10 Jan 2021


Egypt's Growth Expected to Hit 5.5% in FY2021/22, FY2022/23: IMF

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The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has predicted that Egypt's real GDP will grow 5.5 percent in the fiscal years 2021/2022 and 2022/2023.

In October it had projected growth for this year at 2.8 percent.

In its latest report, the IMF also predicted that Egypt's real GDP growth will rise to 5.6 percent in 2023/2024 and then 5.8 percent in 2024/2025.

The new forecasts came in an IMF report released on Thursday on the fund's first review of Egypt's economic reform program, which is tied to its one-year $5.2 billion Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) loan with the fund.

In December, the IMF gave the green light for Egypt to receive $1.67 billion, the second tranche in the SBA, after the first review was finalized. It had received the first $2 billion tranche in July.

Reiterating the sentiment in the IMF's statement when the approval of the second tranche was granted, the fund said that "the growth impact of the COVID-19 crisis has so far been less severe than expected, as strong consumption helped offset weak tourism and investment."

"The still-high level of public debt and gross financing needs also leave Egypt vulnerable to a reversal of capital flows, which risk triggering again financing and exchange rate pressures. Rebuilding buffers and ensuring investors’ continued confidence with timely program implementation are key," it added.

It also said in the report that the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) had spent EGP 500 million ($31.8 million) so far of the EGP 20 billion that was allocated to back the Egyptian stock exchange.

"Exceptional financial sector measures, taken in response to the COVID-19 outbreak (including but not limited to the CBE’s stock purchase program) will be rolled back when conditions allow," the government said in the report.

Finance Minister Mohamed Maait told Bloomberg in December that Egypt's economic growth is projected to be between 2.8 to 4 percent in the current fiscal year and between 5.5 to 6.5 percent in the 2021/2022 fiscal year.


Business

Egypt Reaches Agreement With Chinese Customs to Continue Citrus Exports in 2021

The Egyptian Commercial Office in Beijing has reached an agreement with Chinese customs officials to continue exporting Egyptian citrus fruits to China this year, Egyptian Trade and Industry Minister Nevine Gamea has said.

The agreement will apply to the same list of farms authorized to export from the previous 2019/2020 season until the new list for the current season is approved.

Head of Commercial Representation Ahmed Maghawry Diab said that the Egyptian Commercial Office in Beijing had received a number of enquiries and complaints from Egyptian exporters regarding shipments of citrus fruits that were not released from Chinese ports due to the Chinese side requesting a list of approved farms for the new 2020/2021 export season, and new requirements for the inspection of exported crops.

Egypt has been working on keeping its spot as the world's leading citrus exporter after increasing the area allocated for planting oranges in the country by 10 percent.

Delta Sugar Targeting Production of 330K Tons This Season

The state-owned Delta Sugar Company is aiming for 330,000 tons in sugar production from 2.3 million tons of sugar beet this season, which kicks off on February 1, the Egyptian supply ministry stated yesterday.

Chairman Ahmed Abou El-Yazeed said that the company's production capacity was raised from processing 14,000 tons of beet per day to 20,000 tons after a development of the production lines.

Egypt has been aiming to increase its reliance on sugar beet in the production of sugar, as it consumes less water in its cultivation compared with sugarcane.

Sarwa Capital Launches First Fixed Income Investment Fund

Sarwa Capital Holding is launching its first investment fund in the fixed income securities market through Sarwa Life Insurance Company, with liquidity in Egyptian pounds with a cumulative daily return, according to media reports.

Misr Capital, the investment arm of Banque Misr, will manage the Sarwaa Capital Life Insurance Fund, in cooperation with Sarwa Investment Management, which will act as assistant investment manager.

The size of the initial fund is EGP 100 million ($6.3 million) and the capital is EGP 10 million, which enables the fund to reach EGP 500 million under the existing fund regulations.

Ayman Elsawy, group chief financial officer at Sarwa Capital, said that the fund is part of the group's strategic move towards expanding the provision of attractive investments for all categories of clients, including individuals and institutions.

Raseedy's Digital Wallet to Partner With Aman's Network of 100K POS Nationwide

Fintech firm Raseedy is partnering with Raya subsidiary Aman for E-Payments to enable users of its digital wallet to easily deposit and withdraw cash through the more-than 100,000 points of sale (POS) owned by Aman nationwide, according to media reports.

Under the partnership, deposit and withdrawal services will be available at the nearest location to consumers, allowing customers to receive payments from other governorates, to easily pay invoices, and to pay merchants remotely.

The agreement will enable both small and medium-sized merchants to use QR codes for sales and then withdraw their money instantly, and it will enable companies to pay employees through the digital wallet. It will also facilitate microfinance companies' disbursal of loans and allow them to collect installments electronically.

Raseedy, established in 2018, launched the first officially licensed independent digital wallet in Egypt in November, in cooperation with Société Arabe Internationale de Banque (SAIB) and MasterCard.

Two Egyptian Start-Ups Raise $2 Mn in Funds to Expand Operations

Two Egyptian start-ups have raised $2 million in funds in recent days to boost their operations. 

The e-science scientific research start-up Nawah Scientific has announced that it has raised an investment of $1 million comprised of both equity and debt, its second pre-Series A round following a December 2018 round, also worth $1 million, the start-up told MENAbytes on Friday.

