Fortnightly, 23 March 2016

Fortnightly, 23 March 2016

March 23, 2016


23 March 2016
13 Adar II 5776
14 Jumada Al-Akhir 1437




1.1  Israel Plans End of Dairy & Egg Production Quotas in 2017
1.2  Netanyahu Publishes His Monthly Pay Slip


2.1  Israel-Jordan Gas Pipeline to Begin Operating in 2017
2.2  Israel’s Natural Gas Potential Triple of Its Original Assessment
2.3  Alooma Raises $11.2 Million
2.4  Bombardier to Provide an Additional 60 Coaches to Israel Railways
2.5  Israeli Defense Companies See Decline in 2015 Domestic Sales
2.6  LTG Exam Platform Raises $5.3 Million


3.1  Casablanca Finance City Announces Opening of Bank of China Office


4.1  Jerusalem to Receive Med – Dead Sea Conduit Plan
4.2  BrightSource Launches Next Generation Solar Field Technologies
4.3  Eco Wave Power Aims for World Leadership in Wave Energy


5.1  MENA Oil Importers See Limited Growth As Political Challenges Persist
5.2  Deflation in Lebanon Averaged 2.85% by February 2016
5.3  Lebanon at Bottom of 2016 Energy Architecture Performance Index List
5.4  Amman’s 2015 Budget Deficit Rises by JD346 Million as Revenues Drop

♦♦Arabian Gulf

5.5  Some 19 Million Cars Expected on GCC Roads by 2020
5.6  Kuwait Cabinet Approves 10% Tax on Companies’ Profits
5.7  Abu Dhabi’s Non-Oil Foreign Trade Rises to $46 Billion in 2015
5.8  Saudi Inflation Edges Down in February from Record High
5.9  Saudi Policy-Making Body Approves Economic Reforms
5.10  Saudi Central Bank Governor Vows to Keep Dollar-Related Currency Peg

♦♦North Africa

5.11  Egypt’s Suez Canal Revenues Decline for 3rd Consecutive Month


6.1  Only 30 Percent of Workers in Turkey are Female
6.2  Turkey & Pakistan Sign Free Trade Agreement Framework



7.1  Israel & World Jewry Celebrate Purim Holiday


7.2  Sheikh Mohammed Approves UAE’s 100-Day Happiness Plan
7.3  Defacing Bank Notes Illegal, Warns Oman Central Bank


8.1  Teva Receives EC Approval for the Allergan Generics Acquisition
8.2  Technion Says Herbal Remedies Can Be Extremely Harmful For Cancer Patients
8.3  Neteera Raises $2 Million
8.4  Teva Completes Generic Pulmicort Respules Portfolio with US Launch
8.5  Tel Aviv University Scientists Develop Bionic Heart
8.6  XTL Biopharmaceuticals Completes Phase 2 Trial Design for hCDR1 in Lupus Treatment
8.7  Insuline Medical Receive OCS Funding to Improve Long Acting Insulin Therapy
8.8  Teva Announces Launch of Generic Campral in the United States
8.9  Emerald Melanoma Diagnosis System Wins FDA Approval


9.1  Silicom Receives New Design Win for Smart Cards from Cyber Security Customer
9.2  Mobli Media is Launching Galaxia – a Platform to Create Mini Social Networks
9.3  Sapiens Announces New ALIS Fast Track Proposition for the UK Protection Market
9.4  Magic Software Makes It Easier to Modernize & Mobilize Enterprise Applications
9.5  Mellanox Announces First 200Gb/s Silicon Photonics Devices
9.6  Articoolo Launches Technology for Unique, Human-Like Content Writing


10.1  February Sees Israel’s Inflation Rate Fall by 0.3%
10.2  Israeli Economy Grew by 2.5% in 2015
10.3  Ten Israeli Companies Account for 51% of Exports
10.4  Record Foreign Investment in Tel Aviv Stock Exchange


11.1  JORDAN: Jordan is Sliding Toward Insolvency
11.2  GCC: GCC Forecast to See Slowest Growth since 2008
11.3  EGYPT: Fitch Says Devaluation Positive, Economic Challenges Remain
11.4  TURKEY: After Seizing Zaman Newspaper, What’s Next for Turkey?


1.1  Israel Plans End of Dairy & Egg Production Quotas in 2017

The Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Finance plan to implement reforms of the agricultural sector by the start of 2017, or earlier.  The ministries intend to approve a plan to end import taxes on all food products alongside the plan to end production quotas for eggs and milk.

A senior government source said that after a gradual implementation of the reform, all imported non-processed food will be exempted.  This includes vegetables, fruits, fresh and frozen meat, frozen vegetables, poultry, dairy products, eggs, honey and olive oil.  Based on a calculation by the Ministry of Agriculture, these reforms will save Israeli consumers NIS 2.6 billion, with the overall savings potentially reaching NIS 3.25 billion.

Paying Israeli farmers compensation for their losses will allow the reforms to proceed.  The Ministry of Agriculture expects to conclude negotiations with the farmers, and conclude hearings with other groups, by the end of June.  The ministry intends to present the plan for government approval in July, fast-track any necessary amendments to the legislation, and implement the reforms by 2017 or earlier.  (Globes 10.03)

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1.2  Netanyahu Publishes His Monthly Pay Slip

People often wonder how much money the prime minister makes; on 15 March Benjamin Netanyahu answered that question by revealing his most recent pay slip on Twitter.  The prime minister’s gross monthly salary stands at NIS 48,815 ($12,530).  After taxes and expenses, Netanyahu actually takes in a much smaller amount – NIS 17,645 ($4,530).  Some NIS 26,278 ($6,738) went toward income tax, social security and health insurance.  According to the pay slip, Netanyahu’s salary also paid the telephone bill, while an especially large monthly sum of around NIS 12,000 ($3,077) was spent on the armored vehicle in which he travels.

Incidentally, this was not the first time that Netanyahu has revealed his salary.  In 2011, his monthly salary after taxes was NIS 15,000 (around $3,850).  The pay increase stems, among other things, from a decision made recently to update the salaries for Knesset members and ministers.  Hours after the prime minister published his pay slip, Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog also revealed his salary.  Herzog’s gross monthly salary stands at NIS 45,356 (around $11,645).  After taxes and expenses, he takes home NIS 20,317 (around $5,215).  (IH 16.03)

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2.1  Israel-Jordan Gas Pipeline to Begin Operating in 2017

The first natural gas pipeline from Israel to Jordan is scheduled to begin operating in 2017, Israel Natural Gas Lines CEO Tordjman announced.  The pipeline, currently being constructed in the Sodom area by the Dead Sea, will supply gas from the Tamar reservoir to private customers in Jordan.  A second pipeline to be built in the Beit Shean area is due to supply gas from the Leviathan reservoir to the Jordanian National Electric Power Company (NEPCO).

In February, the Tamar partners signed a letter of intent with private customers in Jordan to supply 1.8 BCM over 10 years.  In September 2014, the Leviathan partners also signed a letter of intent to supply 45 BCM of gas to NEPCO over 15 years; the value of the contract is estimated at over $15 billion.  The discussions of the gas plan in Israel, however, which have been taking place for a year, have stalled the negotiations between the two countries.  (Globes 10.03)

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2.2  Israel’s Natural Gas Potential Triple of Its Original Assessment

Israel’s Energy Ministry has tripled its estimate of the volume of still-undiscovered natural gas in Israeli waters.  Energy Minister Steinitz presented international energy companies with a new assessment of a potential 2,100 billion cubic meters (BCMs) of natural gas, in contrast to the 680 BCMs that the Tzemach Committee relied on to examine the government’s policy regarding the natural gas market.  The Tamar and Leviathan gas fields have already yielded 750-950 BCM of natural gas.  The ministry based its new assessment on a report prepared by French consulting firm BecipFranlab.  It found that the seabed has four relevant layers that potentially contain geological structures that could contain gas.  According to the report, the potential amount of petroleum is estimated at 6.6 billion barrels.

BecipFranlab believes that the territorial waters of Israel have four layers with the potential for finding oil or gas deposits.  It estimates that the deeper layer, where the Tamar and Leviathan fields were found, has the potential for about 480 BCM of natural gas, while shallower layers could contain about 1,640 BCM of gas.  This assessment is based on a re-examination of existing seismic maps and new models.  (Ynet 24.02)

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2.3  Alooma Raises $11.2 Million

Tel Aviv’s Alooma has close a $11.2 million Series A financing round led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and Sequoia Capital, which also invested in the company’s seed round.  Alooma, which provides a modern ETL platform for data engineers and scientists, has raised a total of $15 million to date.  Alooma will use the funding to expand its sales and marketing team in the San Francisco Bay Area and to continue to strengthen its product.  Alooma observes that more and more companies today are maturing out of basic “out-of-the-box” analytics tools as they try to leverage all of their data – from web and mobile applications to NoSql and relational databases to log files, 3rd party SaaS vendors and more.  But building an integrated data platform internally is a complex challenge that requires hiring data scientists and data engineers, spending huge amounts of money and many tedious hours capturing, transforming and validating the data.

