Fortnightly, 30 December 2015

Fortnightly, 30 December 2015

December 30, 2015


30 December 2015
18 Tevet 5776
19 Rabi Al-Awaal 1437




1.1  Netanyahu Signs Gas Framework Agreement
1.2  Steinitz Approves Gas Export Deal to Egypt
1.3  Albanian PM Praises Israel as Innovation Powerhouse


2.1  Cornerstone Laid for China’s First Israeli University
2.2  Israeli Algo-Commerce Company Feedvisor Raises $5 Million
2.3  NowForce Raises $4.5 Million in Series B Funding
2.4  Delta Galil & Columbia Sportswear Sign Licensing Agreement for Performance Underwear
2.5  CellSavers Raises $3 Million in Seed Funding from Sequoia Israel
2.6  IAI Signs Chinese Civil Aviation Agreement


3.1  Taste for Variety and Health-Consciousness Driving Lebanese F&B Industry
3.2  Bahrain’s $100 Million Dragon City Mall Opens for Business
3.3  Saudi’s ACWA Signs $400 Million Deal for Jordan Power Plant
3.4  Yahoo to Close Last Arab State Middle East Office in Dubai
3.5  Abercrombie & Fitch Expands With First A&F Branded Store in the UAE
3.6  Hilton to Debut Hampton Hotel Brand in Saudi Arabia
3.7  UAE’s Lulu Plans $300 Million Investment in Egypt
3.8  Saudi’s SALIC Considers Purchasing Land in Sudan to Grow Fodder


4.1  Israel’s Environment Ministry Invests $3.5 Million to Fight Air Pollution
4.2  King Abdullah II Inaugurates Largest Utility Scale Wind Power Plant in Jordan
4.3  Jordan Has More Solar Energy Projects in Pipeline


5.1  Lebanese Deflation at 3.9% in November 2015
5.2  Number of Tourists to Lebanon Increased by 14.13% by November
5.3  Number of Lebanese Registered Cars Increased by 3.79% by November
5.4  Iraq Seeks to Reopen Oil Pipeline Through Saudi Arabia

♦♦Arabian Gulf

5.5  Gulf Arab Defense Spending Drops for First Time in Decade: Report
5.6  Kuwait Expects 2015-16 Budget Deficit of Nearly $20 Billion
5.7  Kuwait Mulling Free Trade Zones on Five Islands
5.8  Bahrain Cabinet Approves New Fuel Pricing System
5.9  Bahrain Says $32 Billion Projects Will Underpin Economic Growth
5.10  Saudi Arabia Plans Spending Cuts, Revenue Push to Shrink 2016 Deficit
5.11  Saudi Arabia Raises Domestic Energy Prices
5.12  Oman Said to Privatize Three State-Owned Firms In 2016

♦♦North Africa

5.13  32.5 million Internet Users in Egypt by September 2015
5.14  Morocco Ranks 62nd in List of Best Countries for Business


6.1  Turkish Consumer Confidence Drops 4.6% in December
6.2  Greece’s Jobless Rate Drops To 24% in Third Quarter



7.1  Immigration to Israel Reaches a 12 Year High


7.2  Libya’s Rival Parliaments Sign Unity Government Deal
7.3  Morocco Among Most Politically Stable Countries in the World


8.1  ApiFix Makes Children’s Scoliosis Surgery Minimally Invasive
8.2  Orcam Opens European HQ Following Visit by London Mayor
8.3  U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Issues Coverage Policy for ReWalk Robotics Systems
8.4  Can-Fite’s CF101 Granted Patent in Japan for Intraocular Pressure Drug
8.5  BiondVax Patent for its Universal Flu Vaccine in Israel Approved
8.6  Bio Light’s IOPtiMate System Receives Regulatory Approval in Canada
8.7  Kamada’s Human Rabies Immune Globulin Meets Primary Endpoint


9.1  Simgo’s Virtual SIM Could Cut Roaming Charges By 90%
9.2  NICE Wins TMC 2015 Customer Experience Innovation Award
9.3  SC Magazine Recognized LightCyber as 2015 Security Industry “Innovator”
9.4  Nano Dimension Receives $1.13 Million from Israel’s Chief Scientist


10.1  Israel Enjoys Record Balance Of Payments Surplus
10.2  Bank of Israel Cuts 2016 Growth Forecast
10.3  Israeli Exports Drop By 7% in 2015
10.4  Israel Ranked 18th in UN Human Development Index


11.1  EGYPT: Fitch Affirms Egypt at ‘B’; Outlook Stable
11.2  EGYPT: Struggles for Egypt’s Tourism Sector
11.3  TUNISIA: IMF Mission Statement at Conclusion of a Visit to Tunisia
11.4  TUNISIA: Five Years On, Have Things Changed in Tunisia?
11.5  ALGERIA: Succession: Preparing For a Post-Bouteflika Worldstrong>


1.1  Netanyahu Signs Gas Framework Agreement

On 17 December, Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy and Industry Benjamin Netanyahu signed the natural gas development agreement in the Neot Hovav Eco Industrial Park in the Negev, exactly one year after former Antitrust Authority director general Prof. Gilo revoked an agreement he had reached with Delek Group and Noble Energy.  Netanyahu signed the gas agreement after the process of consultation with the Knesset Economics Affairs Committee concerning the invoking of Section 52 of the Restrictive Trade Practices Law was officially completed, even though the committee recommended that the section not be used.  The agreement becomes effective, subject to a High Court of Justice hearing in February.

The proposed outline seeks to regulate the development, harvesting, and royalties from the Leviathan, Tamar, Tanin and Karish offshore fields, as well as any future natural gas finds.  The Leviathan natural gas field, discovered in 2010 some 130 kilometers west of Haifa, holds an estimated 22 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.  The field is the world’s largest offshore discovery of the past decade.  Opponents of the new framework say it caters to the big tycoons by letting them use the gas mainly for export while selling the rest at an inflated price to the domestic market.

Responding to the critics of the gas plan, Netanyahu said, “The discussion has become demagogic. I decided to approve the gas plan, because we must not be dependent on a single gas platform, a single pipeline… We had to overcome all this demagogy.”  Netanyahu said that European countries were interested in gas in Israel, without specifying the countries, adding, “This gas is environmentally clean, will lower the cost of living, and give us billions of shekels for our needs.  I am finishing this speech and giving gas to Israel and its people.”  (Globes 17.12)

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1.2  Steinitz Approves Gas Export Deal to Egypt

Energy Minister Steinitz approved the Tamar partners’ request to export gas to Dolphinus Holdings in Egypt, after Ministry of Energy Petroleum Commissioner Wurzburger consulted with Prime Minister Netanyahu.  The agreement, valued at NIS 5 billion, accounts for the transfer of 5 BCM to industrial clients in Egypt over three years.  The natural gas from the Tamar reservoir will flow to Ashkelon on Israel Natural Gas Lines’ system and Dolphinus will be responsible for its flow through the existing pipeline – operated by EMG – as reported by the partners when the deal was signed in March.

However, several obstacles may still delay the deal.  First, the deal must be approved by the Egyptian government, which halted all talks with Israel on the import of gas after an international ruling required Egypt to pay Israel Electric Corporation compensation to the tune of $1.8 billion.  Second, the deal must be approved by the operator EMG.  Finally, the pipeline must be adapted to accommodate the flow of gas not only from Egypt to Israel, but from Israel to Egypt.  (Globes 24.12)

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1.3  Albanian PM Praises Israel as Innovation Powerhouse

Albania would be well served by learning from the Israeli experience in a variety of fields, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said on 21 December in a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  Rama arrived in Jerusalem for talks with Israeli officials.  During his meeting with Netanyahu, the two signed bilateral agreements on medical cooperation and other matters.  The two men also signed a declaration of friendship to mark 25 years of diplomatic relations.

Albanian Prime Minister Rama said that his country was interested in strengthening relations with Israel and in bilateral cooperation on security, cyber, water, energy and innovation.  Rama noted that Albania would be pleased to learn from Israel’s successes in innovation and added that he would like to encourage Israeli businesspeople to invest in Albania.

Rama also met with Israeli Energy Minister Steinitz.  Among the issues discussed was the export of Israeli natural gas to Albania and from there, using a planned pipeline, to Italy.  Rama also visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum. During the tour, representatives of both countries signed a memorandum of understanding to increase cooperation on Holocaust education in both countries.  (IH 22.12)

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2.1  Cornerstone Laid for China’s First Israeli University

The cornerstone for the Guangdong Technion Israel Institute of Technology (GTIIT) was laid in Shantou on 16 December.  This is the first Israeli university in China.  It will be operated by the University of Shantou.  The groundbreaking ceremony was attended by thousands of guests including former Israeli President Peres and Hong Kong-based billionaire Li Ka-shing, who has made many investments in Israel.  The first students will begin their courses in 2016.  Li Ka-shing donated $130 million for the project through his foundation.  (Globes 17.12)

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2.2  Israeli Algo-Commerce Company Feedvisor Raises $5 Million

Israeli algo-commerce company Feedvisor closed a $5 million financing round led by Australian venture capital firm Square Peg Capital.  This latest investment follows the $6 million Series A funding in August 2014 and brings Feedvisor’s total capital raised to date to $13 million.  The round also included participation from existing investors, JAL Ventures and Titanium Investments.  The company will use this capital to continue accelerating growth and global business expansion, including opening offices in the US.  The company’s customer base has grown by over 200% since its previous round of funding.  Today, Feedvisor is used by hundreds of online retailers worldwide to manage over $1.5 billion in gross merchandise volume.

Tel Aviv-based Feedvisor was founded in 2011.  Feedvisor has developed algo-commerce, using big data and machine learning algorithms to make business-critical decisions for online retailers, which enables online retailers to price dynamically without a need to continuously program complex pricing rules.  Instead, Feedvisor’s machine learning algorithms automatically analyze market dynamics, changes in demand, and price perception, enabling accurate pricing decisions that eliminate human bias.  (Feedvisor 21.12)

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2.3  NowForce Raises $4.5 Million in Series B Funding

NowForce has raised $4.5 million in a Series B round of funding led by Verint Systems, along with the participation of current investors Winnovation, Indigo Strategic Holding LP and Monet Venture Group Limited.  NowForce offers personal safety applications, cloud-based computer aided dispatch and mobile response tools for campus security, private security, and public safety organizations, enabling reduced response times, full situational awareness, and enhanced communications.