Nawah Scientific was launched in 2015 by Omar Sakr, and is the first private, multidisciplinary research center in Egypt offering research and analytical experiments.

Nawah has analyzed over 50,000 samples from more than 3,000 clients across nine countries.

Fintech start-up Cassbana raised $1 million from DisrupTech, it announced in a statement today to MENAbytes on Tuesday.

Founded in early 2020 by a former Careem CEO Haitham Nassar, Cassbana is a technology start-up that builds financial identities for underserved communities in Egypt through micro-lending and building a behavior-based scoring system.

"Without this financial identity, many [in those communities] suffer from uncomfortable and expensive options for obtaining financial services, or no options at all," Nassar said.

Egypt's Tourism Minister, Marriott Representative Discuss Establishing Hotels in New Touristic Cities

Egyptian Tourism Minister Khaled El-Enany met Marriott International's regional head on Thursday to discuss establishing three- and four-star hotels in Egypt's new touristic cities.

Marriott International's president for Europe, Middle East and Africa, Satya Anand, also said the hotel giant is implementing a hospitality training improvement program in Egypt with the aim of improving the skills of graduates and providing the hotel sector with trained employees. 

El-Enany said that the plan for the new hotels is part of the state's policy to develop the tourism infrastructure in touristic cities and new cities.

He added that more hotel facilities could be established in a number of touristic cities and regions such as Aswan, the North Coast and New Alamein City.

Marriott International manages more than 25 hotels across Egypt.

Planning Minister Calls On Korean Investors to Cooperate With Egypt's SWF

Egyptian Planning Minister Hala Al-Saeed has urged South Korean investors to cooperate with Egypt's Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) in a number of areas, the most important of which is the relocation of technological industries.

According to a ministry statement on Wednesday, Al-Saeed and South Korean Ambassador Hong Jin-wook discussed several issues of mutual interest.

Al-Saeed also reviewed the Sovereign Wealth Fund's work plan, emphasizing the fund's endeavor to build private sector partnerships inside Egypt and abroad.

The minister emphasized Egypt's appreciation for the Korean economic experience, while Hong voiced his country's willingness to deepen cooperation with Egypt in all fields.

In November, Al-Saeed won the Arab Government Excellence Award for the best minister in the Arab world.

Trade Ministry to Complete Seven Industrial Complexes by End of Jan

Egypt's Trade and Industry Minister Nevine Gamea has said that her ministry is preparing to offer seven industrial complexes in a number of governorates by the end of this month.

It has finalized the procedures for allocating seven industrial complexes that were launched in October, she said.

The minister added that no new industrial areas will be offered during the current period, in order to verify the viability of the plots that were previously offered.

Gamea explained that the ministry is working to launch an incentive fund for local products with the funding to come from fees imposed. The auto, furniture and textile industries will benefit from the project.

CBE Orders Banks to Execute Wire Transfers in 2-3 Hours

The Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) has ordered banks to execute wire transfers that are denominated in Egyptian pounds in two working hours at most, if the transaction is between accounts at the same bank.

Transactions in Egyptian pounds between different banks will be processed over three hours: the sending bank will have two hours to process the transfer order and the receiving bank will have to deposit the funds into the customer's account within one hour of receiving the order.

However, wire transfers that requires credit approvals, involve financial risks, or raise concerns of money laundering or terrorism financing are exempted from the time limit set by the central bank in Wednesday's circular.

The CBE also ordered banks to lower the fees of wire transfers made online compared with transfers made in branches.

In December, the CBE decided to extend its waiver of fees and commissions on cash withdrawals from ATMs until June 2021.

Last week, the CBE ordered Egyptian banks to establish independent units to monitor operational risks and offer means to curb their impact.

The CBE issued a regulation in April 2019 that requires interbank checks to be cleared within one business day, instead of up to five working days. 

Science and Technology

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(Courtesy of Temenos' website)

Arab Investment Bank Hires Temenos to Improve Its Digital Services

Arab Investment Bank (aiBank) has picked banking software firm Temenos to improve its Omni channel digital banking services and boost financial inclusion for Egyptians, according to a statement.

The bank said that it has selected Temenos and its Infinity and Payments solutions in a customer experience improvement program.

The bank is an existing user of the Temenos T24 (now called Transact) core banking system, having used it since 2013.

The bank said it had partnered with Temenos to lead its digital transformation because of its "advanced technology … strong presence in the region and its reputation for rapid implementation and time to value," according to a statement by the bank's board.

"By making it easier to open a bank account, receive and make digital payments, our technology is helping Arab Investment Bank dramatically improve the lives of 44 million Egyptians who currently do not have a bank account," said Jean-Paul Mergeai, managing director for MENA at Temenos.

Temenos' Egyptian clients include T24 users Banque du Caire, Suez Canal Bank, Housing and Development Bank, Arab African International Bank, and Egypt Post.

Egypt's government has been encouraging digitalization as part of a drive to modernize the country and boost economic development.

Majid Al Futtaim Malls to Provide Product Delivery to Cars Via Drive-Thru App

Majid Al Futtaim Group has signed an agreement with Via Drive-Thru mobile app to provide a drive-through product delivery service at its malls, based on the increasing demand for online services, according to media reports.