Alooma enables companies to build and run their own data platform as a service, greatly reducing the time and cost required to leverage disparate sources of data.  Companies can act upon all of their data and gain unprecedented decision-making capabilities.  Set up in minutes, Alooma lets companies connect all their data sources to their own AWS Redshift or other data warehouse and use Alooma’s Code Engine to clean, transform or enrich any event–all in real time.  (Globes 14.03)

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2.4  Bombardier to Provide an Additional 60 Coaches to Israel Railways

Montréal’s Bombardier Transportation will provide an additional 60 BOMBARDIER TWINDEXX Vario double-deck coaches to Israel Railways (ISR).  This call-off order is part of a framework agreement signed in October 2010 and is valued at approximately $120 million.  As the Israeli public transportation market continues to grow, demand for additional capacity and more frequent service is increasing. In response, the government has planned over €7 billion in investments to upgrade its railway networks, opening up opportunities for a variety of mobility solutions.  These additional double-deck trains, hauled by the new TRAXX AC electric locomotives ordered in 2015, will represent great strides in helping alleviate congestion in the nation.  To further reduce reliance on private cars, Israel is also developing light rail vehicle and monorail systems for several lines.  Deliveries for this call-off order are expected to take place between March 2017 and July 2018.  (Bombardier 21.03)

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2.5  Israeli Defense Companies See Decline in 2015 Domestic Sales

Israel Ministry of Defense procurement from Israeli companies in 2015 totaled NIS 10.8 billion, the Ministry of Defense Procurement and Production Directorate announced.  Of this amount, NIS 2.9 billion, 27% of last year’s defense procurement, was from companies operating in outlying areas and border communities.

Israel’s defense procurement fell in 2015, compared with 2014, when it totaled NIS 14 billion.  The difference was attributed to intensive procurement from Israeli companies in 2014 to renew IDF stockpiles following Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip.  The absence of an approved state budget in 2015 also made orderly procurement difficult in that year.  The Procurement and Production Directorate made 31,000 new orders from local companies and processed 282,000 invoices.  Ministry of Defense orders from Israeli companies were directly responsible for 50,000 jobs, a fifth of them in outlying areas, areas of high national priority, and border communities in the north and south.  (Globes 16.03)

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2.6  LTG Exam Platform Raises $5.3 Million

Tel Aviv startup LTG Exam Platform closed a $5.325 million Series A financing round earlier this month.  The funding round was led by Square Peg Capital and other investors include Atlas Venture, Jamie McCourt, Edward and Mitch Roberts, Margot Lebenberg Carter, Brian Shin and Eric Dobkin.  LTG Exam Platform develops mobile apps for standardized test preparation that are already used by a half million students worldwide.

The investment will allow LTG to invest in building out its senior management team and strategy in key areas such as product, engineering, user experience, branding, demand generation and distribution; increase the depth of its portfolio of popular, free consumer apps, which currently includes Prep4SAT, Prep4GMAT, and the recently launched Prep4GRE for iOS and Android; and to develop revenue streams through new products and services that enable universities, business schools and other institutions to meet their marketing and enrollment objectives.

Test preparation currently costs students and their families thousands of dollars each year.  Classes can range from $200 to more than $1,500, while private tutors can cost even more.  LTG provides a free alternative, untethered from the classroom or the tutor’s schedule.  These apps arm students with the mobility they have come to expect in all facets of their lives.  (Globes 21.03)

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3.1  Casablanca Finance City Announces Opening of Bank of China Office

The Bank of China, one of the oldest Chinese financial institutions, announced the establishment of an African representative office in Morocco, operating under the Casablanca Finance City status.  Bank of China’s office in Casablanca will carry out a threefold mission.  On the one hand, it will accompany and support Chinese firms’ growth strategy in French-speaking Africa.  On the other hand, it will offer its expertise, network and thorough understanding of the Chinese market to Moroccan and African companies wishing to build up business relationships with China.  Finally and from a strategic point of view, the new undertaking will participate in funding bilateral trades between Africa and China.

Casablanca Financial City Authority (CFCA), a private limited company established in 2010 as a public-private partnership, is responsible by law for managing and promoting Casablanca Finance City (CFC).  CFC is a regional economic and financial hub serving as a gateway to countries of North, West and Central Africa.  (CFCA 15.03)

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4.1  Jerusalem to Receive Med – Dead Sea Conduit Plan

Israel Electric Corporation, Mekorot National Water Company and a group of private developers will present a new plan to the cabinet in the coming months for an underground conduit for transporting water from the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea.  The plan is currently being reviewed by an inter-ministerial team headed by the Prime Minister’s Office director general.  It is believed that Mekorot and IEC wish to be partners in both owning and carrying out the venture after it gains cabinet approval.  The project, based on an underground conduit, is economically viable and will make a strategic contribution to the electricity and water sectors, in addition to saving the Dead Sea from drying up.  The idea is centers on digging tunnels to transport water 100 kilometers from the Mediterranean Sea and a 1,500 MW underground hydroelectric power plant that will use the difference in water level between the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean to generate electricity.

The hydroelectric power plant has significant advantages for management of the national electrical system, because it is the only existing engineering solution for storing substantial quantities of electricity, with extremely short closing and opening times and the ability the generate a variety of capacities.  It can be used by the electricity system administration for operational storage and flexible regulating at times of varying demand.  The operational flexibility of a plant of this type and size can make it possible to substantially increase the amount of electricity produced from renewable energy, without jeopardizing the network’s stability.  (Globes 20.03)

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4.2  BrightSource Launches Next Generation Solar Field Technologies

BrightSource Energy announced advanced solar field technologies currently being deployed at the 121 megawatt (MW) Ashalim Solar Thermal Power Station located in Israel’s Negev Desert.  The fourth generation of BrightSource’s solar field technologies features improvements to the heliostats, solar field communications network and solar field control system.  These technologies are designed to further optimize power production, reduce construction time and lower project costs.  The company’s 392 MW Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, located in California’s Mojave Desert, is the world’s largest CSP tower project and is entering its third year of operation.  The Ashalim project, which is now under construction, builds on the experience gained at Ivanpah.  BrightSource’s technologies being deployed at Ashalim are designed to deliver performance improvements in all areas of solar field operations.

With fewer components and an easier assembly, new heliostats cost less and can be installed much faster.  BrightSource’s latest design measures 4 x 5.2 meters, 25% larger compared to Ivanpah.  Each heliostat consists of four flat, low-iron glass mirrors that provide maximum reflectivity for the life of the project.  The new streamlined design maximizes the total reflective surface within the constraints of the mechanical drive systems and allowable wind load. Precision steel parts, including a torque tube, support arms and connectors, ensure rigidity and reliability in desert conditions for more than 25 years.

Jerusalem’s BrightSource Energy designs, develops and sells solar thermal power systems that deliver reliable clean energy to utilities and industrial companies. (BrightSource 21.03)

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4.3  Eco Wave Power Aims for World Leadership in Wave Energy

Tel Aviv’s Eco Wave Power completed the construction and entered the testing phase of its first commercial scale power plant in Gibraltar.  It will soon hold an official press conference, with the participation of the Government of Gibraltar, for the start of operation of the Power Station in the Rock.  EWP also received EU funding for its ambitious pioneering project in Gibraltar and simultaneously recognized by Acquisition International Magazine (AI Magazine) for Israel Energy & Resources Deal of the Year” for successfully closing its first fund-raising round led by Pirveli Ventures.

Eco Wave Power is the sole global inventor, owner and developer of the unique EWP wave energy devices.  Their wave energy company designs, manufactures and operates the EWP wave energy convertors.  They believe that their patented technology is clearly on target to become a world leader in the wave energy field.  Eco Wave Power is the only wave energy company to ever win the Frost & Sullivan Product Innovation Award.  According to Frost & Sullivan, “Eco Wave Power efficiently handles the prominent challenges prevailing in the field and offers an all-round solution for effective energy harvesting.  (Eco Wave 22.03)

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5.1  MENA Oil Importers See Limited Growth As Political Challenges Persist

The positive impact of lower oil prices on oil-importing MENA sovereigns will be moderated by regional headwinds in 2016, says Moody’s Investors Service in a report published on 22 March.  The rating agency’s report is an update to the markets and does not constitute a rating action.  According to Moody’s, lower oil prices will lead to a re-balancing of oil importers’ external positions, although the magnitude will differ.  Moreover, potentially lower remittances and grants from GCC countries could mitigate the growth benefits from lower oil prices.

Moody’s expects Lebanon, Jordan and Morocco to benefit the most from the lower oil prices, as their exposure to hydrocarbon imports is the largest, at around 20%-30% of total imports and 10-20% of nominal GDP.  For those sovereigns, the rating agency projects that the lower energy bill will translate into a reduction of current account deficits by around 4-6%age points of GDP over 2013-16.

