Arabian Business Weekly Update June 26, 2005

The 35-year-old novice has the skills needed to save the country. LESS than two weeks ago, Saad Hariri was making it clear that there was no chance of him standing as prime minister. The 35-year-old explained that political inexperience would rule him out. Now that his party has swept to victory, Hariri is almost certain to take the job. And when he does, it will be his business experience that will really shape Lebanon's future.

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By  Anil Bhoyrul Published  June 26, 2005

Saad Hariri can do the business|~||~||~|The 35-year-old novice has the skills needed to save the country. LESS than two weeks ago, Saad Hariri was making it clear that there was no chance of him standing as prime minister. The 35-year-old explained that political inexperience would rule him out. Now that his party has swept to victory, Hariri is almost certain to take the job. And when he does, it will be his business experience that will really shape Lebanon's future. Within weeks, the political dust will have settled. The young Hariri will have to put the political squabbling aside and concentrate on the real issues that face Lebanon today — the ones even his late father Rafik Hariri failed to solve as prime minister. And those issues are the crumbling state of the country's economy. Unemployment is running at 25%, with the figure nearer 35% amongst younger people. The UN estimates that 28% of the population lives below the poverty line. Worst of all, the country is US$25 billion in debt, with 50% of the annual budget earmarked for servicing that debt. Yet Lebanon has the potential to grow once again into an international financial hub. Financial services make up 70% of national output, and Beirut hosts nearly 80 international and local banks. The problem is that Rafik Hariri borrowed so heavily from these very banks to rebuild the country's war-torn infrastructure, it has never quite recovered. The solution is a massive privatisation of all state-run industries. First off should be a merger of TV station Tele Liban with the government-owned radio stations, in preparation for privatisation. The state-owned cellular and fixed-line phone networks and electricity companies should then follow. Saad Hariri may have no political skills, but he is a proven businessman. He is exactly what the country needs. ||**||Branson’s challenge|~||~||~|This week we reveal for the first time details of Virgin Atlantic’s planned prices when it launches a Dubai-London route next April. The figures are bad news for Emirates Airline: Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson is considering shaving off nearly US$400 from the price of a return business class ticket. Some business travellers could save as much as US$1000 by flying Virgin Atlantic. I have written many times before that the price of flights between Dubai and London is far too high. Two months ago, Emirates Airline chairman Sheikh Ahmed told me: “When it comes to costs, somebody’s got to pay.” Well, nobody can argue with that. Unfortunately for Emirates Airline, Branson has decided that he is the one who will pay for rising costs, not the passengers. ||**||Pressing for change|~||~||~|Our interview this week with Syrian journalist Bassma Al Jandaly highlights some very serious issues facing the UAE's media industry. Al Jandaly, a reporter on Gulf News, was arrested at Sharjah Airport and thrown in jail — because of a complaint over a story she wrote. Only the intervention of UAE interior minister Sheikh Saif Bin Zayed saved Al Jandaly. We applaud the Sheikh for his efforts, and his long standing support for a more liberalised attitude and law as far as the media is concerned. But as anyone in the industry knows, what actually exists in the UAE is the idea of press freedom. Press freedom itself is, in many areas, non-existent. And this magazine knows that better than most. ||**||

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