Stores at the group's shopping malls will receive customer orders through Via Drive-Thru and then prepare and deliver the products to customers at designated pick-up points.

The partnership will enable the group to meet the public demand for online services, and to transform consumer experiences into digital experiences, Philip Evans, managing director of Majid Al Futtaim, was quoted as saying in the reports.

Majid Al Futtaim, which owns shopping malls in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, operates three mega-malls in Egypt: City Centre Alexandria, in the Mediterranean city, and City Centre Almaza, City Centre Maadi and Mall of Egypt in Greater Cairo.

16 Small Firms Win 15 Govt Digital Transformation Contracts

The Egyptian IT and communications ministry has announced that 16 small and medium enterprises have won the implementation of 15 digital transformation projects at government agencies, with a value of more than EGP 43.5 million ($2.7 million).

The commissions are part of the "Our Opportunity…is Digital" initiative launched by the ministry through the Information Technology Industry Development Agency (ITIDA) in May.

IT and Communications Amr Talaat said that the initiative reflects the ministry's efforts to encourage creativity in small and medium-sized companies working in IT and to provide them with opportunities to participate in implementing projects for digital transformation.

SMEs play an important role in economic growth, in addition to creating a lot of job opportunities for young people, he also said.

The companies won digital business opportunities and projects in four different categories: quality management and testing, GG web services, content digitization, and analysis, design and project engineering.

Talaat did not name the successful companies.

Bitcoin Reaches New All-Time High of $41k on Friday

The price of bitcoin reached an all-time high of $41,973 on Friday at 10:10am Eastern Time, according to data from Coin Metrics.

Bitcoin also traded above $35,000 for the first time in Asia on Wednesday, rising to a high of $35,879.

It is currently up roughly 40 percent so far in 2021, having gained over 300 percent in 2020.

Crypto-coin trackers CoinMarketCap and CoinGecko showed that the total market value of all cryptocurrencies rose above $1 trillion for the first time on Thursday.

Bitcoin crossed $20,000 for the first time ever on December 16.

On Tuesday, JPMorgan Chase & Co said that bitcoin's emergence as "digital gold" could lead the cryptocurrency to trade as high as $146,000 if it becomes established as a safe-haven asset.

Bitcoin, however, seems to be "the mother of all bubbles" after its recent rally, Michael Hartnett, chief investment strategist at Bank of America Securities told CNN Business on Friday.

The pandemic has driven central banks to slash interest rates in 2020, making bond investments less appealing vis-à-vis bitcoin, which is more secure against inflation due to its capped supply.

WhatsApp Forces Users to Agree to Share Private Data, Phone Number, With Facebook

Social media platform WhatsApp announced, from February 8, it will have a privacy policy of its own, and users of the application will be obligated in all countries outside Europe and the UK to share their data with parent company Facebook, or else lose access to the app.

"You’ll need to accept these updates to continue using WhatsApp," the company said in the pop-up alert to users.

"By tapping Agree, you accept the new terms, which take effect on February 8, 2021," the notification states.

"After this date, you'll need to accept the new terms to continue using WhatsApp. You can also visit the Help Center if you would prefer to delete your account."

The company stated that the update will not affect the way the data is processed and will be applied regardless of whether the user has an account on Facebook or not.

"As part of the Facebook family of companies, WhatsApp receives information from, and shares information with, this family of companies," the new privacy policy states.

"We may use the information we receive from them, and they may use the information we share with them, to help operate, provide, improve, understand, customize, support, and market our Services and their offerings."

Google Responds After Staff Form Union Over Discrimination, Harassment Concerns

After Google's staff announced a new union and vocalized their concerns over discrimination and harassment, Google has responded, saying that it will continue engaging directly with staff.

Kara Silverstein, Google's director of people operations, said that the company has always worked to create a supportive and rewarding workplace and its employees have protected labor rights. 

"But as we're always done, we'll continue engaging directly with all our employees," she said.

The union announced that it had been formed as the result of a number of controversies surrounding Google and its activities, as well as concerns regarding workplace discrimination and harassment. 

The union is open to all employees and contractors of Google's parent company, Alphabet.

"The Alphabet Workers Union will be the structure that ensures Google workers can actively push for real changes at the company, from the kinds of contracts Google accepts to employee classification to wage and compensation issues," an announcement on the union’s website said.

Stock Market

Azimut Records Highest Returns on Investments in Egyptian Bourse in 2020

Azimut Egypt Asset Management, a subsidiary of the Italian asset manager Azimut Group, has recorded the highest return on investments in the Egyptian stock market during 2020 through its local fund ABC Equity and its UCITS Fund located in Luxembourg, Azimut Egypt stated on Thursday. 

The ABC Equity fund ranked first among all equity funds in Egypt and is the only local equity fund that achieved positive returns in 2020.

ABC Equity recorded an annual return on investments of 3 percent, exceeding the EGX30 index by 25 percent and 13 percent above the average of all similar equity funds. 

AZ Equity Egypt, the first UCITS fund in Luxembourg specializing in Egyptian stocks, and which is managed by Azimut Egypt, also ended its first year of activity with a return on investments of 30 percent.

AZ Equity Egypt was launched in July.

AZ Equity Egypt exceeded the EGX30 by nearly 50 percent during 2020.