Moody’s also expects the effects of increases in US interest rates to be limited, owing to low external debt – with the exception of Tunisia – and low dependence on portfolio investments in the financing of their current account deficits.  However, Moody’s notes that regional conflicts in Syria and in Libya and domestic security tensions will continue to subdue tourism revenues and investment activity in most countries.  This, in turn, could keep unemployment and social tensions high.  Regional conflicts also impose significant fiscal costs on refugee host countries, in particular Lebanon and Jordan, and increasingly Tunisia.  (Moody’s 22.03)

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5.2  Deflation in Lebanon Averaged 2.85% by February 2016

Consumer prices maintained the downward trend during the first two months of 2016 as imported deflationary pressures are still weighing on the prices of Lebanese goods and services since 2015.  In this context, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) dropped by an average of 2.85% y-o-y by February 2016.  According to the Central Administration of Statistics (CAS), the CPI decreased by 2.94% y-o-y in February 2016 as the index dropped from 97.20 points in February 2015 to 94.35 points by the end of February 2016.  The depreciation of the euro, the local and global economic slowdown and the great decline in oil prices were the primary reasons behind this deflation. In terms of CPI’s components, food and non-alcoholic beverages (20.6% of CPI) declined by 2.05% y-o-y in February 2016.  Moreover, transportation (13.1% of CPI) and water, electricity, gas & other fuels (11.9% of CPI), witnessed yearly drops of 4.83% and 16.54%, respectively.  The other 2 sub-indices that waned were health (7.8% of CPI) and communication (4.6% of CPI), posting a 4.06% and 0.36% y-o-y declines, respectively.  However, the education sub-index, constituting 5.9% of the CPI, augmented annually by 1.49% in February 2016.  Furthermore, clothing and footwear (5.4% of CPI) and restaurants & hotels prices (2.6% of CPI) went up by 3.18% and 3.02% y-o-y, respectively.  (CAS 22.03)

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5.3  Lebanon at Bottom of 2016 Energy Architecture Performance Index List

According to the World Economic Forum, Lebanon ranked 125th out of 126 countries in the global Energy Architecture Performance Index (EAPI).  The index focuses on tracking specific indicators to measure the energy system performance in each country in 2016.  These indicators include economic growth and development, environmental sustainability, energy access and security.  Lebanon’s weak ranking could be partly due to the lack of diversification in the country’s energy sources and the frail share of renewable energy in total primary energy supply.  Also, Lebanon’s old centralized energy infrastructure is not able to compete with global interconnected and technologically sophisticated energy systems.  Globally, the top 10 rankings were dominated by OECD economies in 2016, highlighting the positive impact of economic development on their energy systems’ performance.  Switzerland, Norway and Sweden were on the top of the list, whereas Yemen, Lebanon and Bahrain were the worst performers in 2016.  It is worth noting that the ranking of regional neighboring countries went down during the past seven years, notably the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia that lost 7,3 and 9 places to rank 104th, 111th and 114th amongst listed countries, respectively.  (BLOM 15.03)

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5.4  Amman’s 2015 Budget Deficit Rises by JD346 Million as Revenues Drop

Jordan’s state budget deficit for FY2015 reached JD929 million, or 3.4% of the projected size of the Kingdom’s economy, according to numbers released on 21 March by the Finance Ministry.  The deficit was higher by JD346 million than the JD583.5 million registered in 2014, mainly due to around JD350 million drop in foreign grants from JD1.236 billion in 2014 to around JD886.2 million received last year, the ministry’s figures indicated.  In its report, the Finance Ministry said that deficit ratio to the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2014 was 2.3%.  The deficit before foreign grants would have been JD1.815 billion, 6.7% of the projected GDP in 2015, while in 2014 it would have been JD1.820 billion, or 7.2% of the GDP.  Public revenues in 2015, including domestic and foreign grants, stood at around JD6.8 billion, compared to JD7.2 billion the year before, a drop of around JD471 million.  Domestic revenues in 2015 dropped by JD122 million in 2015 to around JD5.909 billion from JD6.031 billion, the figures showed.  Government spending in 2015 stood at JD7.724 billion, down by JD126.5 million from the year before when expenditure reached JD7.851 billion, the ministry report said.  (JT 21.03)

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►►Arabian Gulf

5.5  Some 19 Million Cars Expected on GCC Roads by 2020

Passenger vehicle numbers in the Arabian Gulf region are estimated to increase at an average of 7.4% annually over the next four five years.  A total of 19.1 million vehicles are expected to be on the region’s roads by 2020, up from 14.35 million in 2015.  Despite a slight decline this year, vehicle sales in the GCC will stabilize in 2017, before a cumulative growth phase from 2017-2020 puts the region back on track as the Middle East and North Africa’s largest automotive market.

According to analysts Frost & Sullivan, Saudi Arabia will hold the lion’s share of cars on GCC roads, with 10.03 million vehicles by 2020 – 52.5% of the entire regional market.  The UAE will have 3.53 million vehicles, an 18.5% share, while the rest of the region, which includes Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain, will have 5.54 million vehicles – Kuwait being the largest followed by Oman and Qatar.

The average age of cars in the region will increase to eight years in 2020.  By then, 0 – 3 year-old vehicles will contribute 27% of units in operation, while cars aged 10 years and older will dominate the market, holding a 31% share.  Demand for spare parts – excluding tires and batteries – in the GCC alone will be worth $11.9 billion by 2020, up from an estimated $7.6 billion in 2015.  (AB 15.03)

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5.6  Kuwait Cabinet Approves 10% Tax on Companies’ Profits

Kuwait’s cabinet has approved economic reforms including the introduction of a 10% tax on corporate profits to narrow a budget deficit caused by low oil prices, according to Finance Minister Anas al-Saleh.  Saleh did not say when the tax would be imposed. However, it would mark a big shift in policy; at present, most Kuwaiti firms do not pay taxes on profits, though many foreign firms do.

All of the wealthy Gulf oil-exporting states are scrambling to cut their deficits by boosting non-oil revenues, but most are taking a different approach than Kuwait, focusing on the introduction of a value-added tax from 2018 rather than on taxing corporate earnings.

Saleh also said the cabinet had approved a “repricing” of some commodities and public services.  He did not elaborate, but his comment appeared to refer to cuts in price subsidies for fuel, food and public utilities.  Officials have previously said they are considering such cuts, but the issue is politically sensitive because it could directly affect the living standards of Kuwaitis.  The subsidies cost the government billions of dollars annually.

The finance ministry projected in January that because of low oil prices, the government would run a deficit of 12.2 billion dinars ($40.7 billion) in the fiscal year starting on 1 April, nearly 50% higher than the deficit estimated for the current year, after government contributions to the sovereign wealth fund.  Saleh also said that the government would seek to privatize state-owned assets including airports, ports and some facilities of national oil giant Kuwait Petroleum Corp.  In a report to the cabinet, he outlined other reforms including allowing private citizens to own as much as 50% of public-private joint ventures, reforming the labor market and the civil service system, and making the public sector more efficient by linking pay to production.  (KUNA 14.03)

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5.7  Abu Dhabi’s Non-Oil Foreign Trade Rises to $46 Billion in 2015

Abu Dhabi’s non-oil foreign trade reached AED169.11 billion ($46 billion) in 2015, up by 11% compared to the previous year.  The value of imports through different customs points of the emirate stood at over AED119.3 billion, up by 10.5%, while exports totaled AED30.83 billion, an increase of 63%, and re-exports stood at AED18.9 billion, down by 25.3%.  Last year, Standard & Poor’s said Abu Dhabi’s “exceptional” wealth has helped maintain its AA credit rating despite the fall in oil prices.  S&P said it expects Abu Dhabi’s annual average fiscal deficit to fall to about 1.5% of GDP between 2015-2018.  (AB 15.03)

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5.8  Saudi Inflation Edges Down in February from Record High

Saudi Arabia’s inflation edged down in February, after the rate hit its highest level since September 2012 in the previous month.  The rate remained high historically in February following a hike in gasoline prices in December.  Saudi Arabia’s Central Department of Statistics released the February consumer price data showing annual inflation at 4.2%, just 0.1% off its highest since the data series began in September 2012.  The government raised the price of 95 octane gasoline to 0.90 riyal ($0.24) per liter from 0.60 riyal in late December as part of austerity measures in the 2016 state budget. Prices for utilities were also hiked.  As a result, transport costs surged 12.7% from a year earlier in February.  Prices of housing and utilities climbed 8.2% while food and beverage prices rose 1.3%.  (CDS 21.03)

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5.9  Saudi Policy-Making Body Approves Economic Reforms

One of Saudi Arabia’s most influential economic policy-making bodies has approved 133 recommendations on improving the competitiveness of the kingdom’s economy, which will be announced within the next six months.  The comments, by Abdullatif al-Othman, governor of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), are the first time that an official of ministerial rank has talked about details of the National Transformation Plan (NTP) since it was first announced three months ago.  NTP is a plan involving a number of significant reforms to the economy of the world’s top crude oil exporter to help it weather the impact of lower oil prices and diversify away from reliance on hydrocarbon revenues.

