Lebanon pressured to privatize mobile networks

UAE Etisalat and Egypt Orascom Telecom, aside from ten other international telcos, express interest in the networks

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By  Vineetha Menon Published  September 29, 2008

Lebanon is increasingly pressured to privatize the country’s two mobile phone networks to help ease public debt, which currently amounts to $44.5 billion.

Presently MTC Touch, a subsidiary of Kuwaiti telecoms company Zain, and Alfa, a joint venture of Germany's Deutsche Telekom and Fal Holdings of Saudi Arabia, operate the networks on behalf of the Lebanese government.

The Financial Times reported that Etisalat (UAE), Orascom Telecom (Egypt) and Qtel (Qatar) are interested in bidding for the networks, aside from ten other international telcos.

The move could seriously hamper government income as mobile phone revenues rake in $1.5 billion every year, representing 40% of the country’s total income.

Privatization plans in the past were delayed by the political instability that Lebanon witnessed in recent years, and analysts fear that it might be pushed back to the end of next year if auctions do not take place before the next parliamentary elections in May.

A decision might just be round the corner though as Kamal Shehadi, chairman and chief executive officer of the country's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority told FT that he expects “…a decision this month on whether to proceed with privatization".

Etisalat declined to comment to itp.net on their interest in the networks but recently confirmed to Reuters that the company is finalizing a majority stake in a Middle East telecoms operator this year.

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