The strong performance of both funds highlights why the group has chosen Egypt to lead its growth plan in the MENA region, said Giorgio Meda, co-CEO and global head of Asset Management at Azimut Group.

The performance of Azimut Egypt proves that its investment strategy is sustainable and effective, which was evident in the outperformance of the main indicator of the market and competitors not only in the short term but by its continuous superior performance in the long term, said Azimut Egypt Managing Director Ahmed Abou El Saad.

NI Capital to Accept Subscriptions to Its Investment Fund Starting Today

NI Capital, the investment arm of the state-run National Investment Bank (NIB), will began receiving subscriptions for its new investment fund "Liquidity" today, Egyptian Planning Minister Hala Al-Saeed, who is also chair of the bank, said on Friday.

The investment fund, which offers culminative daily return, aims to raise EGP 50-100 million ($3.18-6.36 million) from the subscriptions.

The fund invests in short-term financial instruments like T-bills, T-bonds, certificates of deposit (CDs), and sukuk (Islamic bonds).

Arabiya Online and Mubasher Trade were appointed as the bookrunners.

Egyptian Saudi Insurance House Increases Stake in Dice to 10%

The Egyptian Saudi Insurance House Company had raised its stake in Dice Sport and Casual Wear to 10 percent.

The company said in a bourse statement it had bought 42.72 million shares in Dice, increasing its ownership in the company from 1.94 percent to 10 percent.

The total value of the deal was EGP 74.79 million ($4.7 million), with an average purchase price of EGP 1.75 per share.

During the first nine months of last year, the company achieved losses of EGP 77.02 million ($4.8 million), compared to profits amounting to EGP 98.16 million during the same period last year.

US Stocks End First Week of 2021 At Record Levels Amid Biden Stimulus Hopes

US stocks ended the first week of 2021 at record levels as investors look forward to additional fiscal stimulus to put an end to political turmoil and signals of economic weakness.

The S&P 500 dropped gained 0.5 percent to close at 3,824.68 points on Friday, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average edged up 0.2 percent to 31,097.97 and the tech-focused Nasdaq Composite rose 1 percent to 13,201.98 points.

The US markets ignored a discouraging employment report amid forecasts that the incoming Joe Biden administration will provide more support to the pandemic-hit economy.

The employment report, released by the Labour Department on Friday, showed employers slashing jobs for the first time since April as more businesses shut down due to the pandemic.

Technology companies helped support the market by outweighing losses in financial, industrial and other sectors.

Treasury yields continued to rise on the back of predictions of increased federal borrowing, further stimulus for the economy and higher inflation forecasts.

Meanwhile, European stocks posted their strongest weekly performance since November on Friday.

The pan-European STOXX 600 was up 0.7 percent to bring gains for the first week of the near year to 3 percent, with the gain driven by two electoral victories for the Democrats in the US that secured the party control of the Senate.

This is likely to result in a large fiscal stimulus package.

In Egypt, the benchmark EGX30 index gained 1.13 percent on Wednesday to close at 10,952.14 points amid a turnover of EGP 612.8 million ($39.0 million).

The broader EGX70 EWI index edged up 0.53 percent to settle at 2,152.59 points, while the EGX100 EWI rose 0.78 percent to 3,125.17.

Net purchases by foreign investors amounted to EGP 43.2 million ($2.7 million), while net sales by Egyptian and Arab investors totaled EGP 27.8 million and EGP 15.38 million respectively.

Economics

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Naeem Brokerage Predicts Annual Consumer Inflation to Drop to 4.8% in December

Naeem Brokerage has predicted annual consumer price inflation will drop to 4.8 percent in December from 5.7 percent in November.

According to a research note on Friday, Naeem said that inflationary factors resulting from strong demand are still absent, compared with rates in the period before the coronavirus pandemic.

There is therefore an absence of inflationary factors for food commodities, the research note said.

It added that the forecast decline in headline inflation reflects the rise of base year effects and the decline in monthly prices for food commodities, especially fruits and vegetables.

Meanwhile, Pharos Research said it expects annual consumer price inflation to hit 6.1 percent in December year on year. This would bring inflation to an average of 5.1 percent in 2020.

Radwa El-Swaify, head of research at Pharos, forecast the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) would resume a monetary easing policy in this year, slashing interest rates by 200 basis points (bps) throughout the year.

The CBE kept interest rates unchanged in its last 2020 monetary policy meeting in December, and also announced a new inflation target at an average of 7 percent (±2 percentage points) for the fourth quarter of 2022. 

Rates were maintained at 8.25 percent for the overnight deposit rate and 9.25 percent for the overnight lending rate, with the CBE settling for no more than the previous 400 bps cuts in 2020.

The CBE cited rising inflation and improvement in growth figures -- with real GDP increasing to 0.7 percent in the third quarter of 2020 up from negative 1.7 percent in the previous quarter -- as reasons to keep rates on hold, in line with what most economists expected.

Increase in Govt Debt to $77.8 Tn Will Hit Emerging Markets Hard: Fitch

Fitch Ratings has said that the record increase in government debt to $77.8 trillion will hit emerging markets hard as developing nations will not benefit from lower interest rates.

Global sovereign debt reached $77.8 trillion, 94 percent of world domestic products, a $10 trillion increase as a result of governments increasing their health spending. 