NTP is being overseen by the Council of Economic and Development Affairs (CEDA), headed by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and is expected to implement changes including privatizations of state assets and reductions of state subsidies when formally announced in the coming weeks.  CEDA has approved about 133 recommendations to improve business competitiveness.  These proposals are centered around eight main pillars of the private sector and will include measures on transparency and consistency of laws.  (Reuters 22.03)

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5.10  Saudi Central Bank Governor Vows to Keep Dollar-Related Currency Peg

Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) Governor Fahad al-Mubarak said he was committed to maintaining monetary policy to keep the kingdom’s decades-long currency peg of 3.75 riyals per dollar.  Currency speculators have put pressure on the riyal in recent months because of the impact of lower oil prices on Saudi Arabia’s fiscal balance, causing a projected large deficit this year.  While Mubarak has previously pledged to maintain the riyal’s dollar peg, unbroken since 1986, SAMA did in January intervene by warning local commercial banks to avoid betting on a currency devaluation.  In order to pay the government’s bills as its oil revenues shrink, SAMA has been drawing down its overseas assets at an annual rate of more than $100 billion, although it still has enough to support the riyal for several years.  (Reuters 14.03)

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►►North Africa

5.11  Egypt’s Suez Canal Revenues Decline for 3rd Consecutive Month

Egypt’s Suez Canal revenues fell for the third consecutive month to record $401.4 million in February, official data from the canal’s authority showed.  The revenues slowed from $411.8 million in January and $429 million in December last year amid claims that vessels are changing route to the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa instead of the Suez Canal due to the drop in world oil prices.  On an annual basis, the revenues saw an increase of 5.1% from February 2015 ($381.9 million), the statement added.  Egypt’s vital waterway saw 1,300 vessels pass through last February, a year-on-year rise of 6.6%, said the authority.  The canal is the fastest shipping route between Europe and Asia and is one of the country’s main sources of foreign currency.  (Ahram 22.03)

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6.1  Only 30 Percent of Workers in Turkey are Female

Some 30% of working people in Turkey are women, according to data from an annual income and life conditions survey released by the Turkish Statistics Institute (TÜİK).  Some 53.9% of working women were employed on salaries or wages, the TÜİK data for 2014 showed, while another 29.2% were working in their families without any wages.  Nearly 10% of women worked for themselves, while 6% of women were employed in casual works.  Only 1.1% of them were employers.  Working women in Turkey earned TL 1,654, roughly €513, per month on average.  The highest wages were in the service sector with an average of TL1,723, while wages in the agricultural sector were at the bottom of the list with TL1,297.  In the industrial sector women earned TL 1,404 on average.

The data also showed education level had a direct impact on earnings, as women without higher education earned less than TL1,000 per month, while university graduates earned some TL 2,419 per month.  (AA 22.03)

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6.2  Turkey & Pakistan Sign Free Trade Agreement Framework

Turkey and Pakistan have paved the way for a new free trade deal, which has the potential to reduce barriers in bilateral trade and investment.  Turkish Economy Minister Elitaş and Pakistani Commerce Minister Dastgir Khan signed the free trade agreement framework in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad on 22 March.  The free trade agreement between the two countries was expected to be signed before the end of 2016.  Elitaş discussed with Khan a number of ways to further enhance trade and economic cooperation between the two countries.  Negotiations over the deal were launched by Turkish Prime Minister Davutoğlu and Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif during the latter’s visit to Turkey in October 2015.

Last year, bilateral trade was around $600 million, including $289 million in imports from Turkey.  Turkey mainly exports telecommunication equipment, televisions, textiles and machinery, while imports from Pakistan include textile yarn, cotton fabrics, plastics and organic chemicals.  (Anadolu Agency 23.03)

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7.1  Israel & World Jewry Celebrate Purim Holiday

On 23/24 March, most of Israel and Jewry around the world will mark the holiday of Purim.  Purim is one of the most joyous and fun holidays on the Jewish calendar.  It commemorates a time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination.  The story of Purim is told in the Biblical book of Esther.  The heroes of the story are Esther and her cousin Mordecai, who raised her as if she were his daughter.  Esther was taken to the house of Ahasuerus, King of Persia, to become part of his harem.  King Ahasuerus loved Esther more than his other women and made Esther queen, but the king did not know that Esther was a Jew, because Mordecai told her not to reveal her nationality.  Haman, an arrogant, egotistical advisor to the king, hated Mordecai because Mordecai refused to bow down to Haman, so Haman plotted to destroy the Jewish people.  Mordecai persuaded Esther to speak to the king on behalf of the Jewish people.  Esther fasted for three days to prepare herself and then went into the king.  She told him of Haman’s plot against her people.  The Jewish people were saved and Haman was hanged on the gallows that had been prepared for Mordecai.

The Purim holiday is preceded by a minor fast, the Fast of Esther (23 March), which commemorates Esther’s three days of fasting in preparation for her meeting with the king.  The primary commandment related to Purim is to hear the reading of the book of Esther.  The book of Esther is commonly known as the megillah, which means scroll.  It is customary to boo, hiss, stamp feet and rattle noisemakers whenever the name of Haman is mentioned in the service.  The purpose of this custom is to “blot out the name of Haman.”  Jews are also commanded to eat, drink and be merry.  In addition, they are commanded to send out gifts of food or drink, and to make gifts to charity.  The sending of gifts of food and drink is referred to as mishloach manot (lit. sending out portions).  Purim is not subject to the Sabbath-like restrictions on work that some other holidays are; however, some sources indicate that Jews should not go about their ordinary business on Purim out of respect for the holiday.  Purim is also celebrated a day later (24/25 March) in Jerusalem.

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7.2  Sheikh Mohammed Approves UAE’s 100-Day Happiness Plan

The UAE has adopted a 100-day plan to boost happiness and positivity, as set out by the country’s newly appointed Minister for Happiness.  Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, announced on Twitter that Minister Ohood Al Roumi’s strategy had been approved.  The program will feature several initiatives spread across three areas: happiness in government policies, programs and services; promotion of positivity and happiness as a lifestyle in the community; and development of benchmarks and ways to measure happiness.

The program will emphasize transforming public service centers into ‘public happiness centers’ with ‘dedicated employees to ensure happiness of all clients’.  A measurement method for happiness and positivity, a guide for customer happiness, and scientific and cultural publications are also part of the plan.

Minister of Happiness Al Roumi was appointed in February as a part of the biggest shake-up of the UAE government in its history.  A Minister of Tolerance was also created for the first time, as well as a new Minister of Youth.  (AB 09.03)

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7.3  Defacing Bank Notes Illegal, Warns Oman Central Bank

Oman’s central bank has issued a circular warning against the illegal practice of writing on bank notes, making “garlands” out of them or otherwise defacing their appearance, local media have reported.  Some retail outlets have been manufacturing and selling garlands, wreaths and arches made of national currency bank notes, Central Bank of Oman said, while some members of the public have defiled notes by writing on them.  Both practices are against the law and represent a defacement of national symbols.  The bank also urged the public to respect and protect the national currency from “as it represents and contains national symbols.”  (AB 13.03)

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8.1  Teva Receives EC Approval for the Allergan Generics Acquisition

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries has received regulatory approval from the European Commission for its acquisition of Allergan plc’s global generics business.  As part of the approval, Teva has agreed to the divestment of certain overlapping molecules in 24 European countries, other than the UK, Ireland and Iceland.  In the UK and Ireland, Teva will divest a majority of the current Allergan Generic business.  As required by the European Commission, the divested business will be capable of manufacturing and marketing generic medicines.  The remainder of the Allergan Generics UK/Ireland business will be integrated with Teva’s operations in line with the global transaction.  In Iceland, Teva will divest its generic business while retaining the Allergan Generics business.  Teva continues to work closely with the FTC to obtain regulatory approval in the U.S.

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries is a leading global pharmaceutical company that delivers high-quality, patient-centric healthcare solutions used by millions of patients every day.  Headquartered in Israel, Teva is the world’s largest generic medicines producer, leveraging its portfolio of more than 1,000 molecules to produce a wide range of generic products in nearly every therapeutic area.  (Teva 10.03)

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8.2  Technion Says Herbal Remedies Can Be Extremely Harmful For Cancer Patients

A new Technion-Israel Institute of Technology study shows that herbal remedies can be extremely harmful for cancer patients.  The research, which focuses on cancer patients in the Middle East, is meant to help guide care providers when using herbal medicines for all patients the world over.

The study shows that nearly two-thirds of the herbal medicines used by cancer patients in the Middle East have potential health risks.  Researchers show turmeric may increase the toxic effects of certain chemotherapies, while gingko biloba and green teas could increase the risks of bleeding in some cancer patients.  Other herbs including black cumin and turmeric can alter the effectiveness of chemotherapy.  In all, 29 of the 44 most popular herbal medicines used in 16 Middle Eastern countries (from Turkey to Tunisia) could pose one or more health risks to cancer patients in the region.