Jerusalem’s NowForce offers comprehensive emergency response solutions for campus security, private security, and public safety organizations, enabling reduced response times, full situational awareness and enhanced communications.  NowForce’s end-to-end solution closes the loop surrounding emergency response by giving citizens the tools to directly contact the command center and by giving the command center the tools to dispatch the closest, most qualified responders.  The solution includes personal safety apps, cloud-based computer aided dispatch (CAD), and mobile response tools.  (NowForce 15.12)

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2.4  Delta Galil & Columbia Sportswear Sign Licensing Agreement for Performance Underwear

Delta Galil Industries announced an exclusive global licensing agreement to develop, produce and distribute performance-based underwear collections for Columbia Sportswear.  This represents a significant expansion into the performance underwear category by Columbia Sportswear, the flagship brand of the global leader in active outdoor apparel, footwear, accessories and equipment, Columbia Sportswear Company.  Under the licensing agreement which is in effect through 2018, Delta Galil will produce a range of Columbia Sportswear products including a full collection of women’s sports bras and underwear, as well as men’s underwear.  The first performance underwear collections for Columbia Sportswear will launch at the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market Expo in Salt Lake City, Utah, January 2016, with early previews beginning mid-December through the end of the year.  The collections will be available for Fall 2016 at Columbia retail stores, outdoor specialty stores, sport specialty stores and better department stores worldwide.  Delta Galil is also the exclusive global licensee of men’s and women’s socks for Columbia Sportswear.

Performance underwear products are engineered with specialized features, such as moisture management and anti-microbial properties, to meet the needs of consumers with active lifestyles.

Tel Aviv’s Delta Galil Industries is a global manufacturer and marketer of branded and private label apparel products for men, women and children.  Since its inception in 1975, the Company has continually strived to create products that follow a body-before-fabric philosophy, placing equal emphasis on comfort, aesthetics and quality. Delta Galil develops innovative seamless apparel including bras, shapewear and socks; intimate apparel for women; extensive lines of underwear for men; babywear, activewear, sleepwear, and leisurewear.  (Delta Galil 21.12)

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2.5  CellSavers Raises $3 Million in Seed Funding from Sequoia Israel

On-demand smartphone repair service provider CellSavers has raised $3 million in seed funding from Sequoia Israel.  Angel investor Robert Antokol (CEO, Playtika) also participated in the round.  Along with the funding, Sequoia Israel partner Gili Raanan will join the CellSavers board.  CellSavers is already active in several major cities across the U.S. and recently launched in San Francisco.  This investment will help CellSavers enhance its technology-driven logistics and expand into other major U.S. cities in the billion dollar smartphone repair market.

CellSavers’ online booking process is seamless and quick, with predetermined prices and no surprises, expert assistance typically available within 30 minutes or less, premium parts and a lifetime warranty.  The company has already repaired thousands of phones across the country, while providing industry standard-setting service that is consistently praised by consumers.

Tel Aviv’s CellSavers is the easiest, safest and most professional way for smartphone users to have their device repaired, all within the hour at their preferred location, such as home, office, café or gym.  With customer satisfaction at its core, CellSavers’ expert phone technicians are extensively vetted and tested to ensure that every interaction ends with a delighted customer.  (CellSavers 21.12)

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2.6  IAI Signs Chinese Civil Aviation Agreement

Israel Aerospace Industries has signed a strategic framework agreement to cooperate with the Shantou Municipal Government of China, the Guangdong Airport Authority (GAA) and other Chinese partners, to develop and expand the local civil aviation industry as a lever of economic growth in the municipality.

IAI is Israel’s largest aerospace and defense company and a globally recognized technology and innovation leader, specializing in developing and manufacturing advanced, state-of-the-art systems for air, space, sea, land, cyber and homeland security. Since 1953, the company has provided advanced technology solutions to government and commercial customers worldwide including: satellites, missiles, weapon systems and munitions, unmanned and robotic systems, radars, C4ISR and more. IAI also designs and manufactures business jets and aerostructures, performs overhaul and maintenance on commercial aircraft and converts passenger aircraft to refueling and cargo configurations.   (IAI 23.12)

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3.1  Taste for Variety and Health-Consciousness Driving Lebanese F&B Industry

Lebanon is endowed with many assets that allow for its food and drink industry to thrive.  Lebanese consumers are liberal and have a taste for variety and novelty products and therefore can easily lure foreign companies into the Lebanese market.  Moreover, Lebanon has a high proportion of skilled labor compared to other countries in the region.  Lebanon’s climate also allows it to be one of the most agriculturally productive in the region.  The drinks segment holds great potential for both sub-sectors of alcoholic drinks and soft drinks.  The alcoholic segment, led by the wine-sub-sector, benefits from the local producers’ long history and reputation as well as the widespread Lebanese diaspora which creates export opportunities.  As for the soft drinks segment it will reap the benefits of the rise in health consciousness amongst consumers.  (Blom 19.12)

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3.2  Bahrain’s $100 Million Dragon City Mall Opens for Business

Bahrain’s Dragon City, a new Chinese-themed shopping mall hosting more than 500 companies, has opened for business.  The mall, managed by the China Middle East Investment and Trade Promotion Centre (Chinamex), aims to raise the profile of Chinese products across the GCC, as well as aim to increase the number of regional visitors to the kingdom.  The Bahrain Dragon City site includes a 50,000 sq. m. market, along with a warehouse facility, a leisure complex and restaurants which aims to strengthen family tourism, the statement added.  Officials said the logistics and warehousing facilities will enable the Chinese companies present to take full advantage of Bahrain’s transport infrastructure, including the Bahrain International Airport and sea ports.

A large number of leading Chinese companies have already established facilities in Bahrain or are using the kingdom as their regional headquarters, including Huawei, Bank of China, China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd, China CommService and CPIC.  (AB 28.12)

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3.3  Saudi’s ACWA Signs $400 Million Deal for Jordan Power Plant

Jordan’s state-owned National Electric Power Co. signed a $400 million contract with Saudi Arabia-based ACWA Power for construction of a 480 MW plant.  The new facility will replace Jordan’s oldest plant, the Hussein Thermal Power Station in the Red Sea port of Aqaba.  It will be completed by the end of 2019 and run primarily on natural gas as well as gasoline.  The Hussein thermal station uses heavy fuel and gasoline and has a generating capacity of 198 MW.  Jordan plans to add 600 MW of solar and wind power by 2016, Energy Minister Ibrahim Saif said on 14 September.  Jordan awarded Enviromena Power Systems and TSK Group a contract to build a 100 MW solar plant.  (AB 21.12)

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3.4  Yahoo to Close Last Arab State Middle East Office in Dubai

Yahoo will close its last Middle East office in Dubai next year, as the US internet giant looks to “streamline” its business.  The 50 members of staff at the office in Internet City were informed of the decision to close the office in April 2016.  The Dubai office, which is the company’s only Arab state operation following the closure of offices in Amman and Cairo, opened in 2009 when it acquired the Jordan-based Maktoob for $164 million, with a view to bolstering its presence in the region.  The company employed as many 400 people at one point, before the Jordan and Egypt offices were closed in 2014.  In January this year, Yahoo let go almost half of its staff in Dubai, but remained adamant about its future presence in the region.

The Yahoo Labs site in Haifa, founded in September of 2007, remains active.  The research scientists and engineers in Haifa work closely with their Yahoo Israel sister engineering site in Tel Aviv.  (AB 16.12)

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3.5  Abercrombie & Fitch Expands With First A&F Branded Store in the UAE

Abercrombie & Fitch Co. announced that its Abercrombie & Fitch brand will open its first store in the UAE at Dubai’s luxury shopping center, the Mall of Emirates, on 26 December 2015.  The store is being opened pursuant to a joint venture between Abercrombie and Fitch and Majid Al Futtaim Fashion.  The new location is the brand’s third store in the region, following the opening of two stores in Kuwait in early 2015.  The Dubai opening marks several firsts for the brand, including a newly designed concept store featuring a stand-alone fragrance boutique and a carve-out for the abercrombie kids brand.  The 18,000 square foot store is one of the largest Abercrombie & Fitch mall-based stores globally and features the brand’s signature style and inviting shopping environment.

Majid Al Futtaim Fashion is the fashion retailing arm of Majid Al Futtaim.  It currently works with a number of leading fashion brands throughout the GCC & Levant region including Abercrombie & Fitch Co., Hollister, Juicy Couture, HOSS Intropia, Halston Heritage and Jane Norman.  Majid Al Futtaim Fashion recently announced strategic partnerships with leading brands AllSaints, Maisons du Monde and lululemon athletica.  Founded in 1992, Majid Al Futtaim is the leading shopping mall, retail and leisure pioneer across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).  (Abercrombie & Fitch 15.12)

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3.6  Hilton to Debut Hampton Hotel Brand in Saudi Arabia

Hilton Worldwide has announced the arrival of Hampton by Hilton to Saudi Arabia after the signing of a management agreement to open Hampton by Hilton Riyadh Olaya.  The 154 guest-room hotel, which is owned by the FAS Hotels Group and will be operated by Hilton Worldwide, is expected to open in early 2018.  Joining more than 2,000 Hampton by Hilton hotels operating across the world, Hampton by Hilton Riyadh Olaya will offer a breakfast area, living and working zones, juice bar, 24-hour fitness facility and a 55 square meter conference room.  Strong development momentum for Hilton’s mid-market brands in the Middle East has seen this year’s announcement of the world’s largest Hampton by Hilton hotel which is currently under development in Dubai’s Al Qusais district.  Upcoming openings in Saudi Arabia also include the luxury Conrad Makkah, expected to welcome guests in early 2016.  (AB 16.12)

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3.7  UAE’s Lulu Plans $300 Million Investment in Egypt

UAE-based retail conglomerate Lulu Group has opened its first hypermarket in the Egyptian capital Cairo, the start of a $300 million investment in the North African country.  The new store is located in Twin Plaza, opposite the Police Academy on the Zakir Hussein road extension in the 1st settlement of New Cairo.  Spread over an area of 170,000 square feet, the new outlet is the group’s 119th hypermarket opening.  The group is planning to invest $300 million opening 10 new hypermarkets in Egypt over the next 2 years, creating around 10,000 new jobs.  Lulu Group currently has stores in the GCC and India plans to open 15 more hypermarkets over the next two years.  (AB 20.12)

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3.8  Saudi’s SALIC Considers Purchasing Land in Sudan to Grow Fodder

Saudi Agriculture and Livestock Co (SALIC), an arm of the state-owned Public Investment Fund, is looking to buy land in Sudan to grow fodder.  Saudi Arabia has been phasing out growth of crops due to their intense water usage which was depleting reserves in the desert kingdom.  A cabinet statement this month said cultivation of green fodder would be stopped in the next three years.  To support this and to maintain food supplies for its young and increasingly affluent population, Saudi Arabia embarked on a program last year to build agricultural operations abroad.  SALIC has targeted investments in beef and eight key crops, including wheat, barley, corn and soybeans.  (Reuters 26.12)

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4.1  Israel’s Environment Ministry Invests $3.5 Million to Fight Air Pollution

Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry has announced that it will invest NIS 14 million ($3.5 million) in projects to encourage less use of private vehicles and greater use of public transportation and bicycles.  The sum comes in addition to the NIS 6 million ($1.5 million) already transferred to local authorities in the past year to promote similar initiatives.  According to the assessments, the investment will lead to less gasoline consumption, air pollution and traffic congestion, as well as shorter travel times to and from work.