According to Fitch's head of sovereign ratings, James McCormack, the debt levels are at a record high. 

"For emerging-market sovereigns there has been no 'free lunch' associated with lower rates," he added.

Moody's Expects COVID-19 to Continue to Pressure MENA States' Sovereign Creditworthiness in 2021

Moody's Investors Service has said that the impact of coronavirus on tourism, remittances and employment in the Levant and North Africa is mirrored in the negative outlook for sovereign creditworthiness in 2021, according to a report released on Thursday.

"The coronavirus crisis had a significant economic and fiscal impact on sovereigns in the Levant and North Africa in 2020 and the shock will continue to weigh on economies and labor markets this year, intensifying already elevated social pressures," Elisa Parisi-Capone, a Moody's vice president and senior analyst, said in the report.

Moody's added in the report that "subdued economic growth and policy interventions so far will push the debt ratios of most of the region's sovereigns to record highs in 2021. Contingent liabilities from state-owned enterprises (SOEs) represent additional risks."

Despite securing access to emergency lending from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), liquidity and external pressures are expected to carry on, according to the report, especially for countries with shrinking foreign-exchange reserves, like Iraq and Lebanon.

However, Moody's predicted that a gradual recovery in the Levant and North Africa will take place in 2021, registering a growth of 2.2 percent on average, compared with a contraction of 3.4 percent in the previous year, adding that Egypt has been the only country to maintain its pre-crisis growth trend.

Egypt News

New Egyptian Parliament to Begin First Legislative Session on Tuesday

The new Egyptian parliament will convene for its first legislative session this year on Tuesday upon a decree from President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.

According to the decree, the parliament's first legislative term will begin on January 12 at 11am.

The end of the outgoing parliament's five-year term was on Saturday.

In the decree, El-Sisi also named 28 appointees to the 596-member legislative chamber, including prominent media figures and several footballers.

The opening procedural session will see MPs swearing the constitutional oath and electing a speaker and two deputies.

It will be chaired by prominent writer Farida El-Shobashy, who is the eldest member of parliament. She will be aided by two deputies, Fatma Ahmed and Abanoub Ezzat, the two youngest MPs in the House.

Parliamentary elections were held between October and December, with pro-government Mostaqbal Watan sweeping both the party and individual lists.

Sudan Expresses 'Grave Concern' Over Ethiopia's Plan to Continue Filling GERD in July

Sudan has expressed "grave concern" over Ethiopia's intention to proceed with the implementation of the second filling of the disputed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in the summer without a trilateral agreement.

In a message to South Africa's international cooperation minister, Sudan's Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas expressed on Thursday worries over Ethiopia's plan to proceed with filling the dam's reservoir with 13.5 billion cubic meters of water in July without prior notification and the signing of an agreement with Egypt and Sudan.

"This is a matter which is considered a direct threat to the Roseires Dam and to the lives of the inhabitants on the banks of the Nile," Abbas said, adding that the first filling of the GERD, which occurred in July 2020, affected drinking water stations in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.

Sudan decided to boycott renewed GERD negotiations attended by Egypt and Ethiopia last week, saying prior to the talks that it had filed a request to hold a bilateral meeting with the AU experts and observers; however, its request was not answered and instead it received an invitation to the direct tripartite talks.

The three parties' foreign and irrigation ministers met on Sunday, where they agreed to conduct talks for a week, to end on January 10.

Following Sudan's absence, a report was filed with the African Union head on future procedures for the talks, which require the attendance of all three nations.

Abbas affirmed in the letter his country's commitment to continuing negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam under the auspices of the African Union at any time, in the event that the methodology negotiation is amended by giving a greater role to experts.

He said that Sudan cannot tolerate endless negotiations that do not conclude with "valuable results and solutions.”

Sudan is still awaiting the scheduling of bilateral meetings between experts and observers and each country separately before the January 10 ministerial meeting, he added.

Egypt, which relies on the Nile for 95 percent of its fresh water, worries the upstream GERD will significantly restrict the amount of Nile water that reaches its territory.

Ethiopia stresses the $4 billion project is key to its development.

Egypt Leaves Fuel Prices Unchanged for Q1 2021

Egypt's fuel pricing committee has decided to keep prices steady through March 31 amid the coronavirus crisis, the petroleum ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

The price of 95-octane fuel was kept at EGP 8.50 ($0.53) a liter, 92-octane fuel at EGP 7.50 a liter and 80-octane fuel at EGP 6.25 a liter.

The committee also decided to keep the selling price of mazut for non-electricity and bakeries usage at EGP 3,900 ($248) a ton.

The committee had kept prices steady since October

The body, which was created in 2019 in an IMF-backed move to link local energy prices to international markets, convenes every three months.

Egypt Extends Legume Export Ban for 3 Months

Egypt’s trade and industry ministry said on Wednesday said it would extend an export ban on all legumes for three months, starting from the date the decision is published in the state gazette.

Trade and Industry Minister Nevine Gamea said previously that the ban on bean and lentil exports would remain in place in coordination with the supply ministry, to fulfil citizens' needs for essential goods.

The decision allows the export of a surplus to be estimated by the supply ministry.

In March, Egypt announced a three-month ban on the export of all legumes amid the outbreak of the coronavirus, to ensure that local market needs were met. 

It has since been extended twice.

