03 Jan 2021

Egypt Signs Nine New Oil, Gas Exploration Deals Worth Over $1 Bn

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Egypt has signed nine new oil and gas exploration deals in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea worth over $1 billion, according to a Friday statement by the petroleum ministry.

Petroleum Minister Tarek El-Molla signed the deals with six global and local oil corporations, including Exxon Mobil, Chevron, British Petroleum and Total.

The deals include drilling 17 new exploration wells in concession areas.

The nine new agreements are among 12 new deals reached by the ministry during the coronavirus pandemic at a minimum total investment of $1.4 billion, El-Molla said. The overall deals cover drilling 23 wells.

Three of the deals have yet to be signed and are expected to be so in the near future, El-Molla added.

Meanwhile, Shell announced it had signed two production sharing agreements (PSC) with the petroleum ministry for two concessions, in the Red Sea and the western Mediterranean.

The first agreement was signed for Block 3 concession, which spans around 3,097 square kilometers, while the second will see Shell holding a 30 percent share in the concession in the western Mediterranean, in partnership with Total and others. 

Egypt's consumption of petroleum products and natural gas dropped 5.9 percent year on year in 2020 to 71.3 million tons of oil equivalent (toe), down from 75.5 million toe in 2019.

Its petroleum production hit over 76 million toe in 2020, including 45.3 million tons of natural gas, 29.6 million tons of crude oil and gas condensate and 1.2 million tons of butane.

Egypt executed 29 projects in the natural gas sector with investments totaling EGP 437 billion ($27.8 billion) in 2020.

Some 22 oil and gas exploration deals were inked with international companies with minimum investments of $1.6 billion, in addition to $139 million in signature bonuses for drilling 74 wells.

In 2020, 62 oil and gas discoveries were made, 47 in oil and 15 in gas, in the Western and Eastern deserts, Gulf of Suez, Nile Delta and the Mediterranean.

Science and Technology

Vodafone Egypt Acquired Half of New Frequencies Offered by NTRA for $540 Mn

Vodafone Egypt has acquired two 40 MHz frequency spectra in the 2600 MHz band for $540 million, accounting for half of the frequencies offered in a tender by Egypt's National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (NTRA), the ITC ministry said.

Telecom Egypt (WE) purchased two 10 MHz bands for $305 million.

On Wednesday, Information Technology and Communications Minister Amr Talaat said that his ministry would not hesitate to offer new cellular frequencies if needed.

Talaat stated that the agreements represent a significant step towards boosting the ICT infrastructure's efficiency. 

Orange Egypt is the only mobile operator in the country that did not obtain new frequencies.

Regulator Introduces New Code to Cancel Any SMS Subscription Service

Egypt's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) has created a new code to allow cellphone users to unsubscribe from any text subscription services.

TRA CEO Hossam El-Gamal said that the code to unsubscribe from telecom services -- including entertainment, news and sports -- is *155#. The service is free and allows mobile users to cancel any SMS subscription service.

According to the ICT ministry, there were 96.2 million mobile phone users as of August.

Vodafone had 39.1 million user subscriptions, followed by Orange with 27.7 million and Telecom Egypt (WE) with 20.5 million.

Bitcoin Surges Beyond $33K, Tipped to Reach $55K Mark in Q1 2021

Bitcoin soared past the $30,000 threshold for the first time on Saturday, hitting an all-time high of $33,099 later in the day as the leading digital currency keeps reaching new highs.

The cryptocurrency capped its gains to trade at $32,883 yesterday, a rise of 12 percent compared with the previous session.

Bitcoin gained over 300 percent in 2020, as a lot of investors viewed it as a safe haven amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Bitcoin climbed 50 percent in December alone, when it surpassed the $20,000 mark.

The currency "will be on the road to $50,000 probably in the first quarter of 2021," Antoni Trenchev, managing partner and co-founder of Nexo, was quoted as saying by Bloomberg.

Stock Market

US Stocks Jump to Record High on Last Trading Day of 2020

US stocks jumped on the last day of trading in 2020, with the benchmark S&P 500 ending the year at an all-time high.

The S&P 500 rose 0.6 percent to close at 3,756.07 points on Thursday, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.7 percent to 30,606.48, also a record high. The Nasdaq Composite was up 0.1 percent to 12,888.28 points.

Last year sees the S&P gain 16.4 percent and the Nasdaq Composite jumping 43.6 percent. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 7.2 percent.

The S&P 500 had fallen 8.4 percent in February due to the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, and plunged a further 12.5 percent in March as the effects of lockdowns were felt across the globe.

Many overseas markets were closed for holidays this weekend, with US markets closed on Friday for New Year's Eve.

The pan-European STOXX 600, which was closed on Thursday, reported an overall fall of 3.8 percent in 2020 due to a surge in coronavirus cases and worries over Brexit.

In Egypt, the benchmark EGX30 dipped 0.21 percent on Thursday to close at 10,845 points amid a turnover of EGP 552.2 million ($34.8 million).

The EGX30 lost 22.32 percent in 2020, or 3,116 points.

The broader EGX70 EWI edged up 0.66 percent on Thursday to settle at 2,145.15 points, while the EGX100 EWI gained 0.33 percent to close at 3,097.82.