Within the framework of the first phase of its plan for 2016, the ministry will provide support to local authorities to implement clean-air projects in the major cities, encourage people to ride bikes, and operate transportation services to and from employment hubs.  The ministry will allocate funding to local authorities according to the size of their populations, yearly exhaust emissions from vehicles, and the quality of the plans submitted by the local authority to decrease air pollution.  (IH 21.12)

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4.2  King Abdullah II Inaugurates Largest Utility Scale Wind Power Plant in Jordan

The first and largest utility scale wind power plant in Jordan, the Tafila Wind Farm, was inaugurated on 17 December under the patronage of King Abdullah II.  The 117 MW wind farm is directly connected to the national grid and will produce 400 gigawatt-hours of electricity annually.  The project is in line with a royal vision to diversify energy sources and promote greater reliance on renewable energy.  The Tafila Wind Farm was developed in response to the 2010 renewable energy law, calling for around 10% of electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020.  Jordan imports around 96% of its energy needs at a cost equivalent to 20% of the country’s GDP.

At JD85 per megawatt-hour, the wind turbines will produce electricity at less than half the cost of generation for conventional power sources.  The project will save the government around $50 million every year, and will supply approximately 3.5% of the country’s annual electricity consumption.  Jordan Wind Project Company (JWPC) is an international coalition that includes, InfraMed Infrastructure Fund (France), Masdar (UAE) and EP Global Energy (Cyprus).  (Advvise 17.12)

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4.3  Jordan Has More Solar Energy Projects in Pipeline

Jordan will sign in Q1/16 deals under which international companies will build two solar-run power plants with a total capacity of 100 MW.  Amman has awarded contracts to Greece-based Sunrise Photovoltaic Systems and Saudi Oger to each build a 50 MW solar plant.  The signing of the agreements for the two power plants will take place after paperwork is completed.  The projects are scheduled to be completed in 18 – 24 months.  Work is also under way on an 80 MW wind plant that will be located in Maan; the wind plant will be completed in H2/16.

The entire ecosystem for renewable energy projects in Jordan is promising and encouraging as studies by energy authorities indicate that the Kingdom has more than 300 sunny days a year.  In addition, wind speeds in the northern region reach as high as 7.5 meters per second and 11.5 meters per second in the eastern areas of the country.  Jordan imports about 97% of its energy needs annually at about 18% of the gross domestic product.  (JT 26.12)

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5.1  Lebanese Deflation at 3.9% in November 2015

According to the Central Administration of Statistics (CAS), consumer prices in Lebanon fell by 3.90% in November since the Consumer Price Index (CPI) declined from 100.50 in November 2014 to 96.60 in November 2015.  On a year-to-date basis, consumer prices fell by 2.71% on account of subdued energy prices but also on account of a weaker euro, especially since around 40% of Lebanon’s imports come from Europe.  The euro lost 13% since year start, going from €/$1.2098 in December to €/$1.0565 in November 2015.  November’s deflation was mainly the result of to lower energy prices.

Due to global oversupply, the price of Brent crude oil slashed annually by a yearly 50.29% from $88.26per barrel in November 2014 to $43.87 per barrel in November 2015.  This was reflected in Lebanon by the 10.70% y-o-y slump in the price of transportation, a component with a weight of 13.1% in the CPI.  With cheaper oil, the price of water, electricity gas and other fuels (11.9% weight of CPI) also declined by 18.10% in November 2015.  In addition, Health prices, with a weight of 7.8%, downturned by 6.82% yearly.  The basket of food and non-alcoholic beverages is also responsible for November’s deflation, declining by 2.12% y-o-y and representing 20.6% of the CPI. In spite of lower energy and F&B prices, some baskets of goods and services witnessed price upturns in November.  Education prices, with a weight of 5.9% in the CPI, rose by a yearly 1.52% while the prices of clothing and footwear, with a weight of 5.4% in the CPI, increased by 3.48%.  (CAS 22.12)

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5.2  Number of Tourists to Lebanon Increased by 14.13% by November

Lebanon’s tourism sector improved to reach 1.39m tourists by November 2015, its highest level in 4 years.  According to the Ministry of Tourism, the number of incomers by November 2015 surged by 14.13% from 1.22m recorded by November 2014.  European visitors took 33.50% of the total, augmented by 14.23% y-o-y, to number 467,144.  French tourists were the largest share of European tourists at 26%, up by a yearly 12.5% to 123,359.  The number of incomers from Germany, the UK and Turkey also saw respective improvements of 11.17%, 16.24% and 35.68% y-o-y to 70,064, 52,203 and 19,254 during the first 11 months of the year.

The number of Arab tourists, constituting 31.64% of the total, displayed a yearly increase of 7.71%, to record 441,194 by November 2015.  As for Iraqi incomers, their share was the largest among Arab tourists at 40%, and increasing by an annual 6.87% to 177,154, over the same period.  A large part of Iraqi tourists are actually refugees that are granted a tourist visa.  The number of Egyptian and Saudi visitors registered the most distinct increases going from 61,272 to 68,077 and from 41,281 to 44,030 respectively.  The number of UAE incomers also progressed by 18.45% annually to 6,423 by November 2015.  As for American travelers, accounting for the third major portion of the total at 18.92%, their number reached 242,634 in the first 11 months of 2015, a 17.40% y-o-y increase from the same period last year.  In November alone, the number of tourists surged by 12.18% y-o-y to 99,952.  The number of Arab, European, and American tourists all grew by 6.94%, 10.76%, and 17.20% to 36,443, 30,755 and 13,465, respectively compared to the same month last year.  (MoT 19.12)

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5.3  Number of Lebanese Registered Cars Increased by 3.79% by November

According to the Association of Lebanese Car Importers, the number of newly registered commercial and passenger cars during the first 11 months of 2015 increased by 3.79% year-on-year (y-o-y) to 38,037 cars, which might be in line with decline in prices of new cars and new promotion due to competition.  In fact, in November alone, the number of total newly registered cares surged by 24.83% to 3,303 from November of last year.  Newly registered passenger cars grasped 94.44% of total registration while newly registered commercial cars constituted the remaining 5.57%.  With that in mind, the slight progression on the sum of both came about from the annual 4% increase in newly passenger registered cars to 35,921 by November which was slightly offset by the 0.42% yearly decline to 2,117 in commercial ones.

There was a change in the market share of car importing-countries, due to the average 15% y-o-y depreciation of both the Japanese Yen and the Euro against the US dollar to Euro/Dollar 1.13315 and Dollar/Yen 121.445, respectively by end-November.  For instance, Japanese cars were the most demanded cars in Lebanon in the first 11 months, with their share improving from 35.1% in 2014, to 39.87% this year.  Meanwhile Korean cars lost their hold on the number one spot, going down from 39.49% to 32.85% in 2015. European cars maintained their third rank, however with a higher market share of 20.87%, compared to 18.90% in 2014.  Kia held the largest market share of 18.24% of the total, followed by 16% for Toyota.  Hyundai and Nissan respectively grasped shares of 14.47% and 10.48%.  (Blominvest 19.12)

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5.4  Iraq Seeks to Reopen Oil Pipeline Through Saudi Arabia

Iraq is seeking to reopen its crude oil export pipeline through Saudi Arabia, shut in 1990.  Saudi Arabia shut the pipeline in 1990, after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.  The pipeline used to carry Iraqi crude to the Saudi terminal of Yanbu on the Red Sea.  The pipeline was built in the 1980s, during the Iraq-Iran war, to diversify Iraq’s exports routes when the two countries were attacking each other’s tankers in the Arabian Gulf.  (Reuters 24.12)

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►►Arabian Gulf

5.5  Gulf Arab Defense Spending Drops for First Time in Decade: Report

London-based global intelligence firm IHS said that low oil prices are eating into defense spending in the Gulf region, one of the world’s largest arms markets, with budgets trimmed for the first time in a decade this year and deeper cuts expected in 2016.  Overall spending fell to $81.6 billion in 2015 from $86.7 billion last year, despite Gulf Arab military interventions in Yemen and Libya, arms supplies sent to Syrian rebels and air strikes against Islamic State in Syria.  Military spending dropped in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, while Oman spent only slightly more.

Despite this year’s fall, spending on arms remains substantially higher than four years ago when it was ramped up in the wake of uprisings across the Arab world which alarmed the region’s conservative rulers. Gulf Arab states have also built up missile defenses against regional rival Iran.