Five Firms Referred to Prosecution for Failing to Register With New Electronic Tax System

Egyptian Finance Minister Mohamed Maait has said that five companies that had not committed to register for the new electronic tax invoice system have been referred to the public prosecution.

In a cabinet statement, Maait stressed that all legal measures would be taken against companies that did not comply with the new electronic processes.

The head of the Egyptian Tax Authority, Reda Abdel-Qader, said that the authority had taken several measures to warn these companies of the risks of non-compliance before deciding to refer them to the prosecution.

A final warning was sent to the firms that the last date for their accession to the system was December 31, he also said, and should they not join by this date, they would be referred to the prosecution.

Maait said previously that all state-owned entities will have to enroll in the new electronic tax-invoicing system before the deadline this July.

The first phase of the electronic tax-invoicing system was launched for 134 companies in November, and the second phase, set to cover 350 companies, is scheduled for mid-February.

The third phase of the new electronic tax invoicing system will begin in May 2021. 

About 2,800 companies will be registered in the new electronic tax-invoicing system by the third phase. 

The government has been pushing for digital transformation across all sectors and is working on legislation to digitalize processes in banking, customs, taxes and public services.

EgyptAir Offers Discounts on Domestic Flights to Encourage Winter Vacationers

EgyptAir has announced its participation in the Winter in Egypt initiative, which aims to increase domestic tourism in various tourist governorates by offering discounted flights to touristic cities at prices starting from EGP 1,500 ($95) for a roundtrip.

Amr Abu El-Enein, head of EgyptAir, said that the company was participating in the initiative by offering roundtrips from Cairo to Luxor at a price of EGP 1,500 ($95) including taxes, and at a price of EGP 1,800 for Sharm El-Sheikh, Hurghada, Aswan and Taba, and EGP 2,000 to the city of Marsa Alam.

The company operates six daily trips to Sharm El-Sheikh, five to Hurghada, five to Luxor and Aswan, and two trips a week to Marsa Alam.

The discounted prices are available from January 15 to February 28.

EgyptAir is also sponsoring the 2021 World Men's Handball Championship and is offering 20 percent discounts from its international destinations to Egypt during the tournament period.

Carrefour to Limit Store Entry to One Person per Household in Wake of Overcrowding

Carrefour Egypt has said it has taken additional precautionary measures after the recent cases of overcrowding at its hypermarket in the City Centre Alexandria mall, which led authorities to temporarily close the branch.

The new measures will allow only one person from a single family group to enter at any one time, according to a company statement, and children under the age of 12 will not be allowed entry.

The company has also allocated new sales and pick-up points dedicated to high-demand offers, including installing a tent outside City Centre Maadi, and inside City Centre Alexandria, City Centre Almaza and Mall of Egypt, in order to better distribute visitors and customers.

It will also limit all promotional offers to its application or website on Fridays and public holidays.

Carrefour had previously extended promotional offers from December 30, 2020 to February 28, 2021 to reduce the pressure on stores.

It had also expanded online order fulfillment and services and free delivery.

On Tuesday, Majid Al Futtaim Group and Omar Effendi signed an agreement to open Carrefour branches inside Omar Effendi stores. 

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Egypt Reports Less Than 1K New COVID Cases for First Time Since Dec 23

Egypt reported less than 1,000 new coronavirus cases for the first time since December 23, detecting 989 infections on Saturday to bring the total number of cases to 148,799.

The Ministry of Health also registered 57 new deaths from the virus, with the total COVID-19 death toll reaching 8,142 since the outbreak in February.

Seven-hundred and sixty-five patients have been discharged from hospitals nationwide in the past 24 hours, bringing total recoveries to 118,294.

Last Wednesday, the armed forces started to disinfect some vital public places that are usually bustling with people, as part of an effort to curb the the spread of the coronavirus.

On the same day, Health Minister Hala Zayed announced the launch of an initiative to follow up on COVID-19 patients who are self isolating.

The initiative was initially launched in the governorates of Cairo, Giza and Qalyubia, and will be gradually spreading nationwide.

The initiative aims to keep tabs on coronavirus patients who are showing mild symptoms and provide them with medical services at home, with the possibility of sending them to hospital if needed.

Also, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly met yesterday with representatives of companies producing and supplying medical oxygen, with the aim of coordinating efforts to ensure that hospitals' needs are fulfilled.

A viral video presumably shot inside an Egyptian hospital shows a number of paramedics and coronavirus patients who the cameraman says have died due to a lack of medical oxygen. After the video made the rounds and stirred controversy of late, the claim was vehemently denied by Zayed and other officials.

Religious Identity Should Not Determine Rights or Duties, Sisi Tells Pope Tawadros

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi stressed to Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II that the religious identity of a citizen should not determine their rights and duties. 

According to a statement from El-Sisi on Wednesday, the president greeted the pope on Christmas Eve and affirmed the state's keenness to highlight that accepting the diversity and freedom of thought and beliefs is key to development and progress. 

He said that diversity is a divine truth that should be respected and accepted within society, while taking into consideration peaceful coexistence and the values of equality that all religions call for. 

Pope Tawadros thanked El-Sisi for his greetings, the statement said, stressing that such gestures contribute to preserving the unity of Egyptians and strengthening the principle of citizenship and diversity. 