The EGX70 EWI rose by around 69.2 percent over the year, and the EGX100 EWI saw gains of 41.81 percent.

Net sales by foreign investors on Thursday amounted to EGP 358 million ($22.6 million), while net purchases by Arab and Egyptian investors totaled EGP 350 million and EGP 7.8 million respectively.

4-5 Companies Postponed IPOs in 2020 Due to Pandemic: Bourse Head

Four or five companies planning IPOs on the Egyptian Exchange in 2020 were postponed on the back of the coronavirus pandemic, bourse executive chairman Mohamed Farid told reporters at a press conference on Thursday.

The previous year saw the delay of IPOs that were valued at $1 billion in the energy and support services sector, EGP 5.25 billion ($331.4 million) in the banking sector, EGP 700 million in the non-banking financial services sector, and EGP 121 million in the basic resources sector, Farid said.

In February, Emerald Real Estate Investment, a subsidiary of Egyptians for Housing and Development Company, was listed on the bourse, the only IPO on the EGX that year.

The IPO of Emerald Real Estate Investment's 28 percent stake was oversubscribed by 17.7 times, and the private placement was oversubscribed by 1.3 times.

Moreover, Farid said that the bourse will consider lowering the fee prices for using its short-selling electronic platform in 2021, and that it is ready to cooperate with any brokerage company asking for a fee reduction.

Egypt introduced short-selling on the stock market in December 2019 in an attempt to boost market liquidity.

Farid also revealed that the bourse for SMEs, the Nile Stock Exchange (NILEX), will be divided into two indices: Tamayoz, which will include the top companies in terms of operational and financial performance, and which is expected to be launched in February; and the Nile Stock Exchange, which will cover the rest of the SMEs.

The move comes as part of an ongoing revamping plan for NILEX developed by the Egyptian bourse and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

The EGX30 benchmark index lost 22.32 percent year on year in 2020 to close at 10,845 points. Meanwhile, the broader EGX70 EWI fell 69.2 percent year on year to settle at 2,145 points.

The market capitalization in 2020 declined 8.1 percent to EGP 650.86 billion ($41.08 billion), compared with EGP 708.26 billion at the end of 2019.

The Egyptian bourse turnover, including the primary market, over-the-counter (OTC) and bonds increased year on year from EGP 387.86 billion ($24.48 billion) in 2019 to EGP 630.71 billion last year.

Of which, the primary market turnover accounted for EGP 249.15 billion ($15.73 billion), which is 44.3 percent up from EGP 172.66 billion in 2019.


Egypt's New Unified Tax Procedures Launch

Egypt began the first phase of its new system for unified tax procedures on Friday, Finance Minister Mohamed Maait said.

The project aims at simplifying and digitalizing 64 tax procedures. The move seeks to deter tax evasion and encourage the informal economy to formalize, he added.

Maait reiterated that all state-owned entities will have to enroll in the new electronic tax-invoicing system before the deadline of July 1.

In November, Maait said that 2,800 companies would be registered in the new electronic tax-invoicing system by the third phase, which will be launched in mid-May of this year.

The unified tax law was first ratified in October by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, and again in December after the parliament introduced some amendments.

Egypt's M2 Money Supply Jumps 19.56% YoY in November  

Egypt's M2 money supply rose 19.56 percent year on year in November to EGP 4.85 trillion ($309.1 billion), the Central Bank of Egypt reported on Thursday.

In October, Egypt's M2 money supply was at EGP 4.81 trillion ($306.8 billion).

M2 takes into account cash, checking deposits, easily convertible near money and liquid assets in order to assess the money supply.

EFG Hermes Says Egyptian Economy Enters 2021 on 'Solid Ground'

EFG Hermes, one of the largest investment banks in the Middle East, has said the Egyptian economy will enter 2021 on "solid ground" economically due to economic reforms over recent years.

Ahmed Shams El-Din, head of research at the bank, told state-run MENA agency that the reforms implemented by the government prior to the crisis had helped in withstanding the repercussions of the pandemic.

"Had the economy faced the crisis with a budget deficit set at 16 percent, remittances by Egyptian expats not exceeding $10 billion annually and a continued parallel currency market, the conditions would have worsened," he said.

Shams El-Din added that the Egyptian economy was among the few globally still seeing growth, with budget deficit rates still maintained.

Foreign reserves fell within acceptable rates, with foreign investments in governmental debt instruments jumping by over $23 billion, he said, forecasting the rise in debt instruments would continue in 2021 to reach $27 billion, despite lower interest rates.

He predicted the economy would achieve growth of 3.3 percent in the current 2020/2021 fiscal year, with GDP reaching EGP 6.2 trillion ($395.0 billion), expecting the budget deficit to reach $33 billion, or 8.4 percent of GDP.

Shams El-Din also said he expects foreign reserves to reach $37 billion in the current fiscal year, with Suez Canal revenues posting $4.7 billion and unemployment at 9.5 percent.

On interest rates, he predicted rates would be cut by around 50 to 100 basis points, with real yields maintained at 2-2.5 percent, describing this as a good yield in comparison with other emerging markets.

