth USD 185 billion are going to be awarded as soon as the sanctions are effectively lifted, as reported by Reuters. Fresh cash that is much needed by the O&G sector that is experiencing a substantial cut in new project’s number and value because of the low oil price.

But European Countries are not the only one to get benefits from the deal. The States are in pole position to get the maximum out of the deal, both directly and indirectly. A recent report published by the National Iranian American Council affirms that the States lost hundreds of billion in potential exports revenues to Iran and oil exploitation Joint-Ventures since the States-Iran relationship started deteriorating decades ago.

But this shall not be the only item we take into account. Other than guaranteeing a source of income to the European partner, the US have to grant protection to those allied Countries in the middle east that perceive Iran as a threat: Saudi Arabia above all. An this goal is not reached only by using political means but providing defensive systems to the concerned parties.

As reported by GulfNews, the States are going to sell to Saudi Arabia USD 5.4 Billion worth of missiles to enhance its defensive system.

“The Defense Security Cooperation Agency said the sale would benefit a key US partner in the Middle East. Notification to Congress was sent on Tuesday and follows a major nuclear deal with Iran. The missile sale approval could help reassure Saudi Arabia about the US commitment to its security.

Definitely, Iran will witness a skyrocket increase in its economy not only because of the possibility to sell oil in the international market, but also by the consistent investments that foreign companies might decide to do in the country in the next months. The new flow of oil and gas that Iran will make available on the markets in few months time, will put further pressure on OPEC countries because of the expected (and partially already manifested) slump in the prices that are already low (WTI is at 47.72 USD/b today).

Saudi Arabia Adventures: a day at Rabigh dam

If you had read Lawrence of Arabia chronicles, you should be acquainted with the hardship of living in the desert and most probably you might remember villages names like Rabigh (or Rabegh) and Masturah. I lived in Rabigh – Saudi Arabia for almost 15 months and explored the surrounding areas during the week ends.

The water reservoir created by the dam

The water reservoir created by the dam from Google Maps

I think that we all know that the Middle East in general and the Arabian Peninsula in particular, is characterized by a desert climate that originated the sandy desert we are used to see in many movies and cartoons. It is true even though we should keep in mind that most of the peninsula is constituted by mountains and rocky hills that make the visitors feeling to be on Mars instead of in Arabia. These rocky and sandy places get quickly colder than the surrounding air soon after the sunset, allowing the humidity present in the air to condensate and hence granting the little wildlife possibly present the chance to survive. These rocky areas have also a very limited capacity to absorb the rain that therefore flows towards the sea, creating the so called ‘wadi’, an Arabic term to indicate a riverbed or intermittent stream.

Rabigh Wadi full of water by AndreaDetto

Rabigh Wadi full of water

For this reason, during the rainy season when it could happen to see the rain 2 or 3 times, the water canalized in the ‘wadi’ flows from the mountains to the sea almost undisturbed. Such a big amount of water, indispensable to allow the wildlife to survive, has been recently trapped in appositely built dams to satisfy the population needs.

One of these dams is located close to Rabigh and I assure you that it is a strange feeling to see this artificial lake laying in the middle of the rocky desert. The dam is a multi-purpose construction that collects rain water assuring: i) flood control; ii) municipal water supply and iii) groundwater recharge, helping the overall system to have significant benefits.

I firstly visited a ‘wadi’ in 2010 during a camping organized in November by some friends, close to the Oman border. I was surprised in noticing that after the several months of summer with hot temperature and no rain at all, the ‘wadi’ still had spots of water here and there and that that water was icily cold!!!

Rabigh Dam by AndreaDetto

Rabigh Dam, a very simple construction

The water control systems now in place in many GCC countries aims to prevent very dangerous flooding (in Jeddah died many people few years ago) and grant water availability during the summer. How this is going to impact the environment and the local ecosystem is quite obvious even though I personally think that it is a less invasive solution if compared to the massive presence of desalinated water being used for multiple purposes.

MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) is still killing in Saudi Arabia. Updated Status.

Originally posted on 26th April 2014

I am currently working in Saudi Arabia and precisely at only 150 km far from Jeddah that is the epicentre of the MERS contagion. When I firstly come here, some 11 months ago, I remember that the media were treating the MERS Virus as a very rare and very difficult to get disease. In two years only 200 people got infected and a third of them passed away mainly because of other chronic serious illnesses.

The MERS-CO V is a coronavirus like SARS, that was most probably originated by the passage from camels to the human beings of the virus. The first recorded case was a 60-year-old male patient with acute pneumonia and acute renal failure, who passed away in Jeddah on June 24, 2012.

Since then the number of new cases were few per month, indicating a very difficult transmission of the virus from human to human as stated by WHO in February 2013: “the risk of sustained person-to-person transmission appears to be very low” (see here).

Mers Cases in Saudi Arabia

Mers Cases in Saudi Arabia

The virus seemed to be vanished or, better, just affecting old and already seriously ill people, when a furious outbreaks hit Saudi Arabia at the beginning of April 2014 when hundred cases were registered in few days.

In the Ministry of Health dedicated website there is a constant and official flow of news about MERS cases and death that helps the people to get informed and aware about the risks that this new fever brings along.

The escalation, as briefly anticipated started the first days of April when some major local newspapers started mentioning MERS with more and more insistence. ArabianBusiness.com published an Article on April 10, 2014 where Staff Writer reported that “eleven new cases were reported in Jeddah in recent weeks, causing a wave of panic fuelled by rumors circulated on social networks.”

On April 20, 2014 ArabianBuisness.com reported a news posted by Reuters where it was stated that “Saudi Arabia has confirmed seven new cases of MERS, adding up to 36 infections in five days, a sudden increase of a disease that kills about a third of the people infected and has no cure”. In the same day Courtney Trenwith posted an article with an eloquent title: “Virus expert says MERS infection prevention, control has “broken downin Saudi Arabia” and the Ministry of Health issued a note confirming 13 new cases (here).

While the people started to be more and more concerned about the spreading of this virus, what could seem a confirmation of the delicate situation in the Kingdom appeared in the newspapers worldwide on April 21, 2014: “Saudi Health Minister Fired Amid Surge in Deadly MERS Virus” as reported by the Wall Street Journal in an article that also quote the local sentiment of some locals interviewed: “It seems that MERS is a much more serious issue than what is being announced.”

Since then it was a continue counting of new infected and death.

From the Saudi Ministry of Health website:

  • April 19, 2014 > 13 new cases
  • April 20, 2014 > 12 new cases
  • April 21, 2014 > 13 new cases
  • April 22, 2014 > 11 new cases
  • April 23, 2014 > 12 new cases
  • April 24, 2014 > 14 new cases

The Saudi Gazette reported in an article dated April 25, 2014 that the new cases discovered in the past 24 hours are 36 mainly located in Jeddah, Riyadh, Makah and Medina (original article here).