The findings come from a survey that asked more than 300 cancer care providers in the countries about the kinds of herbal medicines their patients were using.  They found that 57% of the providers had patients who used at least one herbal remedy.  Women and Muslim providers were more likely to report having patients who used the herbs.  (NC 15.03)

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8.3  Neteera Raises $2 Million

Jerusalem’s Neteera, which has developed remote sensing technology of various human biological indicators using sweat, has completed its first round of funding, raising $2 million from private investors.  Neteera’s novel technology is based on the detection of electromagnetic emissions from sweat ducts, enables reliable and speedy biometric identification, along with monitoring of other physiological parameters, such as, stress, fatigue, pain, alcohol influence, drug abuse detection, and medical diagnostics.  These can be remotely monitored with a unique sub-terahertz (THz) imaging camera.  (Globes 14.03)

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8.4  Teva Completes Generic Pulmicort Respules Portfolio with US Launch

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries announced the launch of the generic equivalent to Pulmicort Respules (budesonide inhalation suspension), 1 mg/2 mL, in the United States.  Budesonide inhalation suspension is an inhaled corticosteroid medicine.  It is a long-term maintenance medicine used to control and prevent asthma symptoms in children ages 12 months to 8 years.  Budesonide inhalation suspension helps to reduce swelling and inflammation in the lungs, and also helps keep the airways open to reduce asthma symptoms.  With the addition of this new strength of budesonide inhalation suspension, Teva now offers the complete family of all strengths including, 0.25 mg/2 mL, 0.5 mg/2 mL and 1 mg/2 mL.

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries is a leading global pharmaceutical company that delivers high-quality, patient-centric healthcare solutions used by millions of patients every day.  Headquartered in Israel, Teva is the world’s largest generic medicines producer, leveraging its portfolio of more than 1,000 molecules to produce a wide range of generic products in nearly every therapeutic area.  (Teva 09.03)

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8.5  Tel Aviv University Scientists Develop Bionic Heart

In a significant breakthrough, researchers from Tel Aviv University’s Biotechnology Department, Materials Science and Engineering Department, and Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology say they have engineered a bionic heart.  The heart, comprised of smart tissue transplanted into patients, will be able to monitor and regulate tissue function.  The smart tissue will help the heart beat and intervene when it’s not functioning properly, and provide an exact and regular report to the patient and cardiologist.  Additionally, electronic particles interwoven into the tissue will also know how and when to release anti-inflammatory drugs, all in real time.  A cardiac patch, called a “cyborg heart patch,” made of heart muscle cells, biomaterial and nano-composite fibers that allow online monitoring of the engineered-tissue function, is part of a larger system that includes algorithms for managing heart failure.  (Israel Hayom 15.03)

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8.6  XTL Biopharmaceuticals Completes Phase 2 Trial Design for hCDR1 in Lupus Treatment

XTL Biopharmaceuticals completed the clinical trial design for its upcoming Phase 2 study of hCDR1 in the treatment of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).  The global study is planned to commence in 2016, following the Company’s investigational new drug (IND) filing with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  The study, developed in consultation with XTL’s Clinical Advisory Board, is based on encouraging feedback received from the FDA in response to the Company’s pre-IND meeting package.

The planned global Phase 2 trial is a double-blind, placebo controlled 26 week study to evaluate the safety and efficacy of hCDR1 in the treatment of SLE.  The study will include three arms.  Two arms will treat subjects with a different hCDR1 weekly dose, one of which will be the 0.5 mg dose which was the most effective dose tested in the previous Phase 2 study, and the third arm will be placebo.  The primary efficacy endpoint of the study will be the proportion of subjects achieving a favorable response at 26 weeks in at least one organ system.  BILAG is a standard diagnostic measure of the severity of lupus in organ systems and the recommended measure for efficacy for our trial by the FDA.  Data from a prior Phase 2 study clearly showed a statistically significant effect of a 0.5 mg dose of hCDR1 on the BILAG index.

Ra’anana’s XTL Biopharmaceuticals is a clinical-stage biotech company focused on the development of pharmaceutical products for the treatment of autoimmune diseases including lupus.  The Company’s lead drug candidate, hCDR1, is a world-class clinical asset for the treatment of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).  Treatments currently on the market for SLE are not effective enough for most patients and some have significant side effects.  (XTL 21.03)

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8.7  Insuline Medical Receive OCS Funding to Improve Long Acting Insulin Therapy

Insuline Medical has received funding approval from Israel’s Office of the Chief Scientist for development of a product to improve long acting insulin therapy.  The product is intended to control the release rate of the injected basal insulin from the sub-cutaneous drug depot site into the bloodstream by applying local manipulations, such as heating, cooling, etc., at the injection site.  Insuline’s design-award winning product, initially developed for diabetics who inject meal-time insulin, have been proven to be safe and effective.  Following a successful completion of this research program, the company intends to develop a new product to improve long-acting insulin therapy.

Petah Tikva’s Insuline Medical has developed technology and products to stabilize and improve the effectiveness of “mealtime insulin” therapy.  The company has first and successfully applied the Injection Site Treatment and Stabilization technology (ISTS) to meal time insulin injections, using the InsuPad device.  In the US the company is in discussions with the FDA, the device has the following regulatory approvals: CE, Canadian CE, Australian TGA and Israeli AMAR.  (Insuline Medical 21.03)

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8.8  Teva Announces Launch of Generic Campral in the United States

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries announced the launch of the generic equivalent to CAMPRAL (acamprosate calcium) delayed-release tablets, 333 mg, in the United States.  Acamprosate calcium delayed-release tablets are used for the maintenance of abstinence from alcohol in patients with alcohol dependence who are abstinent at the start of treatment.  Treatment with acamprosate calcium delayed-release tablets helps maintain abstinence from alcohol only when used as part of a treatment program that includes counseling and support.

Teva continues its commitment to strengthening its generics business with continued investment in newer, higher-quality generic products.  With over 375 generic medicines available, Teva has the largest portfolio of FDA-approved generic products on the market.  Teva Pharmaceutical Industries is a leading global pharmaceutical company that delivers high-quality, patient-centric healthcare solutions used by millions of patients every day.  Headquartered in Israel, Teva is the world’s largest generic medicines producer, leveraging its portfolio of more than 1,000 molecules to produce a wide range of generic products in nearly every therapeutic area. In specialty medicines, Teva has a world-leading position in innovative treatments for disorders of the central nervous system, including pain, as well as a strong portfolio of respiratory products.  (Teva 22.03)

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8.9  Emerald Melanoma Diagnosis System Wins FDA Approval

The system developed by Petah Tikva’s Emerald Medical Applications (formerly DermaCare), which is designed to diagnose melanoma, has been approved for marketing by the US FDA.  Emerald’s market cap is $10 million, following its merger with US stock exchange shell Zaxis in July 2015.  The company developed the DermaCare system, which uses image processing, data analysis, and artificial intelligence, for diagnosing and monitoring moles on a patient’s body.  The system is designed to support the doctor by enabling him to detect changes in comparison with previous images of the patient’s skin.  The system is aimed at early detection and shortening the diagnostic process.  Because it is a software-based product, the FDA has classified it as low-risk, and there are relatively few regulatory requirements for it.  Emerald says that its product is now available through a mobile devices app.

Figures published by the company indicate that it already has distribution agreements, and has begun marketing the system at hospitals in Italy, Sweden, Israel, Australia, and New Zealand.  Emerald is also negotiating with distributors in North America, Europe, and Asia.  (Globes 22.03)

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9.1  Silicom Receives New Design Win for Smart Cards from Cyber Security Customer

Silicom received a significant new Design Win from an existing customer, a Tier-1 Cyber Security company, for three versions of Silicom Smart Cards to be deployed in a number of its advanced appliances.  Silicom believes that sales generated from this Design Win will ramp up gradually to several million dollars per year.  The framework of the Design Win includes both a development phase and a mass production phase.  To date, the customer has submitted initial quantity orders for all three Smart Cards, each featuring an on-board network processor that enables higher application performance by off-loading host CPU tasks.  Kfar Saba’s Silicom is an industry-leading provider of high-performance networking and data infrastructure solutions.  Designed primarily to increase data center efficiency, Silicom’s solutions dramatically improve the performance and availability of networking appliances and other server-based systems.  (Silicom 09.03)

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9.2  Mobli Media is Launching Galaxia – a Platform to Create Mini Social Networks

Galaxia, a new social app on iOS, presents a new approach for online behavior.  Galaxia embraces the notion that our online identity needs a platform to hold all the unique aspects of our personality.  The app is built to enable people to share content and meet people using whatever persona they like, and to easily move from persona to persona as they explore the multiple world of content in the app.  Users have complete control over their personas and each persona is kept completely private and separate from any other.

Galaxia is built to provide users the ability to create “Worlds” in which they can post and discuss any subject of interest.  Users can join any public world, share their content or create new worlds where they can set their own rules such as deciding whether the world will be private or public, and whether the world will be free or users will need to pay an entrance fee to join.  Each world provides a stream of content, ranging from text, to photos, videos, and live broadcasting.