On planned IPOs, Shams El-Din stressed on the importance of the fields of knowledge economy and technology.

He forecast the Egyptian stock exchange would achieve gains of over 30 percent in 2021, allowing it to compete with other emerging markets that performed better in 2020.

Shams El-Din said the Egyptian bourse's performance was not good compared with the majority of other emerging markets and did not represent the power of the economy and macro indicators, as market capitalization of the bourse is only 12 percent of GDP.


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Narrower Trade Deficit, More Cuts and Pound Appreciation Expected in 2021: Analyst

Egypt's trade deficit is likely to slightly narrow in 2021 given that domestic demand is expected to be lower than the normal due to the impact of the coronavirus, Ahmed El-Safty, head of Delta Research Center, told Delta Digest.

Non-petroleum imports are not expected to grow by a large margin; on the other hand, an anticipated deal with the UK after Brexit, for example, could have a positive impact on non-petroleum exports, which in turn will lead to a decline in the trade deficit, he added.

While El-Safty expected the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) to carry on with its easing policy, he did not think interest rate cuts in 2021 would be aggressive.

He said that the cuts will be tied to the impact of the coronavirus on the economy and whether some activities will shut down or not, adding that there is a need for some monetary policy easing for two reasons: to boost the economy and to reduce the burden on the state budget due to relatively high interest rates.

If Egypt maintains its relatively high rates in relation to competitors, and the US persists with its zero interest-rate policy, El-Safty said he expects that there will be a continues inflow of foreign currency to Egypt via foreign investments in government securities.

In addition, a number of anticipated IPOs next year, especially those of government companies, could attract foreign investments to the stock market. "The capital inflows by foreigners could see the exchange rate continue the appreciation trend that it was heading towards last year," he said.

El-Safty cited the ramifications of the coronavirus on economic activity, the ability of the real estate sector to remain resilient amid the pandemic, and the sustainability of Egypt's external debt as the main challenges that Egypt will have to deal with in 2021.

The resilience of the real estate sector will be tied to its ability to manage the impact of the pandemic in terms of saturation and project delivery, El-Safty said. Along with restrictions on building and foreign investors' appetite for the real estate market, these factors could have an impact on the solvency of real estate developers, particularly if they have borrowed large sums from lenders.

Finally, El-Safty cited the sustainability of external borrowing by the government as another challenge, saying that, at present, "the sustainability is there, but the continuity of the sustainability amid the slowdown of the economy and potentially the slowdown in tax revenue, which could increase the funding gap, presents a challenge for the government."

He added that the slowdown of the economy and high interest rates could pose challenges to the sustainability of Egypt's external debt.

The first quarter of the next year is expected to see IPOs from firms including state company e-finance, as well as two-thirds of Ghazl El-Mahalla Football Company -- which is yet to be officially established --  and a 40 percent stake in Taaleem Management Services, an affiliate of CI Capital Holding.

Egypt also plans to offer between 10 to 100 percent of the military-owned National Company for Producing & Bottling Natural Water (Safi) and the National Petroleum Company (NPC) to investors in the first quarter of 2021, per a cooperation agreement between the companies’ owner, the National Service Projects Organization (NSPO), and Egypt's Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF), Planning Minister Hala Al-Saeed said last month.

The CEO of Egypt's Sovereign Wealth Fund has said that the fund is aiming to complete the procedures to ready Safi and NPC for sale to investors before the end of the first half of 2021.


Mahmoud Momtaz Appointed Head of Egyptian Competition Authority

Trade and Industry Minister Nevine Gamea has appointed Mahmoud Momtaz as chairman of the board of directors of the Egyptian Competition Authority (ECA) as of January 1.

Momtaz succeeds Ibrahim El-Segeny, who had been the acting chairman of the authority since October.

Gamea said that the decision aimed to improve the performance of the ECA and prevent monopolistic practices during the next stage by assigning headship of the regulator to a younger leader with a long history in the field.

Momtaz has held several positions in the World Bank and has lectured on competition at the University of Hamburg in Germany and a number of Egyptian universities. He worked for the ECA from 2008 to 2018.

The ECA has made decisions regarding 27 cases and topics in sectors including the real estate sector, the health care sector and the beverage sector.

Last week, the ECA has ruled that Al-Ahram Beverages Company had violated the provisions of law number 3 of 2005 related to the alcohol distribution market.

The authority stated that it had received a number of reports of competitors being harmed by Al-Ahram Beverages forcing its customers -- hotels, restaurants, bars, distributors and retailers -- not to deal with them, and other practices that restrict competition and harm the market.

Cleopatra Hospitals Has Not Yet Formally Submitted Request to Acquire Alameda Following Regulator Refusal

Cleopatra Hospitals Group said it has not yet formally submitted the complete application regarding the signing of a conditional agreement to acquire Alameda Healthcare following the Egyptian Competition Authority's preliminary rejection of the deal.

The company said that it is preparing the complete file, which will include all points and studies required to be submitted and discussed with the regulator.

The company said that the agreement is conditional on the fulfillment of all required approvals from government and regulatory agencies, including the health ministry, the ECA, the Financial Supervisory Authority and the firm's general assembly.