Those security concerns, along with record oil revenues, had propelled the Middle East to become the fastest growing regional weapons market.  Gulf spending surged in 2012, up to $71.9 billion from $59.1 billion in 2010.  This year’s cuts come as part of a broad effort to rein in state spending as lower oil prices strain finances in the major oil-exporting countries.  Oil prices trade now around $37 a barrel, down from a peak of $115 last year.  Led by the Gulf trend, spending in the broader Middle East also dropped in 2015, but is likely to remain largely flat at $170 billion over the next two years.  Saudi Arabia still spends the most on defense in the region, some $46.3 billion, accounting for more than half of the Gulf’s military budgets and making it the eighth-largest defense spender in the world, according to IHS.  (AB 17.12)

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5.6  Kuwait Expects 2015-16 Budget Deficit of Nearly $20 Billion

Kuwait expects the actual 2015-16 budget deficit to be between $16.5 to $19.8 billion, the Finance Ministry Undersecretary Khalifa Hamada said, lower than original projection.  Hamada also announced that Kuwait planned to unify corporate taxes on local and foreign companies at 10% and expected revenues from such a move to exceed 2 billion dinars a year.  The official also said that Kuwait was still studying better management of fuel subsidies, but any changes would begin with petrol. He said that better management of fuel subsidies would earn the country 1 billion dinars in savings.  (Reuters 16.12)

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5.7  Kuwait Mulling Free Trade Zones on Five Islands

Kuwait is considering establishing free trade zones on five of its islands, State Minister for Planning and Development Al Sabeeh said.  The proposal would help the Gulf state diversify from oil. Kuwait is expected to record its first deficit in nearly two decades this financial year amid lower oil revenues, which account for about 90% of GDP.  Al Sabeeh said the “comprehensive and multi-purpose” free trade zones “would act as an economic and cultural gateway for the northern Gulf region and Kuwait, and would support the Kuwaiti economy – thus raising its regional and international competitiveness,” Arab Times reported.  The islands being considered are Boubyan, Failaka, Warba, Miskan and Awha, some of which lie close to the shores of Iraq and Iran.  The government is already building a multi-billion dollar container harbor at Boubyan.  The islands are also close to Kuwait’s planned Silk City project in Subbiya.  Work is underway on a 25 km., $2.6 billion causeway linking the capital with Subbiya.  If approved, the private sector would be asked to finance, execute and operate the free zones.  (AB 20.12)

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5.8  Bahrain Cabinet Approves New Fuel Pricing System

Bahrain’s cabinet has approved a new pricing system for diesel and kerosene that is set to begin in January, according to state news agency BNA.  The new pricing system is expected to result in a “gradual increase” in the cost of both fuels to domestic customers in the coming years, as Bahrain adjusts its prices to reflect expected rises in other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states.  The pricing system comes after a detailed study with the relevant authorities and parliamentary committees in the kingdom “tasked with looking at subsidies and growing government revenues”, said the statement.  The decision will benefit Bahrain’s national economy and, at the same time, preserve the interest of citizens, the statement added.  (BNA 28.12)

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5.9  Bahrain Says $32 Billion Projects Will Underpin Economic Growth

Infrastructure investment totaling $32 billion will underpin Bahrain’s long-term economic growth, according to Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, chairman of the Economic Development Board (EDB).  He said the Gulf kingdom is implementing a comprehensive program of structural economic and fiscal reforms to further strengthen its long-term development.  He added in a statement that the program is underpinned by three pillars – streamlining government expenditure, further redirecting government subsidies towards citizens, and a series of economic reforms and infrastructure projects worth more than $32 billion to increase investment and maintain growth.  Diversification efforts have led to stable economic growth, which is forecast to reach 3.6% in 2015, and that the contribution of the financial services, manufacturing, and construction sectors now exceed that of the oil sector, which contributes only a fifth of GDP.  (AB 19.12)

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5.10  Saudi Arabia Plans Spending Cuts, Revenue Push to Shrink 2016 Deficit

Saudi Arabia, its finances hit by low oil prices, announced plans to shrink a record state budget deficit with spending cuts, reforms to energy subsidies and a drive to raise revenues from taxes and privatization.  The 2016 budget, released by the finance ministry on 28 December, marked the biggest shake-up to economic policy in the world’s top crude exporter for over a decade, and includes politically sensitive reforms from which authorities previously shied away.

The plan suggests the kingdom is not counting on a major recovery of oil prices any time soon but is instead preparing for a multi-year period of cheap oil.  The IMF warned in October that Riyadh would run out of money within five years if it did not tighten its belt.

The government ran a deficit of 367 billion riyals ($97.9 billion) in 2015, or 15% of GDP, officials said.  The 2016 budget plan aims to cut that to 326 billion riyals, reducing pressure on Riyadh to pay its bills by liquidating assets held abroad.  Next year’s budget projects spending of 840 billion riyals, down from 975 billion riyals actually spent this year.  The finance ministry said it would review government projects to make them more efficient and ensure they were necessary and affordable.

Revenues next year are forecast at 514 billion riyals, down from 608 billion riyals in 2015.  The Brent oil price averaged about $54 a barrel this year but is now about $37.  The success or failure of the budget plan will be key to maintaining the confidence of financial markets in Riyadh.  The government plans to introduce a value-added tax in coordination with other countries in the region, and raise taxes on soft drinks and tobacco, the ministry said without giving a timeline.  (Reuters 28.12)

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5.11  Saudi Arabia Raises Domestic Energy Prices

Saudi Arabia has raised domestic energy prices, including fuel prices.  Domestic fuel, water and electricity prices are currently among the lowest in the world because of heavy state subsidies.  Raising the prices would reduce pressure on the state budget and would be one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest economic reforms in many years.  The world’s largest oil exporter has set the price of 95 octane gasoline at 0.90 riyals ($0.24) per liter, up from the current price of 0.60 riyals per liter.  The kingdom has also raised prices for gas, diesel and kerosene.

Earlier, the government said it was hiking prices for fuels, water and electricity as well as gas feedstock used by industry, as part of subsidy reforms designed to help state finances cope with low oil prices.  The price of methane was raised to $1.25 per million British thermal units and ethane to $1.75; previously, both were at $0.75, among the lowest in the world.  (Reuters 28.12)

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5.12  Oman Said to Privatize Three State-Owned Firms In 2016

Oman plans to privatize three state-owned companies next year, Finance Minister Darwish Al Balushi said, declining to give further details.  Gulf governments are expected to consider privatizing state assets as they seek to raise cash at a time of lower oil prices, which have hit their revenues.  Oman posted a budget deficit of 2.68 billion rials ($6.97 billion) in the first eight months of this year, against a 205.7 million rial surplus a year earlier, because of lower oil export prices.  (AB 19.12)

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►►North Africa

5.13  32.5 million Internet Users in Egypt by September 2015

In September 2015, the number of internet users in Egypt registered 32.5 million, according to a report from the Ministry of Communications issued in December.  The report showed that mobile Internet accounted for the largest share of internet users.  There were 25 million users in September 2015, a 5 million increase and a 23.1% growth rate compared to September 2014, when 20.3 million users were recorded.  As for USB internet users, there are around 4 million users compared to 3.9 million in September 2014, marking a 2% increase.  USB internet occupied second place in terms of the number of users.

Last September, mobile internet users recorded 26.8% of the total mobile phone users, compared to 21.4% recorded in September 2014, marking a 5.4% growth.  According to the Ministry of Communications’ report, the number of ADSL internet users increased to 3.6 million in September 2015, compared to 2.9 million users in September 2014, marking a 22.1% increase.  The report also showed that Greater Cairo acquired the largest share in the number of internet users, at 45%, while the Delta region came in second place at 27%.  Alexandria and Matrouh both accounted for 12% of the total number of internet users, while Upper Egypt stood at only 10%, and the Suez Canal cities and the Red Sea governorate together accounted for 6%.  (DNE 23.12)

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5.14  Morocco Ranks 62nd in List of Best Countries for Business

Morocco was ranked 62nd out of 144 countries in Forbes’ 2015 ranking list of the Best Countries for Business.  Forbes ranked Morocco as the best destination to do business in North Africa, gaining 17 places compared to last year’s ranking.  It came ahead of Tunisia, Mauritania, Algeria and Libya who ranked 82, 129, 137 and 142 respectively.  On the Arab level, Morocco ranked fourth, only behind the UAE, Qatar and Jordan, who ranked 40th, 48th and 60th respectively.  Morocco ranked in the third position in Africa, preceded by Mauritius (37th) and South Africa (47th).  The ranking highlighted that Morocco demonstrated a remarkable advance in terms of Monetary Freedom (22nd) and Trade Freedom (73rd).

Despite the progressive achievements and high ranking compared to the African and Arab countries, Morocco is invited to do many efforts regarding other indexes.  The country ranked 98th in Innovation, 98th in Personal Freedom, 92nd in Investor Protection, 78th in Technology, and 72nd in the index of Corruption.  Morocco performed average regarding Red Tape (38th), Tax Burden (54th), Market Performance (62nd) and Property Rights (62nd).

In the World Bank’s 2016 Doing Business report, released last October, Morocco ranked 75th in the overall ranking, moving up five places from last year’s ranking thanks to the reforms implemented by the country to improve the business environment.  (MWN 16.12)

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6.1  Turkish Consumer Confidence Drops 4.6% in December

Turkey’s consumer confidence index dropped to 73.58 in December from 77.15 in November, the Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat) said on 21 December.  The index hit a six-and-a-half year low of 58.52 in September but has since recovered.  It still indicates a pessimistic outlook, however, and would need to rise above 100 to indicate optimism.  (TurkStat 21.12)

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6.2  Greece’s Jobless Rate Drops To 24% in Third Quarter

Greece’s jobless rate fell to 24% in the third quarter from 24.6% in the April-to-June period, data from ELSTAT showed on 17 December.  The highest unemployment rate was recorded in Q1/14, at 27.8%.  About 73.7% of Greece’s 1.16 million jobless are long-term unemployed, meaning they have been out of work for at least 12 months.  Athens has already published monthly unemployment figures through September, which differ from quarterly data because they are based on different samples. Quarterly figures are not seasonally adjusted.

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The debt crisis and austerity imposed by the EU/IMF lenders in exchange for Greece’s bailouts have wiped out about a quarter of the country’s economic output, driving the jobless rate to record highs.  Greece’s economy contracted by 0.9% quarterly pace in the third quarter as capital controls to shore up banks weighed down on investment, exports and consumer spending.  The €173 billion economy is expected to shrink by 0.7% in 2016.  (ELSTAT 17.12)

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7.1  Immigration to Israel Reaches a 12 Year High

More than 30,000 new immigrants (olim) came to Israel in 2015, the highest immigration figure since 2003 and 10% more than 2014, the Jewish Agency for Israel and Ministry of Immigrant Absorption announced.  Some 7,900 immigrants arrived from France in 2015, a record figure from that country, and up 10% from last year.  The ongoing terror attacks in that country have made it the largest contributor to immigration for the second successive year.

The fighting between Ukraine and Russia also boosted immigration, where 7,000 immigrants reached Israel from Ukraine in 2015, up 15% from 2014 and 6,600 immigrants arrived from Russia, up 40% from 2014.  Immigration from North America fell slightly to 3,768 in 2015 from 3,871 in 2014.  Half of new immigrants were under the age of 30 in 2015.  (Various 29.12)

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7.2  Libya’s Rival Parliaments Sign Unity Government Deal

On 17 December, rival Libyan politicians signed a unity government agreement despite opposition on both sides, in what the United Nations described as a “first step” towards ending the crisis.  A group of lawmakers from Libya’s rival parliaments, as well as other political figures, inked the UN-sponsored accord in the Moroccan resort of Skhirat.  But even within the two legislatures the deal has caused deep divisions.