With offices in New York, Tel Aviv, and Kiev, Mobli Media, the technology company that created Galaxia and other unique products leveraging crowd based activities, was founded in 2011.  Mobli Media has raised over $80 million for the company’s different social platforms.  (Mobli Media 22.03)

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9.3  Sapiens Announces New ALIS Fast Track Proposition for the UK Protection Market

Sapiens International Corporation announced a new Sapiens ALIS Fast Track (“Fast Track”) proposition.  Fast Track is an agile, pre-configured offering from the company’s XCelent Award-winning Sapiens ALIS software suite.  It supports the complete policy lifecycle across a wide variety of life, pension and investment products.  With the new Fast Track, insurers can accelerate implementation and achieve cost savings, in the cloud or on premise.  Implemented faster than traditional platforms, Fast Track supports the rapid deployment of new products, using best-of-breed product templates for quick configuration.  Deployed in only several months, the platform is scalable, cost-effective and can be deployed in the cloud (delivered as a service) or on premise to best match a company’s target operating model and fit the business case for new digital initiatives.

Holon’s Sapiens International Corporation is a leading global provider of software solutions for the insurance industry, with a growing presence in the financial services sector.  Sapiens offers core, end-to-end solutions to the global general insurance, property and casualty, life, pension and annuities, reinsurance and retirement markets, as well as business decision management software.  (Sapiens 22.03)

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9.4  Magic Software Makes It Easier to Modernize & Mobilize Enterprise Applications

Magic Software Enterprises announced the latest version of its rapid multi-channel application development platform, Magic xpa 3.1.  Designed to simplify app modernization, accelerate enterprise mobile app development and maximize end user adoption, this latest release includes end user customization capabilities, an enhanced UI, and a new Upgrade Manager.  The metadata-based Magic xpa Application Platform provides an easy-to-use, highly-productive and cost-effective development and deployment environment that lets organizations and ISVs quickly create multi-channel mobile and desktop business apps.  The Magic xpa Application Platform is part of Magic’s End-to-End Enterprise Mobility Solution, which also includes Magic xpi Integration Platform, Magic Mobile Device Management and Magic Mobile Professional Services.  Magic End-to-End Enterprise Mobility Solution provides organizations with a holistic and cost-effective solution for the rapid creation and deployment of secure, enterprise-grade mobile business apps.

Or Yehuda’s Magic Software Enterprises empowers customers and partners around the globe with smarter technology that provides a multichannel user experience of enterprise logic and data.  (Magic 22.03)

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9.5  Mellanox Announces First 200Gb/s Silicon Photonics Devices

Mellanox Technologies announced a demonstration of 50Gb/s silicon photonics optical modulators and detectors at the Optical Fiber Communication (OFC) conference.  The demonstrated devices are the key component in 200Gb/s and 400Gb/s LinkX cables and transceivers.  This demonstration is an important milestone toward providing end-to-end solutions for HDR 200Gb/s InfiniBand and Ethernet interconnect infrastructure.  Mellanox plans to offer 50Gb/s and 200Gb/s Direct Attach Copper cables (DACs); copper splitter cables (QSFP56 to 4x SFP56); silicon photonics based AOCs for reaches to 200m; and silicon photonics transceivers for reaches to 2km.  Mellanox 200Gb/s cables and transceivers will seamlessly support previous generations of 40 and 100Gb/s networks.

Yokneam’s Mellanox Technologies is a leading supplier of end-to-end Ethernet and InfiniBand intelligent interconnect solutions and services for servers, storage and hyper-converged infrastructure.  Mellanox intelligent interconnect solutions increase data center efficiency by providing the highest throughput and lowest latency, delivering data faster to applications and unlocking system performance.  (MellanoxTech 22.03)

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9.6  Articoolo Launches Technology for Unique, Human-Like Content Writing

Articoolo developed an algorithm that creates unique, proofread, high-quality textual content from scratch, simulating a real human writer and enables anyone who needs content to purchase articles online for a fraction of the price they used to pay until today.  Anyone who deals with content creation on a daily basis dreams of a magical tool that will write articles for them.  The struggle of constantly generating ideas, collecting materials, finding related information and summarizing content from several different sources is not only frustrating, but is time consuming and costly as well.  Using Articoolo, all users are required to do is to type in a topic two to five words long, determine the length of the requested article and the algorithm will create the article within seconds.  The result will be 100% unique, proofread and of high quality, exactly as if written by a human.

Articoolo’s content creator works like the human brain when asked to write an article.  First, it will analyze and understand the context of your topic.  For instance, if you wanted it to write an article about “The appliance variety of Apple”, the algorithm will understand first that “Apple” in this context is a name of a corporation, not a fruit.  Once it has understood the context of your topic, it will find the best resources as a base and then extract sentiment and important keywords.  It will then find related content based on the sentiment and main keywords and reconstruct everything to one coherent piece of text.  At the end of this process the software will rewrite the article using an NLP engine for multi-level semantic identification, and then verify the readability of the text.

Yokneam’s Articoolo was founded in 2015.  Articoolo raised seed funds a year ago and is about to begin its A round soon.  (Articoolo  22.03)

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10.1  February Sees Israel’s Inflation Rate Fall by 0.3%

Israel’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) fell by 0.3% in February, the Central Bureau of Statistics announced, after falling 0.5% in January.  Over the past 12 months, the CPI fell 0.2%, while it fell 0.8% over the first two months of 2016, but this was pushed mainly by the drop in world oil prices.  This is well below the government’s inflation target range of between 1% and 3%.  Outstanding price declines included fresh vegetables (7.8%), clothing and footwear (3.9%), communications (1%) and public transport (1%).  Leading price increases in February included fresh fruit (9.1%).  (CBS 15.03)

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10.2  Israeli Economy Grew by 2.5% in 2015

The Central Bureau of Statistics announced that the Israeli economy grew by 2.5% during 2015, a slight downturn from recent years.  While the economy grew by 3.3% in 2013 and by 2.6% in 2014, growth rates in 2015 were the lowest in six years.  However, equally as important, Israel’s growth rate was relatively higher than in other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, which averaged only 2%.

Overall, Israel’s GDP marked an annualized increase of 3.9% in Q4/15.  The GDP rose 2.5% in Q1/15, followed by 0.3% growth in Q2 and a 2.4% increase Q3/15.  GDP per capita rose by only 0.5% in 2015, compared to 0.6% in 2014 and 1.3% in 2013.  GDP per capita in terms of purchasing power parity was 85.3% the average per capita GDP in other OECD countries.

The business sector’s output increased by 2.3% in 2015, the lowest improvement rate since 2003.  The government sector’s deficit in 2015 came to NIS 16.4 billion ($4.23 billion), or 1.4% of GDP, an improvement from a deficit of NIS 18.5 billion ($4.77 billion), or 1.7% of GDP in 2014, and of NIS 23.7 billion ($6.11 billion), or 2.2% of GDP, in 2013.

Exports of goods and services dropped by 1.3% in 2015, after rising 1.5% in 2014, while diamond exports fell by 20.4%.  The imports of goods and services increased by 0.6% in 2015, following a 3% increase in 2014, while diamond imports fell by 14.8%.

The large number of exits in the high-tech industry and the acceleration in the development of the Tamar offshore gas field have created a record surplus of $13.8 billion in Israel’s current balance of payments.  The overall surplus in the balance of payments over the past three years ($33.5 billion) means more dollars are flowing into the Israeli economy than out of it, translating into a low shekel-dollar exchange rate, which averaged NIS 3.9 in 2015.  (CBS 13.03)

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10.3  Ten Israeli Companies Account for 51% of Exports

The Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute (IEICI) announced that Israel’s 10 largest exporters accounted for $23.6 billion in exports in 2015, 51.3% of Israel’s total exports of goods for the year, and 2% less in dollar terms than in 2014.  Exports by all other companies fell 8% to $22.4 billion.  The 10 leading Israeli exporters, excluding diamonds, are Intel Israel, Adama Agricultural Solutions, Elbit Systems, Oil Refineries, Israel Aerospace Industries, Iscar, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Israel Chemicals, Paz Oil Company and HP-Indigo.

The IEICI added that the figures for concentration in exports were the highest since it began measuring them in 2007.  The balance between the large exporters and the medium and small ones remained equal in 2012-2014.  Since 2007, the 10 largest exporters have increased their share of total Israeli exports by over 15%.  The report also shows that starting in 2008, the large companies led the growth trend in Israeli exports, while the aggregate amount of exports by the other companies began to decline.  In 2015, the large exporters increased their export business by 35%, in comparison with 2008, while exports by other companies were down 7%.  (IEICI 19.03)

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10.4  Record Foreign Investment in Tel Aviv Stock Exchange

A weekly review published on 13 March by Ministry of Finance showed that foreign investors increased their holdings in Israeli securities by $6.58 billion in December.  This figure is three times the previous record of $2 billion in June 2011.  An investigation by Globes shows that the reason for this exceptional figure is the Teva Pharmaceutical Industries -Allergan deal in December, in which Teva issued shares for $7.24 billion in order to finance its $40.5 billion acquisition of Allergan’s generic division.  (Globes 13.03)

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11.1  JORDAN:  Jordan is Sliding Toward Insolvency

Kirk H. Sowell posted in Sada on 17 March that the latest budget confirms that Jordan is increasingly dependent on public debt and foreign aid to prop up continued spending—especially on energy subsidies.