The ECA issued a preliminary decision denying approval for Cleopatra's acquisition of Alameda Healthcare due to indications that the deal would have a negative impact on the health care sector in Egypt.

It said the decision was motivated by its efforts to prevent the establishment of monopolistic entities in the hospital market in Egypt, and the resulting harm that could come from raised prices. 

Cabinet Approves Bill Allowing GASC to Co-Found Shipping Company

The Egyptian cabinet approved a draft law on Thursday which allows the General Authority for Supply Commodities (GASC) to co-found a new shipping company under the name of Atlantic Pacific Company for Shipping and Trade.

The company will be tasked with the maritime transport of commodities in and out of Egypt, and will own commercial vessels.

In related news, the cabinet also approved a decree by Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly which restructures the country's High Council of Ports, to be headed by the prime minister. 

The council membership will include the transport minister, the heads of the Suez Canal Authority and the General Authority for the Suez Canal Economic Zone, and representatives from the defense, interior and tourism ministries.

NBE-Led Consortium Awards GIECO $240 Bridge Loan for Abu Qir Port Construction

A banking consortium led by the National Bank of Egypt (NBE) has awarded Gharably Integrated Engineering Company (GIECO) a syndicated bridge facility worth up to EGP 3.8 billion ($240.0 million) for the construction of Alexandria's new Abu Qir Port. 

Yehia Abu Elfotouh, the deputy chairman of NBE, said the loan aims to implement the northern and southern extensions of the new port in the Mediterranean city. 

The extension will back the state's plan to revitalize trade as an essential element in increasing GDP, he said.

Sherif Riad, the head of the NBE's Corporate and Syndication Group, said the facility provided by the consortium will finance the civil works by GIECO at the port, which are worth a total of EGP 19 billion ($1.2 billion).

The refining work, worth EGP 9 billion ($568.0 million), will be implemented by Belgium's DEME Group. It will be financed through foreign banks, Riad said, estimating the total cost of the development of the port at EGP 28 billion.

The consortium includes Alex Bank, Suez Canal Bank and the Export Development Bank (EBE Egypt).

Beltone Financial Obtains US Regulator's Approval to Sell Stake in Auerbach Grayson

Beltone Financial has obtained the US Financial Industry Regulatory Authority's (FINRA) approval for the sale of its subsidiary Auerbach Grayson, the investment bank said in a statement to the bourse on Thursday.

The company attributed the move to its "strategy that mainly targets the Egyptian market and studying good and appropriate investment opportunities for regional and global expansion ... as well as strengthening the non-banking financial services platform that the company has started since the beginning of 2020."

Accordingly, Beltone will take the final measures to complete the deal, which amounts to about EGP 45 million ($2.8 million), in addition to 50 percent of the company's net profit for 30 months.

The Cairo-based investment bank announced in April its intention to sell its majority stake in the New York brokerage.

B Investments Sells Entire Stake in Bayard for $1.2 Mn

B Investments Holdings' board approved a decision to sell the company's entire 60 percent stake in Bayard for 19 million EGP ($1.2 million), according to a bourse filling yesterday.

B Investments indicated that the book value of its investments in Bayard amounts to EGP 9.5 million ($600,00) as per the company's financial statements for the third quarter of 2020.

On Sunday, B Investments Holding sold 20 percent of its stake in Total Egypt to the French parent company, Total, for EGP 146.4 million ($9.4 million).

Egypt's 2020 Agricultural Exports Surpassed 5 Mn Tons Despite Pandemic: Minister

Egypt's agricultural exports rose to surpass 5 million tons in 2020 despite the coronavirus pandemic, Agriculture Minister Al-Sayed El-Quseir has said. 

El-Quseir said that exports reached 5.6 million tons, valued at $2.1 billion.

The exports included citrus fruits, potatoes, onions, beets, pomegranates, grapes, sweet potatoes, mangoes, garlic, strawberries, guavas, beans and peppers.

The rise in exports came despite a disruption in international trade and transportation by around 30 percent, the minister said. 

Around 11 new markets have been opened for agricultural exports in 2020, including a with Japan and a protocol to export mangoes to the US.

Indonesia has also allowed the resumption of Egyptian onion exports following negotiations, a separate statement by the agriculture ministry said.

Sales of Passenger Vehicles Up 31% YoY in 11M 2020

The sales of passenger vehicles in Egypt rose by 31 percent during the first 11 months of 2020, compared with the corresponding period in 2019, the Automotive Marketing Information Council (AMIC) said in a report on Thursday.

The sales of passenger cars totalled 147,581 vehicles during January-November, up from 112,931 in the same period of 2019.

The sales of European vehicles rose by 69 percent in the same period of 2020, to 48,904 cars, compared with 28,921 in 2019.

The top-selling brands, in order, were Hyundai, Nissan, Renault, MG, Fiat, Chevrolet, Opel, Peugeot, Citroen and BYD.

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EIB Approves $516 Mn Credit Line for Banque Misr to Back SMEs Amid COVID-19 Second Wave

The European Investment Bank has provided Banque Misr with a €425 million ($515.7 million) credit line to mitigate the negative repercussions of the second wave of COVID-19 on small and medium-sized enterprises, the European bank said on Thursday.