The heads of both parliaments have warned that the agreement has no legitimacy and the politicians signing the agreement represented only themselves.  UN envoy Martin Kobler acknowledged that much remained to be done to end the turmoil.  The signing follows a gathering in Rome of a US- and Italian-led group of world powers and regional players that called on the two sides to lay down their arms and back a new unity government.  The country has been mired in chaos since the 2011 overthrow and killing of long-time dictator Gadhafi.  (AFP 17.12)

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7.3  Morocco Among Most Politically Stable Countries in the World

Morocco is among the most politically stable countries in the world, according to Global Risk Map 2016, published on 14 December.  According to the RiskMap report, Morocco is the only country in North Africa to be ranked in the category of low political and security risk countries.  Algeria, Mauritania and Egypt are classified between medium and high risk, while Tunisia is listed among countries with high political and security risk.  In the Middle East, Iraq, Syria and Yemen are considered as counties with extreme risk. In the Gulf region, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman are among the countries with low political risk. Saudi Arabia is ranked among countries with medium risk.

According to the report, the level of political stability in Morocco is similar to most Western countries, such as the United States, France, Spain, the UK, Canada, Sweden, etc.  According to the British Foreign Office classification of 2015, Morocco has ranked high among the list of “safest countries in the world”, alongside European and North American nations.  In November, a new note released by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Morocco is the safest country in North Africa.  (MWN 16.12)

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8.1  ApiFix Makes Children’s Scoliosis Surgery Minimally Invasive

ApiFix is helping the parents of children from Australia, Canada and the US who have Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis (AIS) to identify spine surgeons in Europe and Israel who have adopted the ApiFix system to treat AIS.  ApiFix is approved for sale in Europe and Israel.  A clinical study of The ApiFix System was published this year in the peer-reviewed medical journal Scoliosis, which concluded that “there are many drawbacks to the current gold standard of AIS surgery, which are almost nonexistent with the use of ApiFix.”

Misgav’s ApiFix is a commercial-stage company that has developed the CE-marked ApiFix System — a non-fusion minimally invasive treatment alternative for Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis (AIS).  Scoliosis surgery is the most invasive procedure in spine.  The average procedure fuses 10 vertebrae together using 20 screws, resulting in significant and permanent loss of spine mobility.  (ApiFix 17.12)

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8.2  Orcam Opens European HQ Following Visit by London Mayor

Meeting London Mayor Boris Johnson in Jerusalem in November helped convince wearable device maker OrCam Technologies to establish its European headquarters in the capital.  On 30 November, OrCam opened the doors to its first office in Europe.  Dr. Yonatan Wexler, OrCam’s VP for R&D, attended the UKTI event, where Boris Johnson tried on the device.

Jerusalem’s OrCam is the creator of the world’s first wearable device to help people who are visually impaired or blind.  It is currently in a pre-launch phase in the UK and will be available across Britain from January.  OrCam’s cutting edge technology interprets visual information through a smart camera placed on a pair of glasses and connected to a pocket-sized computer.  With a point of a finger, it instantly recognizes text, products and people. It then relays that information to the wearer discreetly via a small personal speaker.  (OrCam Technologies 17.12)

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8.3  U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Issues Coverage Policy for ReWalk Robotics Systems

ReWalk Robotics announced that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has issued a national policy for the evaluation, training and procurement of ReWalk Personal exoskeleton systems for all qualifying veterans across the United States.  The VA policy, which is exclusive to ReWalk Robotics exoskeleton systems, is the first national coverage policy in the United States for qualifying individuals who have suffered spinal cord injury (SCI).  The comprehensive policy put forth by the VA provides veterans with spinal cord injury access to referral and evaluation at all designated ReWalk Training Centers across the country.  Veterans who meet the physical criteria for ReWalk will be referred for training on the use of the device.  Successful candidates will then be eligible to obtain a ReWalk Personal system.

Yokneam’s ReWalk Robotics develops, manufactures and markets wearable robotic exoskeletons for individuals with spinal cord injury.  Their mission is to fundamentally change the quality of life for individuals with lower limb disability through the creation and development of market leading robotic technologies.

ReWalk is the only FDA cleared exoskeleton system in the U.S., with clearances for both personal use at home and in the community, as well as for the rehabilitation setting.  ReWalk Personal 6.0 is a wearable robotic exoskeleton that provides powered hip and knee motion to enable individuals with spinal cord injury to stand upright and walk.  The system provides user-initiated mobility through the integration of a wearable brace support, a computer-based control system and motion sensors.  (ReWalk 17.12)

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8.4  Can-Fite’s CF101 Granted Patent in Japan for Intraocular Pressure Drug

Can-Fite BioPharma announced that the Japan Patent Office has granted the company a patent for its lead drug candidate CF101 for the reduction of intraocular pressure (IOP) in a patent titled, “A3 adenosine receptor agonists for the reduction of intraocular pressure.”  CF101 is an A3 adenosine receptor (A3AR) agonist that binds to A3AR, which is known to be over-expressed in inflammatory cells.  Can-Fite has been granted a similar patent in the U.S. for IOP and has pending applications in other key global markets.  Can-Fite’s subsidiary OphthaliX is currently conducting a Phase II trial of CF101 for the treatment of glaucoma in Europe and Israel.  Patient enrollment has been completed and top line results are expected in mid-2016.

CF101, an A3 adenosine receptor (A3AR) agonist, is a novel, first in class small molecule orally bioavailable drug which binds with high affinity and selectivity to the A3AR, which is known to be over-expressed in inflammatory cells.  The drug acts as a neuro-protective agent and prevents apoptosis of retinal ganglion cells.

Petah Tikva’s Can-Fite BioPharma is an advanced clinical stage drug development Company with a platform technology that is designed to address multi-billion dollar markets in the treatment of cancer, inflammatory disease and sexual dysfunction.  The Company’s CF101 drug candidate is currently under advanced clinical development, preparing to enter Phase III trials for two indications, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.  Can-Fite’s liver cancer drug CF102 is in Phase II trials for patients with advanced liver cancer and is being investigated as a potential treatment for non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).  (Can-Fite 17.12)

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8.5  BiondVax Patent for its Universal Flu Vaccine in Israel Approved

iondVax Pharmaceuticals announced that its patent application in Israel on the Multimeric Multi-Epitope Polypeptide Influenza Vaccines (a universal flu vaccine), was accepted.  This patent application belongs to the main family of patents of BiondVax for vaccination against influenza in humans, and specifically vaccines that confer long-lasting protection against multiple and differing flu strains.  The Israeli Intellectual Property Office accepted BiondVax’s claims for M-001 (BiondVax’s universal flu vaccine) and similar polypeptides.  Patent protection has already been granted in a number of other countries, namely the United States, Europe, Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, China, Russia, Mexico and Korea.

Ness Ziona’s BiondVax is an innovative biopharmaceutical company developing a universal flu vaccine, designed to provide multi-season and multi-strain protection against most human influenza virus strains, including both seasonal and pandemic flu strains.  BiondVax’s technology utilizes a unique, proprietary combination of conserved and common peptides from influenza virus proteins to activate both arms of the immune system for a cross-protecting and long-lasting effect.  (BiondVax 21.12)

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8.6  Bio Light’s IOPtiMate System Receives Regulatory Approval in Canada

Bio Light Israeli Life Sciences Investments announced that its IOPtiMate system for the treatment of glaucoma has been approved by the Canadian Medical Devices Bureau, allowing the Company to commercialize the surgical system in Canada.  The IOPtiMate surgical system enables a non-penetrating, CO2 laser-assisted procedure known as CLASS (CO2 Laser-Assisted Sclerotomy Surgery) to reduce elevated intraocular pressure. CLASS is an automated, easy to perform procedure which requires only a short learning curve and provides a safer and more precise alternative to the complex and risky glaucoma surgeries that are currently available.

Bio Light is primarily marketing the IOPtiMate system to leading physicians and medical centers in Asia and Europe, which has resulted in first sales of the system in Hong Kong, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Peru and Portugal, with distribution agreements under negotiation in additional countries.  The Company also recently signed a joint-financing agreement in November 2015 with two Asia-based venture capital firms to further support the global commercialization of the IOPtiMate system, as well as to initiate a regulatory approval pathway process for it with the U.S. FDA.  With a Canadian license now in place, Bio Light plans to initiate commercial activity in Canada through a local distributer.

Tel Aviv’s Bio Light address ophthalmic significant unmet medical needs with a pipeline of products and product candidates, which are in various commercial and clinical stages, including: IOPtiMate, a laser-based non-invasive surgical treatment for glaucoma; TeaRx, a diagnostic solution that provides a multi-parameter analysis of tear film in order to identify one or more underlying causes of dry eye syndrome; Eye-D, an in-office insertable platform that provides for controlled release of ophthalmic medications over time and OphRx’s lyotropic liquid crystals, or LLC, a non-invasive drug delivery technology administered through eye drops as an alternative to current ocular delivery modalities.  (Bio Light 21.12)

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8.7  Kamada’s Human Rabies Immune Globulin Meets Primary Endpoint

Kamada reported that the pivotal Phase 2/3 clinical trial with the Company’s human rabies immune globulin (IgG or KamRAB or KedRAB) therapy as a post-exposure treatment for rabies successfully met the trial’s primary endpoint of non-inferiority when measured against an IgG reference product.  The Company expects to file a Biologics License Application (BLA) with the U.S. FDA in mid-2016.  KamRAB is the brand name for Kamada’s human rabies immune globulin currently marketed for this indication in 10 countries worldwide.  Kamada has a strategic agreement with Kedrion S.p.A for the clinical development and marketing of its IgG product, which will be branded as KedRAB in the U.S., subject to receiving marketing approval from the FDA.

Ness Ziona’s Kamada is focused on plasma-derived protein therapeutics for orphan indications, and has a commercial product portfolio and a robust late-stage product pipeline.  The Company uses its proprietary platform technology and know-how for the extraction and purification of proteins from human plasma to produce Alpha-1 Antitrypsin (AAT) in a highly-purified, liquid form, as well as other plasma-derived Immune globulins.  AAT is a protein derived from human plasma with known and newly-discovered therapeutic roles given its immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory, tissue-protective and antimicrobial properties.  The Company’s flagship product is Glassia, the first and only liquid, ready-to-use, intravenous plasma-derived AAT product approved by the U.S. FDA.  (Kamada 23.12)

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9.1  Simgo’s Virtual SIM Could Cut Roaming Charges By 90%

Have you ever returned from a vacation to a phone bill that cost more than your plane ticket?  Now, you don’t have to pay for roaming anymore.  Simgo, an Ra’anana startup, has come up with an innovative solution that allows your phone to choose the cheapest local service and data carrier when traveling to 100 countries around the world.  Simgo simply replaces the SIM card inside your smartphone with a clip-on case that connects to its cloud-based system.  The software selects the best local virtual SIM card in the “cloud” and uses it to place the call – using your original phone number.