On 14 January, Jordan’s elected parliament approved the 2016 budget law.  Ten days later, the monarchy-appointed senate also voted to adopt the budget, a decision welcomed by the government.  Yet, assessing the bill in the broader context of macroeconomic policy shows that Jordanian fiscal policy only remains sustainable because of immense dependence on foreign aid.

The 2016 budget accounts for total expenses of JD 8.496 billion ($11.983 billion), total revenues of JD 7.589 billion ($10.704 billion) and a deficit of JD 907 million ($1.279 billion), or about 3% of GDP.  Revenues are further divided into $9.558 billion from internal sources, such as customs and fees, and foreign aid of $1.148 billion.  The 2016 Budgets Law of Government Units, a separate law that details additional revenues and expenses largely by the National Electric Power Company (it also includes water expenses), has total expenses of $2.685 billion and assumes revenues of $2.155 billion (including $88 million in foreign aid), leaving a deficit of $530 million ($618 million excluding aid).  Combined, this means that of overall 2016 spending ($14.7 billion), roughly 79% is covered by revenues ($11.6 billion), 9% by aid ($1.3 billion) and 12% is new debt ($1.8 billion).

Despite this high dependence on aid and debt to cover expenses, it appears the pro-government and austerity-averse parliament passed the budget without any revisions, as the figures are similar to those in the original draft bill debated last fall.  Some opposition MPs had objected to the government’s few attempts at limited austerity measures, to no effect.  Much of the criticism against Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour’s budgetary measures (largely on energy subsidy cuts and increases of customs fees) is lodged without any corresponding alternative economic plan.  The only outspoken political dissent is simply opposing fiscal discipline without any serious thought for the economy’s sustainability.

In the past, Jordan’s public-sector-heavy, private-sector-weak economy has staved off insolvency with foreign aid and periodic, substantial reductions in total public debt through privatization.  Joining the peace process that led to a peace agreement with Israel in 1994 brought substantial debt relief.  In the late 2000s, a series of privatizations substantially reduced public debt, but companies once sold off cannot be sold again.  In the last several years, Jordan’s debt-to-GDP ratio has increased substantially.  As recently as August 2011 Jordan’s overall national debt was $16.9 billion, about 57% of its GDP.  But an increase of $3.2 billion in the national debt in 2015, including regular deficit, new electricity debt, and accumulated interest, brought Jordan’s debt-to-GDP ratio to 90% and more than doubled its absolute debt in less than five years.

The key factor in the post-2011 debt boom is electricity, or more precisely, the sovereign debt of the above mentioned National Electric Power Company (NEPCO).  Until 2011, Jordan imported gas from Egypt at prices frozen at relatively low rates.  Following attacks on the pipeline in 2011, Egyptian authorities were slow in repairing it, and Egypt’s contribution to Jordan’s electricity supply fell annually from 87% in 2009 to 14% in 2012.  This forced Jordan to resort to emergency importation and the use of expensive alternatives.  Thus by 2013 NEPCO’s contribution to the deficit was $1.36 billion, or over 10% of the regular budget.  Due to a mixture of falling oil prices and better government planning, the electricity deficit fell to “just” $738 million in 2014 and is projected in the budget to be $530 million in 2016.  Accumulated electricity debt came to an estimated 17.8% of GDP in January, meaning that excluding this, the rest of Jordan’s debt forms 72% of its GDP.

As a limited effort to offset NEPCO’s contribution to the debt spiral, the government undertook an electricity austerity measure in 2015 that is regularly described by parliamentary critics and protesters as “increasing” prices by 7.5% (reduced from the original proposal of 15% in what was likely a prearranged compromise).  Yet it may be more properly described as a subsidy cut for consumers.  NEPCO bills residents on a graduated system whereby customers pay exponentially more per unit for higher usage, but even with the price hike it does not charge them enough collectively to cover expenses, and the result is NEPCO’s deficit.  The practical implication is that during the summer only the relatively affluent have air conditioning, as a household with high usage will pay over $200 per month, about 40% of the average Jordanian family’s income.  This system allows poor Jordanians to have virtually free electricity, but only enough to cover lighting with no heating or cooling.  Were NEPCO forced to actually balance its budget, much of Jordan would struggle just to pay for basic utilities.

Instead, Jordan is increasingly turning to foreign aid to offset its debt, particularly from the United States and the Arabian Gulf.  The Congressional Research Service reports that 2016 U.S. aid for Jordan is set at “not less than” $1.275 billion, with additional aid above that level available through separate military provisions.  While U.S. economic aid to Jordan dates back to 1951, it has increased substantially in recent years.  It was still below $400 million per year in 2011, but increased to $700 million in 2014.  Arab Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, also provide aid to Jordan, although Qatar’s total freeze on aid has drawn some attention, including by Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour and Finance Minister Omar Malhas during his formal budget speech last December.  As of January, the government claimed that Qatar’s aid termination accounted for almost all of the disparity between its original budget deficit of $970 million to a revised estimate of $1.27 billion for 2015.

Officials routinely cite regional instability and resulting refugee flows as the reason why Jordan is so much in need of aid, and there is some truth to this.  The country has suffered a drop in tourism due to security fears emanating from its neighbors (although Jordan itself is quite safe), the collapse of trade with Iraq and Syria, and increased expenses from Syrian refugee aid.

Yet aid provided by international agencies to refugees, combined with the increase in direct budget support through foreign aid, appears to be balancing out the refugee costs, as seen from comparing deficit levels before and after recent instability.  In 2011 the regular budget deficit was $1.49 billion after including foreign aid, and in 2010 it was $1.44 billion.  As noted above, currently estimated corresponding figures for 2015 and 2016 (including foreign aid) are $1.27 billion and $1.28 billion, respectively.  The rough equivalence between 2010-11 and 2015-16 deficits suggests that Jordan’s budget deficit (not counting NEPCO’s) is roughly $1–1.5 billion per year after foreign aid has been factored in.  With the World Bank putting GDP at roughly $36 billion, that means that a minimum 3% of GDP is being added to public debt each year, not including electricity debt.

Meanwhile, the government maintains a socio-economic model burdened by decades of excessive public sector hiring, excessive reliance on low-wage foreign labor as an alternative to employing Jordanians, and an education system known for its production of quantity rather than quality.  So even if the regional security crisis were to somehow disappear in the near future, the weakened incentives for foreign donors to provide aid for refugee costs would leave Jordan with a new debt crisis.

Kirk H. Sowell is the principal of Utica Risk Services, a Middle East-focused political risk firm.  (Sada 17.03)

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11.2  GCC:  GCC Forecast to See Slowest Growth since 2008

Weaker oil prices will stunt economic growth in the GCC region to its slowest pace since the global financial crisis, according to a new report.  However, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) also said that serious fiscal reform should see the region avoid recession.  According to the its Economic Insight: Middle East Q1 2016, depressed oil prices will compound economic concerns in a region already facing issues over fiscal sustainability, structural economic weaknesses and deepening military conflict in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen.

The report, produced by Oxford Economics and commissioned by ICAEW, said oil prices are set to remain lower until at least 2017, due to the continuation of current Organization of Petrol Exporting Countries (OPEC) policy and increasing concerns over growth in China and other emerging markets.  It forecast that Brent crude will average $32 per barrel this year and remain below $70 for the rest of this decade.

“Sustained low oil prices will erode existing buffers like subsidies in oil-rich Gulf countries more rapidly, threaten to undermine long-standing currency pegs and slow economic growth further as trade, investment and capital flows fall back. Although recession should be avoided, growth across the GCC will be just 2.1% – its lowest since the financial crisis,” said Tom Rogers, ICAEW economic adviser and economist at Oxford Economics.

He said that with the exception of the UAE, true economic diversification away from a heavy dependence on oil exports is yet to be achieved.

Although non-oil growth averaged an impressive 7.2% per year from 2003 – 2014, much of this growth was fueled by oil-financed government spending on infrastructure, key development projects, public sector salaries, benefits and subsidies, the report said, adding that with government spending now set to be cut back, these growth drivers will fade.

In recent months, GCC governments have given serious consideration to fiscal consolidation.  The Saudi Government has announced a year-on-year decline in planned spending for the first time in 14 years, while Oman has announced a 16% cut in spending for 2016 and a rise in corporation tax.

All GCC governments have also committed to establishing a region-wide Value Added Tax (VAT) over the medium term to lift non-oil revenues and most have already started on cutting energy subsidies.  Overall, government spending in the GCC region is expected to decline by 8% this year and rise more slowly in future years.

The report said that another threat to stability and growth in the GCC has emerged from pressure on long-standing currency pegs against the US dollar, with markets expecting an unprecedented 10% depreciation of the Saudi riyal over the next year.

The ICAEW said countries like Oman and Bahrain are particularly vulnerable due to low financial reserves.  While de-pegging would generate greater government revenues by lifting the dollar oil revenues in local currency terms, it would also impose heavy costs, including rising inflation, a loss of policy credibility and additional volatility in oil revenues.