"The credit line will finance investment projects, as well as working capital needs, in productive and service sectors, thus sustaining growth and employment while helping to mitigate the economic and social impact of the COVID-19 crisis," an EIB statement read.

"We are reinforcing our partnership with Banque Misr to support the Bank’s strategy to expand in SME financing. Our new credit line comes at a time when SMEs need strong support to overcome the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. SMEs are most vulnerable to the impact of this global crisis," said Flavia Palanza, the bank's director for neighboring countries.

Last week, Egypt and the EIB signed a €1.1 billion ($1.4 billion) agreement on the renovation and expansion of metro and tram systems in Cairo and Alexandria.

EIB has provided €3.9 billion ($4.7 billion) in support of Egyptian SMEs through 15 operations since 2015, accounting for about a third of its portfolio in Egypt.

Fitch Ratings Gives Misr Insurance Company 'AA' Rating

Fitch Ratings has given Egypt's Misr Insurance Company a rating of 'AA' with a stable outlook.

According to an official statement, the AA rating reflects the company's position as the biggest insurance company in the market, its strong capitalization, and its financial performance and well-advised investment strategy, by local standards.

Misr Insurance reported gross written premiums (GWP) of EGP 9.3 billion ($584.0 million) in 2020, with its GWP share in Egypt amounting to 45 percent of the market.

Fitch said it views Misr Insurance's capitalization positively, backed by a score of "very strong" at the end of June under the rating agency's Prism Factor-Based Capital Model.

"Our view of Misr's capitalisation is supported by its extremely strong regulatory solvency of 1,540 percent at the same date. Misr also has no financial leverage in its capital structure," it said.

It also viewed the company’s financial performance and earnings as strong, represented in a five-year average combined ratio of 90 percent.

Move to Relocate Delta Company for Fertilizers and Chemical Industries to Suez Approved by Board

The general assembly of the Delta Company for Fertilizers and Chemical Industries has approved the relocation of the company's manufacturing operations to El-Nasr Company for Fertilizer and Chemical Industries (SEMADCO) in Suez, the public enterprise ministry stated on Friday.

The 234-feddan (242.9 acres) plot formerly used by Delta Fertilizers will be allocated to build housing projects, a large part of which will be social housing, the ministry added.

The ministry said that the relocation would prevent potential damage caused by harmful emissions from the company's activities, which includes producing ammonia.

The general assembly also tasked the holding company to assign a specialized consulting office or an investment bank to prepare a feasibility study for the relocation, explaining the sources of financing. A study will be also conducted to determine the number of workers required to be transferred to Suez and the required specializations, and to determine compensation for workers who are not be selected, with the transfer being considered optional.

The decision will be implemented over three years, Public Enterprise Sector Minister Hesham Tawfik told Masrawy on Friday.

Egypt News

Ramses I's Tomb Reopens After 12 Years' Closure

Tourism and Antiquities Minister Khaled El-Enany and Mostafa Waziri, head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, witnessed the reopening of King Ramses I's tomb in the ancient Valley of the Kings in Luxor yesterday, after 12 years of closure for restoration.

Waziri said that the work included restoring the floors and restoring and cleaning the tomb's inscriptions.

The tomb was discovered in 1817 by Giovanni Belzoni. The mummy of the king is displayed at Luxor Museum.

Egypt Postpones First Semester School Exams Amid Soaring COVID-19 Cases

Egypt's cabinet has postponed first semester exams for schools and universities until after the mid-year vacation in a move to curb the growing tally of COVID-19 cases, with the decision subject to renewal depending on future conditions.

The mid-year vacation is scheduled from January 16 to February 20, longer than the usual two-week break.

The cabinet also approved on Thursday a suggestion from the higher education ministry and the education ministry that remaining classes and lectures take place only through remote learning until the end of the first semester of the year.

On December 20, Education Minister Tarek Shawki said that attending school classes would be optional for students.

However, students who choose not to attend schools will be responsible for self-study via the online platforms provided by the ministry, Shawki had said prior.

No parts of the syllabi would be omitted, according to the minister. 

He had previously said that students in the fourth primary grade through to the third preparatory grade would have physical exams in schools, while the first and second secondary grades would take electronic exams in schools.

Officials say Egypt has now entered the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, with numbers of cases soaring in recent weeks.

Prior to last week's decision to postpone exams, a social media post about a student with coronavirus who had been made to take an exam in a school playground stirred a viral reaction.

Mohamed Saad Mohamed, the education ministry's first undersecretary in the governorate of Alexandria, fired the principal of Naguib Mahfouz Experimental Language School on Friday for forcing the student to take his mid-year English language exam in the school's playground.

Amr Moussa in Hospital With COVID-19

Former Egyptian foreign minister and Arab League head Amr Moussa was sent to hospital yesterday after contracting the coronavirus.

The diplomat, who ran for president in 2012, had announced in a statement earlier on Saturday that he had contracted the disease and was in a stable condition at home.

Moussa had also asked his friends and followers to pray for his recovery.