The price of the clip-on case is currently $120, and users also pay a small daily fee that’s 50-90% lower than typical roaming charges, according to Simgo.  The case is currently available only for select Samsung Galaxy and iPhone devices.  The startup has already signed several contracts with cellular service providers in order to provide service around the globe.  Currently, Simgo is attracting new customers by offering a pay-as-you-go plan, which can be monitored through a mobile app that keeps track of usage, and warns when you are about to pass your preset limit.

In the near future, Simgo plans to expand its offering into Wi-Fi services on local and international buses.  Adding Wi-Fi services enables Simgo to automatically switch between providers while their customers are traveling across borders.  Since Simgo’s clip-on case is limited to Samsung and iPhone devices at this time, the company is developing a new solution called Simgo Inside.  It will allow smartphone manufacturers to embed the virtual SIM hardware inside their products and charge extra for the roaming service.  (Simgo 19.12)

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9.2  NICE Wins TMC 2015 Customer Experience Innovation Award

NICE Systems has received a TMC 2015 Customer Experience Innovation Award, demonstrating the company’s exceptional contributions to the industry.  The 2015 Customer Experience Innovation Award recognizes best-in-class companies setting the standard in delivering exceptional customer experiences and is presented by TMC’s CUSTOMER magazine.  NICE won the award for its groundbreaking Customer Engagement Analytics (CEA) solution powered by state-of-the-art Big Data technology. NICE CEA enables businesses to uncover business insights by analyzing, identifying, quantifying and monitoring what was said, written and done during customer interactions, across all channels.

Combining data from transactions, interactions, agents’ desktop activity, and customer feedback, NICE CEA generates a complete view of the customer journey, both for individual customers and customers at large.  By dynamically mapping the entire customer journey, NICE CEA helps organizations understand how their customers interact with them, identify journey bottlenecks and pitfalls, reduce customer effort and optimize the customer experience.

Ra’anana’s NICE Systems (NASDAQ: NICE) is the worldwide leading provider of enterprise software solutions that empower organizations to make smarter decisions based on advanced analytics of structured and unstructured data. NICE solutions help the world’s largest organizations deliver better customer service, ensure compliance, combat fraud and safeguard citizens.  Over 25,000 organizations in more than 150 countries, including over 80 of the Fortune 100 companies, are using NICE solutions.  (NICE Systems 17.12)

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9.3  SC Magazine Recognizes LightCyber as 2015 Security Industry “Innovator”

 LightCyber, a leading provider of Active Breach Detection solutions, was recognized as a 2015 Innovator by SC Magazine, as well as one of ten “Coolest Security Startups” by CRN magazine.  SC Magazine identified LightCyber as being one of two companies it selected as a 2015 Innovator in the category of “Perimeter Defense.”  SC Magazine recognized the LightCyber Magna platform as a worthy response to the changing demands in the security industry.

LightCyber assumes that intrusions occur and that misuse of corporate credentials cannot be comprehensively prevented.  These recognitions from SC Magazine and CRN validate the need for organizations to proactively deploy infrastructure, such as the Magna platform, that identifies these attackers before their compromise objective is complete.

Ramat Gan’s LightCyber is a leading provider of Active Breach Detection solutions that accurately detect active cyber attacks that have circumvented traditional threat prevention systems.  The LightCyber Magna platform is the first security product to simultaneously profile both network traffic and endpoint state in order to accurately detect compromised user accounts and devices early in the attack lifecycle, and to enable security operators to remediate breaches and stop attacks before real damage is done.  (LightCyber 16.12)

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9.4  Nano Dimension Receives $1.13 Million from Israel’s Chief Scientist

Nano Dimension announced that Nano Dimension Technologies, a fully owned subsidiary of Nano Dimension, has received grant approval to support the Company’s development of a 3D PCB printer from the Israeli Office of the Chief Scientist at the Ministry of Economy.  The grant supports a development budget up to $1.13m.  This is the second consecutive year that the company has received funding from the Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS).  This grant approval bears testimony to the company successfully meeting development targets set forth to-date.  The grant will support the Company’s core R&D project, the development of a unique 3D printer designed to print multilayer electronic circuit boards (PCBs) for any product containing electronic circuits.

Ness Ziona’s Nano Dimension, founded in 2012, focuses on development of advanced 3D printed electronics systems.  Nano Dimension’s unique products combine three advanced technologies: 3D inkjet, 3D software and nanomaterials.  The company’s primary products include the first 3D printer dedicated to printing multi-layer PCBs (printed circuit boards) and advanced nanotechnology-based conductive and dielectric inks.  (Nano Dimension 23.12)

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10.1  Israel Enjoys Record Balance Of Payments Surplus

Plunging oil and coal prices pushed Israel’s balance of payments surplus up to an all-time record NIS 3.8 billion in the third quarter, according to a review published on 19 December by Ministry of Finance chief economist Yoel Naveh.  The large surplus is generating pressure in the direction of appreciation of the shekel, thereby countering the effect of the Bank of Israel’s monetary policy of retaining a negligible interest rate, despite the recent interest rate hike by the US Federal Reserve.

Inflation expectations in Israel are still falling while the US Federal Reserve is raising its interest rate, according to figures published today by the Bank of Israel.  The figures, based on forecasts by leading analysts, show expectations of a 0.5% rise in the Consumer Price Index over the next 12 months, compared with last month’s 0.7% projection.  The drop in inflation expectations is consistent with the Consumer Price Index, which fell 0.4% in November, thereby putting the inflation rate for the past 12 months at -1%.

Naveh announced that the 5.1% ratio of balance of payments to GDP in the third quarter was the highest since the first quarter of 2010.  He attributed the surplus to exports of goods and a drop in imports.  The surplus of exports over imports reached NIS 2.5 billion in the third quarter, a historically high level.  (Globes 20.12)

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10.2  Bank of Israel Cuts 2016 Growth Forecast

The Bank of Israel Research Department has revised its growth forecast for 2016 downwards, from 3.3% in its previous forecast in September to 2.8%.  The factors contributing to the downward revision of the growth forecast include the lower growth forecasts for global trade and imports by OECD countries and the downward revision of assessments regarding the level of activity in H2/15.  Growth in 2015 is estimated at 2.4%, slightly down from the September forecast.

Exports (excluding diamonds and startups) declined by about 2% in 2015, compared with an increase in global trade indices this year.  The relative weakness of exports in 2015 was partly the result of temporary factors, and that exports are forecast to recover in 2016 and will increase at a rate similar to the expected growth rate of imports to OECD countries.

In 2017, the growth rate of global trade is expected to increase, which will support improvements in Israeli exports.  A relatively high rate of growth is expected in Israeli exports in 2017 due to the exports of a large company. GDP is expected to grow by 3.1% in 2017.

Inflation in 2016 is projected at 0.6% and the Research Department now sees the bank’s interest rate remaining at 0.1% in the first three quarters of 2016 and beginning to rise only in the fourth quarter.  (Globes 28.12)

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10.3  Israeli Exports Drop By 7% in 2015

The Israel Export Institute announced on 29 December that Israel’s diamond exports fell 25% in 2015, exports of goods were down 7.5%, and exports of services dipped 3%.  Israeli exports totaled $45.7 billion in 2015, down 7%, compared with 2014.  The Export Institute predicts a 2% rise in exports in 2016.  An analysis of the data shows a continuation of the downtrend in exports that began in 2012.  Exports of both goods and services fell, and the only positive point was high-tech exports, which rose against the general trend.

In a breakdown by geographic region, Israel exports to the European Union totaled $13.6 billion in 2015, compared with $15.3 billion in 2014, and accounted for 30% of Israeli exports.  According to the Export Institute, the dollar value of exports to this destination was affected last year by declines in the euro-dollar exchange rate and plummeting global oil prices.  The Export Institute stressed that exports of chemicals and refined oil products account for one quarter of all goods exported to this trading bloc, and were greatly affected by oil prices on global markets.

Israel’s next largest export destination in 2015 was Asia with a total of $11.4 billion, amounting to 25% of Israeli exports.  A substantial proportion of the rise in exports to Asia can be attributed to US chip giant Intel, which does its manufacturing in Israel, among other places.  Economists said that accelerated exports of components, mainly to China and Vietnam, strongly affected exports to Asia.

Israeli exports to the US were up slightly to $10.8 billion.  Exports to Africa, on the other hand, fell from $1.3 billion in 2014 to $1 billion in 2015.  Exports to Latin America were also down, totaling $1.8 billion, 28% less than in 2014.  The Export Institute attributes the steep decline in exports to the continent to a 20% slide in exports to Brazil, which is suffering from a prolonged economic crisis; the steep devaluation of the local currency; and a similar decrease in exports to Mexico.  (IEI  29.12)

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10.4 Israel Ranked 18th in UN Human Development Index

Israel was ranked No. 18 on this year’s Human Development Index, a United Nations tool that measures world economies.  The index uses a number of parameters to rank the quality of life in various countries.  This year, Israel came out ahead of Japan (20), Belgium (21), France (22), Austria (23), Finland (24), Slovenia (25), Spain (26) and Italy (27).  The country that earned the top ranking for its quality of life was Norway, followed by Australia, Switzerland, Denmark, Holland, Germany, Ireland, the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, and Singapore.

Many of the countries ranked below Israel have a GDP per capita that is higher than Israel’s.  According to the index, for example, the GDP per capita in Israel stands at $30,600, compared to Belgium, with $41,200.  However, GDP per capita is only part of the equation.  The index also examines the number of years of education, the number of infant mortalities during birth and the number of years of education predicted for children of the next generation.

The countries ranked last on the index were Nigeria, followed by other African countries like Eritrea (186), Chad (185) and Burundi (184).  Most Middle East nations were not given high rankings, with Egypt (108), Jordan (80) and Lebanon (67).  (Various 17.12)

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11.1  EGYPT:  Fitch Affirms Egypt at ‘B’; Outlook Stable

Fitch Ratings, on 18 December, affirmed Egypt’s Long-term foreign and local currency Issuer Default Ratings (IDR) at ‘B’ with a Stable Outlook.  The issue ratings on Egypt’s senior unsecured foreign and local currency bonds have also been affirmed at ‘B’.  The Country Ceiling has been affirmed at ‘B’ and the Short-term foreign currency IDR at ‘B’.