Later on Wednesday, the pope led a Christmas mass without lay worshippers at the Monastery of Saint Bishoy in Beheira's Wadi El-Natrun. 

The pope has called for strict adherence to preventive measures amid the second wave of the coronavirus.

The vast majority of Egyptian Christians, estimated at 10-14 percent of the population, belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church, which marks Christmas on January 7.

Prosecution Orders Release of Two Fairmont Rape Case Defendants

Egypt's prosecutor-general on Wednesday ordered the release of two people pending investigations who were arrested as witnesses came forward to testify about an alleged gang rape at the Fairmont Nile City hotel in 2014.

The move came after online human rights campaigns demanded the release of actress Nazli Mostafa Karim and Seif Ahmed Bedour.

Bedour, who was arrested after accompanying a witness to testify at the police station, was not present at the alleged incident, his family have said, and was aged 14 when it occurred.

Karim is the ex-wife of one of the defendants accused of the assault.

Six men from influential families are alleged to have drugged and raped a young woman after a party at the Cairo hotel.

An anonymous Instagram account, which shared the names and photos of the suspects last summer to mass outrage, said that the underage victim was raped after being drugged by the assailants, and that the victim left Egypt following the rape.

The prosecution announced in August that it had opened an investigation into the case after the victim filed a complaint.

Three defendants -- Ahmed Toulan, Amr Hussein and Khaled Hussein -- were repatriated to Egypt from Lebanon after being arrested in August by Lebanese authorities upon an Interpol request, along with four others.

In September, the Egyptian public prosecutor's office renewed the detention of the three.

Sports

Ahly Handed Favorable Draw; Zamalek Placed in Tough Champions League Group

Title holders Ahly were handed a favorable draw in the African Champions League group stage while Cairo rivals Zamalek were not as lucky after being paired in a tough group on Friday.

Record winners Ahly, who are eyeing a 10th crown, will face Sudan's Al-Merrikh, one-time champions AS Vita Club of the DR Congo and Tanzanian side Simba in Group A.

Zamalek's task to qualify for the knockout phase will be trickier as they were drawn in Group D with four-time champions Esperance of Tunisia, whom they knocked out in the quarters last season, and one-time winners MC Alger.

The White Knights will also play Senegalese debutants Teungueth, who sprang a huge surprise by knocking last season's semi-finalists Raja Casablanca in the preliminary round.

Ahly won their first Champions League trophy in seven years with a dramatic 2-1 win over Zamalek in last season's final in late November.

Zamalek were left waiting for their first crown since they won the last of their five titles in 2002.

Salah Scores in Liverpool's FA Cup Rout of Aston Villa

Mohamed Salah continued his impressive goal-scoring run this season after netting in Liverpool's 4-1 rout of a youthful Aston Villa side in the FA Cup on Friday.

The Egyptian King put the icing on the cake with a 65th-minute goal after Liverpool had taken a 3-1 lead through a brace from Sadio Mane and a goal from Dutch midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum.

He collected a pass with his back to goal, turned and beat Villa keeper Akos Onodi with a superb low shot at his near post to seal Liverpool's progress to the FA Cup fourth round.

Salah took his tally to 17 goals in 25 appearances in all competitions so far this season.

World

Indonesian Jet Crashes Into Sea After Takeoff

A Boeing 737-500 crashed into the Java Sea yesterday after taking off from Indonesian capital, Jakarta.

Indonesian officials believe they have found part of the wreckage but the cause of the crash has not been determined yet.

Sixty-two people were on board the plane, headed for Pontianak on the island of Borneo, but four minutes after taking off the plane lost more than 10,000 feet in altitude in less than a minute.

The aviation sector in Indonesia has experienced multiple crashes and safety lapses in recent years.

Indonesian airlines have grown rapidly and the domestic aviation industry has been undermined by poor-quality aircraft maintenance and lack of adherence to safety standards. 

UAE Resumes Air Traffic With Qatar

The UAE said on Friday it would reopen its airspace to Qatar and resume air traffic with the country as of yesterday.

Khalid Abdullah Belhoul, undersecretary at the UAE foreign ministry, said that the UAE will re-open all land, sea and airports for traffic between the two nations.

The UAE will embark on ending all measures taken against Qatar, he said, in the wake of the signing of the Al-Ula Declaration last week which brought about a reconciliation between Doha and a number of Arab states.

Last week, Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain signed a declaration aimed at reconciliation and restoring ties with Qatar to end a three-and-a-half-year rift.

In related news, Saudi Airlines announced yesterday that it will resume flights from Riyadh and Jeddah to Doha from Monday, while Qatar Airways said that it would resume flights from Doha to Riyadh from Monday, to Jeddah from Thursday and to Dammam from January 16.

Qatari vehicles have also crossed the land borders with Saudi Arabia for the first time since 2017 in the wake of the new agreement.

Sudan Signs Deal With US Paving Way to Normalization of Ties With Israel

Sudan has signed a deal with the United States to pave the road towards the normalization of ties with Israel.

According to the Sudanese prime minister's office on Wednesday, Sudan's Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari signed the agreement with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who was in Khartoum following a visit to Cairo.

Abdulbari said his country welcomed "the rapprochement that took place between Israel and the countries in the region, as well as the beginning of diplomatic relations, which we will work, form our side in the near future."