Egypt Registers 1,407 New Coronavirus Cases, 54 Fatalities

Egypt recorded 1,407 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, bringing the total number of cases to 140,878.

The health ministry also reported 54 new deaths from the virus, to reach a total of 7,741 deaths.

A total of 644 patients were discharged from hospitals nationwide in the past 24 hours, bringing total recoveries to 113,480.

Egypt Grants City Heads Power to Fine Non-Mask Wearers

Egypt's Local Development Minister Mahmoud Shaarawy said the justice ministry has approved a move to give judicial control to the heads of cities and their deputies nationwide with regard to all crimes related to their jobs and departments.

Shaarawy said that there is coordination between governorate officials and the concerned authorities to apply the decision of the supreme coronavirus crisis management committee to fine those not wearing masks in public areas.

The government is expected to grant an exceptional leave of up to five days per week to women in governmental bodies who have children aged 12 or under, sources familiar with the matter told Al-Watan News on Thursday.

Egypt has begun to strictly enforce a decision to fine non-mask wearers EGP 50 ($3.20) in indoor public areas. Earlier this year, the government said violators would face a fine of EGP 4,000 each, but it was rarely enforced. 

Violators who fail to pay the fine will be referred to the public prosecution, the coronavirus committee decided on Monday at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly. 

Restaurants and coffee shops should also operate at 50 percent of their holding capacity, and facilities that failed to do so will be closed a week and fined EGP 4,000 ($257), the committee said.

The government also banned celebrations and gatherings for New Year's Eve.

Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly urged citizens before to abide by the health ministry's precautionary measures to avoid a fully-fledged lockdown, which would negatively affect the country's economy.

The Coptic Orthodox Church also announced that it had banned visits to cemeteries this Christmas to curb the spread of the virus.

In an official statement on Saturday, the Church said that the ban aimed at avoiding gatherings and crowds during Christmas, which is celebrated on January 7 by Coptic Christians.

The cemeteries will only be open for burials, the Church said.

Sisi Directs Tahya Misr Fund to Support Provision of COVID Vaccine to Most Needy Groups

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi ordered the government to obtain the best offers from international companies for the most effective coronavirus vaccines in the largest possible quantity and in the fastest time, with the state-run Tahya Misr Fund supporting the provision of the vaccine for the most vulnerable groups, his spokesman Bassam Rady said.

The high priority groups include medical personnel, chronically ill people, people with the coronavirus and the elderly.

El-Sisi gave the instructions during a meeting yesterday with Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly, Finance Minister Mohamed Maait and Health Minister Hala Zayed to review the state's efforts to contain the repercussions of the pandemic, and the developments in the provision of vaccines, Rady added.

El Sisi also ordered centers be established to provide the vaccine in all governorates, the statement read.

At the meeting, Zayed went over the national plan for the distribution of vaccines, which includes an automated system to follow up on registration to receive the vaccine via a website, allowing tracking of the stages of vaccine distribution and receipt, Rady said.

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Egyptian Drug Authority Clears Chinese Sinopharm Vaccine for Emergency Use

The Egyptian Drug Authority has cleared Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, Health Minister Hala Zayed said in a televised phone call.

The approval was granted after the authority had carried out four phases of examinations, with all results unequivocally proving it is safe to use the Chinese vaccine, she added.

The minister also said that AstraZeneca will start supplying Egypt with its COVID-19 vaccine doses in the third or fourth week of this month, as negotiations between the company and Egyptian authorities have reached an advanced stage.

Zayed said that Egypt has secured 20 million doses of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine.

In total, Egypt secured 100 million doses, 40 million of which are from Sinopharm, 20 million from AstraZeneca and 40 million from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), according to Zayed.

The minister said that Egypt’s Vacsera is currently in talks to locally manufacture coronavirus vaccines.

Egypt's Constitutional Court Rules Building Violations Can Be Punished With Jail, Fine

Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court has ruled that the penalties of imprisonment and fines for construction violations are constitutionally enforceable.

The court issued a ruling rejecting a lawsuit that asserted the unconstitutionality of two articles of the 2008 law on construction, which list the two penalties -- imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years, and a fine of between two and three times the value of the construction work -- for those who carry out construction without a permit, according to state agency MENA.

The head of the technical office at the court said that the court had based its decision on the fact that the penalties were chosen to deal with intentional crimes that threaten the safety of lives or property, in addition to addressing acts that violate urban planning projects.

The court has the final say on the compatibility of any law or judicial ruling with the constitution.

Deadline for Building Violation Reconciliation Requests Extended to March 31

The deadline for applying for legal reconciliation for building violations has been extended until March 31, according to a statement by the cabinet on Thursday.

The extension came on the last day of the previous deadline, which has already been extended several times.

About 2.6 million reconciliation requests have been received to date, cabinet spokesman Nader Saad said on Thursday in a phone call to DMC channel.

In December, the cabinet approved new planning and construction regulations for cities, and the government said it would allow construction to resume this month. It has been suspended since June.

The controls include setting maximum building heights depending on street width, a document on the regulations showed.

In streets that are 6-8 meters wide, new buildings should not exceed 10 meters in height -- or three floors -- according to the document, while buildings in streets of 8-10 meters' width and 10-12 meters' width must not exceed heights of 13 meters and 16 meters respectively.