Michael Armstrong, ICAEW regional director for the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA), said: “The near-term objective for GCC governments will be to maintain financial stability and avoid a deeper crisis…Weak growth will make the case for economic reforms in areas such as privatization and competition policy, housing, the labor market, education and the public sector bureaucracy even more complex on a country-by-country basis.  A period of skillful policymaking will be required to balance the need for both growth and stability.”

The report also forecast that GDP growth in Saudi Arabia over 2016 is expected to reach 1.2% while continued infrastructure investment for World Expo 2020 should lead to growth of 2.7% in the UAE in 2016.  The Bahrain economy is expected to expand by 1.9% this year while Qatar’s economy is expected to grow by 4.3%, driven by substantial infrastructure investment.  Expected GDP growth of 2.3% is forecast in Kuwait in 2016.  (ICAEW 21.03)

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11.3  EGYPT:  Fitch Says Devaluation Positive, Economic Challenges Remain

On 21 March, Fitch Ratings said decisions by the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) last week, including a devaluation of the Egyptian pound, are broadly credit positive but the country faces a difficult year of slower growth, high inflation and large financing needs.

On 14 March, the central bank devalued the currency by 14% against the US dollar and said it would adopt a more flexible exchange-rate policy.  The CBE supported the devaluation by auctioning $1.5b to help importers two days later, and hiked its main policy rates on Thursday by 150 basis points.  These decisions reflect the pressures on the currency from a widening current account deficit, insufficient capital inflows and low levels of international reserves, which are less than three months of current external payments.

The auction last Monday devalued the currency from EGP7.73:$1 to EGP8.85:$1, while the auction on Wednesday was at the slightly stronger rate of EGP8.78.  This is more than a minor adjustment and takes the rate closer to the parallel market rate, which had weakened to above EGP9.5:$1.  Our forecast builds in further exchange-rate weakness to above EGP9:$1 by the end of 2016, given the challenges the economy still faces.

Much will depend on the CBE’s attempts to rebuild its stock of foreign reserves, which stood at $16.53b at end-February, down from $37b at end-2010 before the Arab Spring uprisings.  The trade deficit has widened, insecurity has hit tourism revenue, political uncertainty has deterred foreign capital and financial support from the Gulf Cooperation Council has decreased for now.  Expectations of devaluation have also restrained foreign inflows into Egypt.  The CBE hopes that its decisions last week will bolster confidence in the currency and nudge portfolio investors off the sidelines.

Two initiatives in the banking sector may help.  Two state-owned banks are now offering foreign investors options on treasury bills with exchange-rate hedging.  These banks are also offering 15% on three-year certificates of deposit for domestic investors who buy them within 60 days in exchange for foreign currency.  If constraints on the supply of foreign exchange persist around current levels, Egypt could turn to the IMF.  Fitch believes an IMF program is within reach if required by the authorities.

It is unclear exactly what the central bank means by a more flexible exchange-rate policy.  Inflation will be the central consideration.  Consumer price inflation dipped to 9.1% y-o-y in February after averaging 10.4% in 2015.  The central bank referenced this as supporting the timing of the devaluation.  However, inflation is likely to rise again as the weaker exchange rate will make imports more expensive.  If plans to implement VAT come to fruition this year, that could also put upward pressure on prices.  In this context it was no surprise that the central bank raised interest rates following the depreciation to try to anchor inflation expectations.

While we view these monetary policy developments as credit positive, there are fiscal implications as higher interest rates raise the government’s cost of borrowing. Interest payments on government debt already accounted for 26% of budget spending in the fiscal year ending June 2015.  This highlights the importance of consolidation measures for the budget currently under discussion for the 2017 fiscal year.

We affirmed Egypt’s ‘B’/Stable sovereign rating in December.  (Fitch 21.03)

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11.4  TURKEY:  After Seizing Zaman Newspaper, What’s Next for Turkey?

Mustafa Akyol posted in Al-Monitor on 11 March that not just a few newspapers like Zaman, but the entire Turkish media is under threat by the current regime in Turkey.

Something very unusual, if not unprecedented, happened in Istanbul on 4 March.  A group of policemen marched to Zaman, Turkey’s largest-circulation daily newspaper, with a court order to seize it.  They dispersed the hundreds of protesters waiting for them in front of Zaman’s offices with tear gas, forced themselves into the building and took control of the newsroom.  Soon, Editor-in-Chief Abdulhamid Bilici learned that he was fired.  The newspaper’s website went offline.  Meanwhile, Zaman’s 27 years of digital archives — including all of its news stories, editorials and op-eds — were erased.  A whole newspaper was destroyed.

The destruction made room for a new creation.  A day after the police took full control, Zaman, which had lately become very outspoken against President Erdogan and his rule, found itself with an opposite political line under a trustee appointed by the government to manage the paper.  It now praises Erdogan and his glorious “New Turkey.”  In other words, it became one of dozens of other Turkish newspapers whose sole mission is to support the powerful president and intimidate his foes.

This news may have shocked outsiders, but in Turkey, hardly anyone was surprised.  It was clear that Zaman and its entire media group, including Cihan News Agency, would be seized, as Ipek Media Group, which published the dailies Bugun and Millet, was seized last October and turned pro-Erdogan overnight.  All these news outlets were affiliated with the movement of Fethullah Gulen, and the Turkish public is repeatedly told that every asset of his religious community will be confiscated by the state.

Who circulated this news?  The regime’s own propaganda machine did, in particular a columnist in the pro-Erdogan daily Star who had recently become quite famous (or notorious) in Turkey as the mouthpiece of the new national security establishment.  Cem Kucuk had written repeatedly (and joyfully) about the impending Zaman takeover.

After the seizure, the same columnist wrote a piece headlined “The real struggle is beginning only now,” referring to the struggle with the “Fethullah Gulen Terror Organization,” as the pro-Erdogan media has been calling it lately.  Accordingly, all assets of the Gulen movement, including the new dailies that took the place of Zaman and Bugun, various news sites and 17 different universities across Turkey would also be seized.  The reason: a “terrorist organization” — in fact “the most dangerous terrorist organization of the past 1,000 years” — could never be allowed to have such assets in any democratic society.

This is how the current regime in Turkey justifies the confiscation of Zaman and other closures of media outlets that have stood in its way.  But this rationale raises many questions.  At the very least, we have to ask if the Gulen movement really is a terrorist organization and why Erdogan and his party were in close collaboration with it until 2013, when the decade-old political alliance between these two camps collapsed.  Most of the alleged crimes by the Gulen movement’s members in Turkey’s police and judiciary — such as illegal wiretapping and doctoring evidence to jail political opponents — took place before 2013 and with Erdogan’s full support.  This must be why the columnist in question emphasized that the Gulen movement must be considered a terrorist organization only after 1 January 2014, just a week after the Gulen-affiliated police and prosecutors opened a corruption investigation into key government figures.

It is fair to say that the Gulen movement has much to account for in regard to its covert presence in the Turkish police force, judiciary and bureaucracy, and some of its members should indeed be tried for abuse of state power.  But to treat the entire movement — which includes schools, kindergartens, nongovernmental organizations, charities and media outlets — as a terrorist organization has no legal basis.  It is rather an act of political vengeance.

Furthermore, the confiscation of Zaman — and before that, Bugun and Milliyet — is not just an attempt to destroy of the Gulen movement, but part of efforts to subdue the entire Turkish media.

This situation has been going on for years now, but involves more subtle techniques than court orders and police seizures: financial measures.  They typically start with the boss of a newspaper facing new economic challenges that originate in Ankara.  As a result, the newspaper is sold to someone else, who then turns out to be a very close friend of Erdogan.  Or the newspaper accepts handing over control to a “general manager” who is approved by the Turkish leadership.  Consequently, the newspaper turns either mildly or zealously pro-Erdogan and fires the editors, reporters and columnists who displease the president and his men.  At least seven major newspapers have been transformed in this way in the past seven years.

Even Islamist papers do not escape this suffocation if they are not solidly pro-Erdogan.  Such was the case of Dirilis Postasi, whose key writer, Hakan Albayrak, displeased Erdogan with his pieces that, while praising the president as “the chief,” offered some constructive criticism.  Soon, the companies that ran advertisements in Dirilis Postasi were encouraged by powerful people in Ankara to withdraw all advertising, Albayrak reported.  Soon after that, Albayrak was fired.

So in the grand scheme of things, not just a few newspapers like Zaman, but the entire Turkish press is being taken over by the current regime.  This is a regime that insists that democracy is about nothing but elections, and the winner of elections — as the embodiment of the “national will” — has the right to dominate every aspect of society.

Mustafa Akyol is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Turkey Pulse, a columnist for the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News, and a monthly contributing opinion writer for The International New York Times. His articles have also appeared in Foreign Affairs, Newsweek, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The Guardian.  (Al-Monitor 11.03)

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The Fortnightly newsletter is a free service of Atid, EDI. We are a team of economic and trade development consultants, headquartered in Jerusalem, but active throughout the region and beyond. EDI works with an international clientele interested in identifying and researching business opportunities in the region. We also serve as the regional representative offices for a number of U.S. states and bilateral Chambers of Commerce, as well as European clients.