Key Rating Drivers

Egypt’s ratings balance a high fiscal deficit and debt/GDP ratio, low foreign reserves coverage of imports and recent volatile political history, with low external debt and progress in implementing a wide-ranging economic reform program.

Front-loaded fiscal consolidation cut the deficit excluding grants to a preliminary 12.5% of GDP in FY15 (to end June) from 17.6% of GDP in FY14.  Further deficit reduction is anticipated in FY16, with various new measures implemented and restraint in public sector pay awards.  However, the introduction of VAT, the largest single revenue-raising measure, has been delayed.  Fitch expects fiscal consolidation throughout the forecast period, but with savings partially offset by higher social spending and spending commitments in the new constitution the deficit is forecast to remain high.

Moderate deficit reduction and stronger nominal GDP growth are forecast to put the debt/GDP ratio on a downward trend, ending a multi-year deterioration.  Nonetheless, debt/GDP is around double the peer median, at an estimated 93.7% at end FY15 and is only expected to fall by around 5% by end-FY17.  Domestic banks, including the Central Bank, account for the bulk of deficit financing.

Reserves have declined to less than three months of current external payments and foreign exchange rationing continues.  Prospects for the balance of payments have been set back by a shock to the tourism industry and, although declining, unmet demand for foreign exchange remains significant.  FDI has increased and is expected to rise and some multilateral support is arriving.  Fitch believes an IMF program is within reach if required by the authorities.  There is a lack of clarity on exchange rate policy, but Fitch assumes that further devaluation of the pound is inevitable, regardless of any additional bilateral support.

Gross external debt has been rising, but it remains below peers at an estimated 17.5% of GDP at end-2015.  Net external debt is just 3.4% of GDP.  The bulk of external debt is on a concessional basis and service indicators are stronger than peers.  Egypt also has market access, issuing its first Eurobond since 2010 in June 2015, raising $1.5b.  The rating is supported by the absence of a recent history of debt restructuring.

Economic momentum has slowed recently, due to shortages of foreign exchange and the impact of fiscal consolidation.  However, energy shortages are being addressed and public and private investment is rising.  Fitch assumes that growth will be weaker in FY16 and will average around 4% over 2016 and 2017.  Inflation is above peers and is forecast to remain near 10%, with structural rigidities aggravated by exchange rate deprecation.

A new parliament starts its term in late December, following elections that formally completed the political transition.  Supporters of the president appear to dominate the parliament, which is constitutionally mandated with significant powers.  Voter turnout was around 30%, reflecting a mixture of voter fatigue and disaffection in some quarters.  Nonetheless, the regime of President Sisi retains broad consent and in Fitch’s view, political stability has improved under his rule.  However, serious insecurity incidents have occurred in the Sinai and remain a risk factor.  World Bank governance indicators have deteriorated in recent years and are below peers.

Rating Sensitivities

The Stable Outlook reflects Fitch’s assessment that upside and downside risks to the rating are currently balanced.  The main factors that could lead to a positive rating action, individually or collectively, are:

– A track record of progress on fiscal consolidation leading to a decline in debt/GDP.
– Improved economic growth supported by reforms to the business environment that lead to increased investment and employment.

The main factors that, individually or collectively, could lead to negative rating action are:

– Failure to anchor the fiscal deficit on a downward trend or an unwinding of recent fiscal consolidation measures.
– Prolonged strains on the balance of payments and an inadequate policy response.
– Serious and sustained insecurity incidents that undermine economic activity.

Key Assumptions

Fitch assumes local banks remain willing and able to finance the deficit.

The political environment is assumed to be more stable than in 2011-13, although sporadic and at times serious attacks on security forces are assumed to continue and underlying political tensions will remain.

Fitch forecasts that Brent crude will average $55/b in 2015 and 2016, before rising to $65/b in 2017.  (Fitch 18.12)

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11.2  EGYPT:  Struggles for Egypt’s Tourism Sector

Mustansir Barma wrote in on 17 December in Sada that given the importance of tourism for jobs and foreign currency, Egyptian authorities are struggling to reinvigorate the sector in the wake of the attack on a Russian airliner.

The 31 October downing of Russian Metrojet Flight 9268 over Sinai claimed all 224 lives on board, dealing another blow to Egyptian officials who have been trying to convince the world that Egypt is safe and open for both business and tourism.  Most of the victims were Russian tourists returning home from their sun-and-sea holiday, a form of tourism that makes up 80% of the sector in Egypt.  Russians make up one-third of visitors to Egypt and the blanket ban imposed by the Russian government on all flights between Russia and Egypt in the wake of the crash has devastated the tourism sector.  Given the importance of tourism in the wider Egyptian economy for jobs and foreign currency, authorities are struggling to find new approaches to boost the sustainability of the sector.

Egypt’s tourism sector peaked at 13.8 million visitors in the fiscal year (FY) ending June 2010, before the 2011 uprising.  The low point was in FY 2013–14, when fewer than 8 million tourists visited Egypt and revenues were half pre-uprising levels.  The 2014–15 fiscal year saw a rebound to 11.6 million tourists, indicating the tourism sector was on track for a significant recovery.  However, reactions to the plane bombing all but brought tourism to a halt again.  Latest official estimates expect tourist arrivals to drop to 9 million in the current fiscal year.

Since the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombing, questions have been raised about Egypt’s control over security in Sinai.  Russia and the West agree that a bomb caused the crash and even though Egypt’s preliminary investigation ruled out foul play, the county is taking a cautious approach and is planning to put in place better security measures at its airports.  Still, several countries, including the United Kingdom and Germany, issued travel warnings against transit through Sharm el-Sheikh airport soon after the Russian airliner was brought down, setting off a string of cancellations for Egypt-bound travel.  The quagmire for Egyptian authorities was compounded on 7 December, when the Russian airline announced that it would claim compensation from Egypt.

Egypt is no stranger to attacks against tourists.  In February 2014, a tourist bus was bombed in Sinai, killing two South Koreans.  In September 2015, eight Mexican tourists were killed when the Egyptian military mistook their tourist convoy for militants.  Popular tourist destinations like Sharm el-Sheikh and Luxor have been sites of several attacks over the years.  In addition, a series of attacks in Cairo this year, including the assassination of public prosecutor Hisham Barakat in June, have also presented a challenge to security forces.

This is being felt in tourism’s large contributions to employment and foreign currency reserves.  One in eight workers in Egypt is directly or indirectly engaged in tourism, which generates 11% of the GDP.  In a country where unemployment has been hovering around 13% for the past couple years, the loss of tourism jobs will deal a heavy blow to a government that has prioritized tackling unemployment.

Furthermore, tourism revenues are a large source of much-needed foreign currency.  Tourism receipts halved from $9.8 billion in FY 2012–13 to $5.1 billion in 2013–14, representing 12.7% and 7.5% of foreign currency earnings respectively.  The 2014–15 fiscal year saw an improvement to $7.4 billion.  However, revenue recovery has stalled since then, with the third quarter of 2015 showing a 15% decline compared to the same period the previous year.  A steeper drop is expected as the industry reels in the aftermath of the Russian plane disaster.  In September, Minister of Tourism Hisham Zazou set a 2016 revenue target of $10 billion, a figure that will likely be revised downwards in light of the crash.

Along with remittances, foreign direct investment, exports, and Suez Canal receipts, tourism is one of Egypt’s largest sources of foreign currency.  As the Central Bank struggles to maintain Egypt’s ability to import strategic goods such as energy and wheat while defending the Egyptian pound and guarding against inflation, steady sources of hard currency are needed.  While gifts and loans from the Gulf have alleviated pressures on the Central Bank, Egypt’s tourism sector, if restored, would provide a more sustainable form of foreign currency.

One option to reinvigorate the sector is to diversify the sources of tourism.  Together, Russian and British tourists to Egypt once numbered about 4 million per year and represented two-thirds of the arrivals to Sharm el-Sheikh. Already wary of putting all their eggs in one basket, especially as a weaker ruble led to a decline in Russian visitors, tourism officials launched the “Egypt is Close” media campaign in March in the hope of drawing more Arab tourists, who formed between 12 and 23% of visitors to Egypt.  This is compared to Europeans who made up 60 to 70% of visitors, before the 2011 uprising.  Just days before the Russian plane crash, Egypt was set to launch a broader campaign to explore new tourist markets.  Authorities decided to postpone this initiative indefinitely in light of the tragedy.

Diversifying source markets for tourists not only hedges risk, it allows Egypt to attract new tourists who spend more and stay longer.  Officials aimed for tourist expenditures of $81 per day this year compared to $74 last year, but expenditures per tourist have not risen because operators cut fees to attract more tourists.  This is compounded by a weaker Egyptian pound, meaning fewer dollars spent.  Rather than slashing prices to retain market share, tourism authorities can help operators consider new approaches, offering different products to encourage longer visits and deeper spending.  Long-haul tourists, who tend to spend more, primarily come to Egypt from countries outside the Middle East and Europe looking for the once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience.  Marketed appropriately, refreshing existing historical sites and exploring new ones spurs such cultural tourism.

Around 80% of Egypt’s visitors come for beach holidays and most of the rest come for antiquities and cultural tourism.  But Egypt has a lot more to offer than these two areas.  For example, the desert and the coast offer abundant opportunities for ecotourism.  Several unique eco-lodges already exist but mainly host Egyptian residents. Egypt’s 27 protected areas, covering 15% of the country’s landmass, offer plenty of room to develop an ecotourism subsector.  In addition, sea and river cruises such as ones between Cairo and Abu Simbel can be developed and upgraded.  With 2,450 kilometers of coastline on the Mediterranean and Red Sea, 44 specialized ports, and an unparalleled array of historical attractions along the Nile, Egypt has the potential to become a hub for marine tourism.  Finally, Egypt has great potential to develop medical and wellness tourism by marketing treatment with relaxation.

By looking outward at new markets and inward at harnessing Egypt’s tourism potential, the government will simultaneously tackle two major economic priorities: jobs and currency.  At the same time, securing the country and working to prevent acts of terrorism are critical to prevent the sharp fluctuations that the Egyptian tourism sector has seen.

Mustansir Barma is an international economic and business policy analyst.  He was previously Senior Economic Researcher at the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt and currently does investment policy and promotion work for the World Bank.  (Sada 17.12)

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11.3  TUNISIA:  IMF Mission Statement at Conclusion of a Visit to Tunisia

A mission from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) visited Tunis during 9 – 18 December 2015 to review recent economic developments and progress on the Tunisian authorities’ economic reform agenda and learn about the reform priorities that underpin the authorities’ five-year economic vision.  A Stand-By Arrangement in the amount of SDR 1.146 billion (about $1.61 billion, 400% of Tunisia’s quota), approved by the Executive Board on 7 June 2013 will expire on 31 December 2015.  The authorities have expressed interest in a successor program.