Construction should not take up more than 70 percent of any given plot, and the maximum plot size for residential units is set at 4,200 square meters.

In addition, the electricity ministry has extended the deadline for requests to install digital electricity meters in buildings that are currently illegally connected to the electricity supply to the end of March.

The ministry has received about 1 million requests to switch the method of calculating electricity consumption from the traditional system to meters.

GERD Talks to Resume Today

Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia will embark on a new round of talks over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) with the aim to resolve the dispute over the dam, starting today.

The previous discussions took place in November but ended in a stalemate, the latest in several years of unsuccessful talks.

In addition, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and the chairman of the Sudanese Transitional Sovereign Council, Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, discussed aspects of bilateral cooperation in a phone call yesterday, as well as developments in regional issues of common interest.

El-Sisi's spokesman said that the two sides agreed on the continuation of intensive consultations and mutual coordination on shared interests.

Ethiopian Foreign Ministry Spox's Comments on Egypt Are 'Blatant Transgression': Cairo

Cairo has issued a scathing response to recent statements by the Ethiopian foreign ministry spokesman on the country, describing them as a "blatant transgression."

Egypt's foreign ministry spokesman Ahmed Hafez said on Thursday that the Ethiopian statements "constitute a flagrant infringement of the commitments enshrined in the constitutive act of the African Union … which stipulate non-interference by any member state in the internal affairs of another."

Ethiopian foreign ministry spokesman Dina Mufti said in a press conference on Tuesday that Cairo's concerns about the disputed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam were just a diversion from the country's internal problems.

"Such an offense against the Egyptian state and allegations issued while addressing its internal affairs is nothing but a continuation of the approach of using a hostile tone and fueling emotions as a cover for the multiple Ethiopian failures, domestically and externally," Hafez said.

He instead pointed to the "deteriorating conditions in [Mufti's] country" and human tragedies that have killed hundreds and caused the displacements of tens of thousands, in reference to the Tigray crisis.

On Wednesday, Cairo summoned Ethiopia's chargé d'affaires to discuss the comments.

Sisi Stresses Egypt's Strategic Support for Arab Solidarity

Egypt President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has stressed that Egyptian foreign policy is based on achieving cooperation and building and supporting Arab solidarity, within a framework of mutual respect and non-interference in internal affairs and of seeking to achieve the common interest and ward off threats to the Arab nation.

He made the comments in a meeting with Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Ahmed Nasser Al-Sabah.

The president also expressed his sincere appreciation and support for the Kuwaiti efforts over the past years to achieve the desired reconciliation of Arab countries.

Presidential spokesman Bassam Rady said that the Kuwaiti foreign minister reviewed the latest developments related to the Kuwaiti efforts and efforts to achieve the unity of Arab countries by reaching reconciliation.

The Kuwaiti minister also affirmed the state's pride in the close fraternal relations between the two countries and Kuwait's keenness to strengthen them, while praising the strategic and pivotal role that Egypt plays under El-Sisi's leadership in protecting Arab national security and defending the Arab nation's issues.

Tunisian Defence Ministry Intercepts Egyptian Boat for Illegal Fishing Activity

The Tunisian defence ministry said it had intercepted an Egyptian fishing boat over illegal fishing 136 kilometers east of Kerkennah Islands.

The fishing boat, which held 15 sailors, is the fourth to be captured in a series of illegal fishing incidents that occurred in less than three weeks, the ministry added.

The boat was taken to the main naval base in Sfax governorate for legal procedures.

Newly Arrived Giza Zoo Giraffe Dies

A giraffe at Giza Zoo died as a result of the cold weather, an official zoo source said on Thursday.

The source at the zoo told Al-Watan that the giraffe, a male named Zizo, had died from cold shock response.

The giraffe was one of three that arrived at the zoo last month from South Africa as part of an animal exchange system.

Sources also said that the giraffe was unable to adapt to the new environment.

By contrast, Mohammed El-Qarsh, a spokesman for the agriculture ministry, told a local television program that the cause of the giraffe's death had not been determined yet, and could have been the result of an unknown disease.

The zoo's remaining three giraffes are all female. El-Qarsh said that another male giraffe would be imported to replace Zizo.

Egypt's Largest Fireworks Show Lights Up Cairo Bridge for New Year Countdown

The largest fireworks show in the history of Egypt lit up Cairo's Tahya Misr bridge on New Year’s Eve.

The government had ordered New Year's gatherings and concerts be cancelled amid a growing surge in coronavirus cases.

The celebration was organized by United Media Services (UMS), the owner of a group of satellite channels, and broadcast on its channels.

"The celebration will be the first of its kind, but it will not be the last, as the ceremony will be an approach for the coming years, and also [will be] one of the most important means to promote tourism in Egypt," the company said in a statement prior to the event.

The Tahya Masr bridge, or Rod El Farag Axis bridge, in the Shubra neighborhood, achieved a Guinness World Record in 2019 as the world's widest cable-stayed bridge.


Screenwriter Wahid Hamed Dies Aged 76

Well-known Egyptian screenwriter Wahid Hamed passed away on Saturday at the age of 76, his son, director Marwan Hamed, said on Facebook.

Hamed senior was in ICU for several days, according to media reports which did not give more details about the nature of his health problems.

Hamed, who was married to newscaster Zeinab Sweidan, wrote screenplays for more than 40 movies and over 20 television series over the last 40 years, including several perennial favorites.

He wrote screenplays for the films "El-Barea," "Zawgat Ragol Mohem," and "Toyor El-Zalam," as well as the TV series "El-Gamaah."

He won numerous awards, including the Golden Pyramid Honorary Award for lifetime achievement at the Cairo International Film Festival in December 2020.

Egyptian Actors Syndicate Reinstates Mohamed Ramadan, Drops Investigation Into Photo With Israeli Singer

The Egyptian Actors Syndicate has lifted the membership suspension it had imposed on megastar Mohamed Ramadan in November after a picture of him posing with an Israeli singer went viral. 

The syndicate has also dropped an investigation into the actor on charges of normalization with Israel.

In addition, the Journalists Syndicate has also decided to annul its previous decision regarding barring Egyptian newspapers and other platforms from reporting about Ramadan.

The cancelled decision stipulated that the Egyptian press should not use his photos or his name, on pain of disciplinary action.

Ramadan had continued shooting his TV series "Mousa," scheduled for the coming Ramadan, according to previous reports.

The Egyptian Actors Syndicate had suspended Ramadan's membership pending an investigation into the picture.

In a now-deleted tweet, Emirati journalist Hamad Al-Mazrouei shared a picture of himself, Ramadan and Adam in the UAE, with the caption "the most famous Egyptian artist with the most famous Israeli artist in Dubai."

Egyptian social media users excoriated Ramadan for breaking norms against having contact with Israelis.

Ramadan told Actors Syndicate head Ashraf Zaki that he had not been aware of Adam's nationality when he posed for the picture.


Virus Roundup: WHO Grants Emergency Use Approval to Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine

The World Health Organization on Thursday granted emergency use authorization to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the first coronavirus vaccine to receive emergency validation from WHO.

"This is a very positive step towards ensuring global access to COVID-19 vaccines," said Mariangela Simao, a top WHO official tasked with ensuring access to medicines.

"But I want to emphasize the need for an even greater global effort to achieve enough vaccine supply to meet the needs of priority populations everywhere," she added.

The British government has decided to shutter all primary schools in London for the next two weeks to curb the spread of the second wave of the coronavirus, the capital's mayor said on Friday.

Britain will allow citizens to be given shots of different COVID-19 vaccines on exceptional circumstances.

"Every effort should be made to give them the same vaccine, but where this is not possible it is better to give a second dose of another vaccine than not at all," Mary Ramsay, head of immunizations at Public Health England, said.

Turkey announced on Friday that it would ban Britons from entering the country after detecting 15 cases of a new variant of COVID-19 which is spreading rapidly in the UK.

Ireland will lift a British travel ban on January 6 and impose COVID-19 testing measures, Foreign Minister Simon Coveney was quoted as saying on Friday.

Ireland said that passengers flying on non-essential business from Britain will be allowed to enter but must provide a negative PCR test result from 72 hours prior to departure, and they will be asked to restrict their movements for at least five days from their arrival and then to provide another negative PCR test.

France imposed a night-time curfew yesterday in 15 northeastern and southeastern departments at 6pm to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Vatican City, the world's smallest sovereign state, is expected to receive enough Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine doses in the next few days to start vaccination in the second half of January, with priority given to medical staff and the elderly, the Vatican said yesterday.

Russia has inoculated more than 800,000 citizens so far and more than 1.5 million vaccine doses have been dispatched, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said on Saturday.

Russia also said that it is ready to conduct clinical trials in Ukraine of a COVID-19 vaccine combining its Sputnik V with a vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, the head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) said on Saturday.

The Tokyo metropolitan government will request the central government declare a new state of emergency, as COVID-19 infections are ramping up, the Nikkei newspaper reported on Saturday.

South Korea will expand a ban on private gatherings of more than four people to include the whole country and will extend unprecedented social distancing rules in Seoul and neighboring areas until January 17, the health minister said on Saturday.

Australia's New South Wales on Saturday made masks mandatory and imposed new restrictions amid growing case numbers.

The UK recorded 57,725 cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, the fifth day in a row that it has topped 50,000.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide has surpassed 84,810,033, with more than 1,840,990 deaths.

Ethiopia's Security Forces Killed 76 Amid Ethnic Unrest Last Summer: Rights Group

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has said that security forces killed at least 76 people and wounded nearly 200 during violent ethnic unrest in June and July.

The violence began amid protests over the killing of Oromo singer Hachalu Hundessa.

Oromos are the country's largest ethnic group.

The EHRC also said on Twitter that between June 29 and July 2, "attackers in groups used axes, knives, machetes to kill 123 people in #Ethiopia's Oromia in the wake of popular musician Hachalu Hundessa’s death."

The violence in June and July was not related to the more recent conflict in Tigray between the federal government and local Tigrayan forces.

Arab Markets
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