The mission held productive discussions with senior government and central bank officials.  It also met with representatives of the banking and private sectors, trade unions, parliamentarians, the donor community, and civil society.  At the end of the discussions, the IMF issued the following statement:

“The mission commends the authorities’ efforts in preserving macroeconomic stability and the steps taken towards adopting policies necessary for generating higher and more inclusive growth in a difficult global and regional environment.  The authorities have taken important steps in implementing their comprehensive structural reform agenda, including in the legislative front, tax, and bank recapitalization.  But the economic outlook of the Tunisian economy remains challenging: economic activity has weakened under the impact of negative shocks, unemployment is stuck at high levels, external vulnerabilities persist, and critical structural reforms – notably in banking and fiscal areas – are still outstanding.

“Moving forcefully on reforms now is essential to accelerate growth and create jobs.  The forthcoming five-year economic and development plan gives the authorities an opportunity to foster internal consensus and set priorities for comprehensive economic reforms.  The IMF will remain engaged with the Tunisian authorities and stands ready to continue supporting their efforts to ensure macroeconomic stability and address structural vulnerabilities through economic policy advice, financial support, and technical assistance.  Discussions about a new Fund arrangement are expected to be held over the coming weeks.  (IMF  18.12)

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11.4  TUNISIA:  Five Years On, Have Things Changed in Tunisia?

It’s been five years since Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire outside the municipal building in Sidi Bouzid, a small town in the heart of Tunisia.  While his act had profound international repercussions at the time, some residents say little has changed in their town.

Christine Petré posted on 17 December in Al-Monitor that Tunisia’s economy and working conditions remain gloomy for vendors who sell their goods on the same street where Mohamed Bouazizi lit himself on fire in 2010 to protest the situation.

Fed up with a lack of economic opportunity and years of harassment by corrupt police, street vendor Bouazizi made a desperate cry for help on 17 December 2010, and died 18 days later in a hospital.  His act led to protests that helped oust President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, paving the way for an immediate and fairly peaceful democratic transition.  It also helped inspire a whole region to stand up against dictatorships in the Arab Spring.

But for the vegetable sellers in Sidi Bouzid, little has changed for the better.

“We earned more before the revolution,” said Abdelassalam Bouazizi, a relative of Mohamed.  They used to work side by side selling vegetables and fruit.  In his opinion, the situation was better during Ben Ali’s administration.  Then, at least, there were more customers and he had a higher income.  Today, he earns just enough money for a day’s food.

A block down the road from Abdelassalam Bouazizi’s cart, Wahid Slimani has been selling vegetables for three years.  He and his brother, who live in the village of Hiehriya, travel the 19 kilometers to Sidi Bouzid to sell peppers, potatoes and tomatoes.  But customers are few these days, he said.

Slimani doesn’t approve of Bouazizi’s act because under Islam, suicide is considered a sin.  He also is disappointed that despite the upheaval, not enough has changed.  “We need another revolution,” he said.

Yet Slimani admits he was able to vote in the country’s first free and fair elections, which were held 23 and 26 October 2011, followed by the presidential vote on 23 November 2014.  Voting is important, he said, a duty.  He also notes that he can speak more freely now since Ben Ali was ousted.

To some, however, freedom of expression comes with dangers.  Abdelassalam Bouazizi told Al-Monitor he wanted to talk about his relative, but hesitated.  Looking around cautiously, he mumbled, “Not here, not now.  Maybe later, in private.”  There are too many eyes and ears at the market, he explained worriedly.

The past five years have seen little economic progress.  Unemployment, a long-term problem, stands at slightly more than 15% now. It was 13.3% in 2009 and 14% in 2010, according to CIA World Factbook figures.

Hmaidia Mahjoub sells vegetables on the same street where Bouazizi spent his last moments before setting himself afire.  Mahjoub said he used to have a good job with a Swiss construction company.  He had a car and earned 1,500 dinars (about $742) a month.  Today he is struggling to make ends meet, as the company left Tunisia at the time of the revolution.  On a normal day he brings in $5 to $10, barely enough to cover his monthly rent of $150 and support his stay-at-home wife and two children.

“The economy hasn’t improved,” he said. Mahjoub has fewer customers.  He said he sells roughly 5-10 pounds of vegetables per day, while before he could sell as many as 20 pounds.  He must also pay about $1.50 a day to rent the vegetable cart.  “Then there are the so-called taxes,” he said.  The “taxes” are bribes to the police to let them stay where they are.  They are not technically allowed to sell vegetables on the pavement, but there is no other place to go.  Vendors who refuse to pay are harassed and have their scales or fruit confiscated, he explained.  These are some of the same problems Bouazizi was facing when he set himself on fire.

Though the vegetable sellers’ situation seems gloomy, there could be a solution on the horizon.  A market space is under construction, and vendors will be able to rent space and keep their business under a roof.  Each vendor will need to pay a yet-undetermined fee in rent.  Seller Lamin Saidi, who said he doesn’t expect to be charged much, is looking forward to moving.  The space, funded by the European Union, should be finished in early February.

“It’s a good solution for the vendors,” said a passerby.  The space will protect them from the sun and wind, he explained.  However, it remains to be seen if the market space will protect sellers from the culture of corruption.  (Al-Monitor 17.12)

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11.5  ALGERIA:  Succession: Preparing For a Post-Bouteflika World

Vish Sakthivel wrote in TWI on 15 December that although Algerians are lukewarm to the prospect of a managed succession, they are even less willing to believe that true multiparty democracy could flourish in the current environment.

This is not a particularly happy time in Algerian politics.  In the past two decades, the Algerian public has faced two realities: a civil war that threatened to shatter the state from its core and then relative calm under President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.  The president, now in his late 70s, has ruled the nation since 1999.  Following the Arab Spring in 2010, Bouteflika promised reforms to the Algerian political system that have yet to fully materialize.  Global oil prices have plummeted and Algeria has had to balance its budget by introducing austerity measures.  Now, the burden of unpopular economic policies and Bouteflika’s lingering health problems has led many to fear the return of political uncertainty.

The next few years may test Algeria’s political health, but there are signs that the nation can weather a period of uncertainty.  Most telling is that, where decades ago, Algerians demanded democracy, they now hope for continuity.  In pursuit of this, the Algerian polity may tolerate pseudo-democratic theatrics – as with Bouteflika’s unprecedented re-election to his fourth term – as it spells certainty and stability.

The End of Rentier Politics

Algeria’s current situation thus threatens to erode two central pillars of its normalcy: Bouteflika and oil profits that have subsidized life for ordinary Algerians.  The government’s recent moves within the economy, presidency and army can be understood as an attempt to preserve these tenets of the Algerian social contract despite the significant challenges it faces in doing so.

First, knowing that Algerian subsidy programs are unsustainable due to falling oil prices, the government is raising taxes and prices on fuel, electricity, automobiles, medicine, telecommunications and transport gradually, hoping to soften the economic blow to average Algerians.  Moreover, core subsidies like housing, education, and defense funding will remain untouched.

Second, the government is approaching Bouteflika’s succession with an eye to continuity and hopes to mitigate the risk of conflict around the appointment of Algeria’s next leader.  Few have faith that Bouteflika’s health will hold until Algerian elections that are scheduled for 2019.  Bouteflika has been in and out of hospitals since 2005, including a major hospitalization in France in 2013, and things carried on as usual despite his absence.  It stands to reason that the president’s coterie is already preparing a successor from within the regime as a placeholder for when the president can no longer remain in power.  Every detail of this succession will likely be managed from within.

Critically, a third pillar of state legitimacy – national security – has not wavered despite current troubles.  Algeria’s powerful military-intelligence services are still central in maintaining the country’s security.  Algeria’s murky high politics make it difficult to determine the exact relationship between the executive and the military, but recent trials and punishments against generals for corruption are steps toward improving the perception of military accountability and the perception of the civil state’s strength.  These recent changes signal to the public that both centers of national power are invested in a managed civilian transition of power.

Notably absent in this managed change of hands will be a credible attempt to allow Algerians to participate in the process.  In some countries, that might be cause for outrage. But Algerians, politically fatigued, are putting democracy on the backburner.

It is easy to see why Algerians may not be clamoring for drastic political change.  They remember Algeria’s political unrest of the 1990s, after the military cancelled an Islamist electoral victory, giving way to an armed insurgency that killed hundreds of thousands.  In more recent times, many saw echoes of Algeria’s past within the Arab Spring’s aftermath: Libya’s ongoing civil war has no end in sight.  Tunisia, with its triumphs and Nobel Peace Prize-worthy efforts at birthing a democracy, has experienced unprecedented violence.  In Syria, the stalled revolution has cost thousands their lives and has encouraged the spread of the Islamic State.  Democracy may seem a worthwhile endeavor intellectually, but stability seems a safer bet.

Of course, austerity could change that calculation.  If the financial measures fail to land as softly as planned, Algerians may indeed take to the streets.  But if they do so, it will not be for a pie-in-the-sky objective: not for free and fair elections, greater decentralization, nor greater parliamentary power.  It will be for their livelihoods.

In other words, although Algerian opposition parties warn of a repeat of the unrest seen throughout the 1990s and have called for democratic reforms, observers are skeptical.  More likely is a continuation of the current system, in which opposition political parties are considered part of the theatrics: superficially challenging the deep state while being seen as largely co-opted.  Meanwhile, the front these parties have formed – a coalition of Islamists, Berberists, Trotskyite parties and regime defectors – offers few if any viable alternatives to Algeria’s political status quo, as they lack internal ideological alignment and have contradictory political goals.

That few viable alternatives to the establishment exist undoubtedly contributes to Algeria’s wider political disillusionment.  But for many, it also underscores the notion that political jockeying, democratization efforts, and reform movements are distractions from the more important need to address social and economic grievances.  The idea that citizens prefer survival, stability, and comfort above democracy is not new, but the concept is still a hard one for U.S. sensibilities to stomach.  Within Bouteflika’s Algeria, the widespread sense is “mwalfa kheir men talfa,” a rhyme in Algerian Arabic that more or less means “better the devil you know.”  Algerian society is lukewarm to the prospect of a managed succession, and is even less willing to believe that true multi-party democracy could flourish instead.  The risks are far too high, and the rewards too unlikely.

Vish Sakthivel, based in Algiers, is a PhD candidate at the University of Oxford and an adjunct fellow with The Washington Institute.  (TWI 15.12)

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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.