"This is a very, very significant agreement ... It would have a tremendous impact on the people of Israel and the people of Sudan as they continue to work together on cultural and economic opportunities and trade," Mnuchin said.

The visit by the US official also saw the signing of an MoU targeting the facilitated payment of Sudan's debt, estimated at over $60 billion, with the World Bank.

According to the Sudanese finance ministry, the settlement allows Sudan to receive over $1 billion annually from the bank, for the first time in around three decades.

The agreement comes months after President Donald Trump announced that Sudan would normalize ties with Israel as part of a US-brokered deal.

Khartoum has agreed to place $335 million in an escrow account to compensate US victims of terrorist attacks, with Sudan being removed from the US list of countries sponsoring terrorism in exchange.

Israel forged diplomatic ties with several Arab countries under the auspices of the Trump administration in recent months, including with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco.

Elon Musk Overtakes Jeff Bezos as World's Richest Person

Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk has overtaken Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos as the world's richest man, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Musk took the first place spot after shares in his car firm, Tesla, rose about 7.9 percent, helping boost the value of his stake in the company.

The 49-year-old entrepreneur currently has a net worth of $194.8 billion, while Bezos' total worth stands at $185.3 billion, according to the index.

Trump Faces Second Impeachment Threat After Riling Mob to Storm Lawmakers' Assembly

United States President Donald Trump could be impeached for a second time after a mob of his supporters broke into the Capitol building, which houses the country's legislature, on Wednesday, causing lawmakers to shelter in fear and leading to the deaths of six people.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has threatened to impeach Trump unless he resigns "immediately" for his role in inciting the attack, which led to the death of a Capitol police officer from injuries sustained in the mob attack and the shooting of a Trump supporter by police on site.

The mob had gathered a short distance away from the famous building for a rally given by Trump, who had urged his followers to "stop the steal" of the presidential election, basely alleging that Joe Biden's victory was based on fraudulent tactics.

Following the rally, hundreds of Trump supporters stormed and vandalized the Capitol building where lawmakers had gathered to certify Biden's victory.

A temporary curfew in Washington that night after supporters had been cleared from the building and lawmakers had returned to certify the new president's victory.

US prosecutors have since identified a man wearing a horned helmet at the attack as Jacob Anthony Chansley, with another man, Adam Johnson, who was seen in a viral photograph carrying Pelosi's lectern through the halls of the Capitol, also arrested. 

"If the president does not leave office imminently and willingly, the Congress will proceed with our action," Pelosi wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

The House is scheduled to be in session on Monday, and articles of impeachment cannot be introduced until then.

Per the constitution, lawmakers are allowed in introduce charges and vote in a few days. If Trump is convicted, the Senate could vote to ban him from holding office again.

Trump has been unable to communicate through social media platforms in recent days, after Twitter and Facebook suspended him from their platforms.

"After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence," Twitter announced.

"In the context of horrific events this week, we made it clear on Wednesday that additional violations of the Twitter Rules would potentially result in this very course of action,” it added.

Facebook said it will "indefinitely" block Trump as "risks of allowing the president to continue to use our service during this period is simply too great."

"Therefore, we are extending the block we have placed on his Facebook and Instagram accounts indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks until the peaceful transition of power is complete," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said.

On Wednesday afternoon, amid the events, Trump released a video saying the election was "stolen from us," but telling supporters to "go home now … we have to have peace."

In a second video released later that day, he said he was "outraged" at the "lawlessness" and said he would no longer contest Biden's victory and would support a "seamless transition of power."

Biden's inauguration is set for January 20.

Court Halts Trump Administration Attempt to Tighten Asylum Measures

A district court in California's San Francisco on Friday ruled against the Trump administration's attempt to enforce tighter measures on immigrants seeking US asylum status.

The court said that Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf lacked the authority to enforce the new measures -- dubbed "death to asylum" by its opponents -- that were scheduled to go into effect tomorrow.

The incoming Biden administration will have the option to either withdraw the new measure and accept the district court ruling, or appeal against it.

The new measures would have denied asylum status to applicants in case of failing to file tax returns, spending over 14 days in a single country while en route to the US, or staying in the US unlawfully for more than a year.

US Lifts Restrictions on Contacts Between US, Taiwanese Officials

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced lifting "self-imposed" restrictions on contacts between US and Taiwanese officials.

"The United States government maintains relationships with unofficial partners around the world, and Taiwan is no exception. ... Today's statement recognizes that the US-Taiwan relationship need not, and should not, be shackled by self-imposed restrictions of our permanent bureaucracy," Pompeo said.

The move will likely increase the tensions between the US and China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory.

The US is one of Taiwan's main arms supplier, despite the lack of official relations with Taiwan.

Pompeo lamented the fact that the US State Department has been imposing internal restrictions on interactions between American diplomats and their Taiwanese counterparts.

"The United States government took these actions unilaterally, in an attempt to appease the Communist regime in Beijing," he said.

The US ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft is visiting Taiwan next week to meet with senior Taiwanese leaders, a move that prompted China on Thursday to say that both parties were playing with fire.

Brazil Is Broke and I Can't Do Anything About it: President Bolsonaro

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has said that his country is "broke" and that he can do nothing about it, attributing the crisis to the coronavirus pandemic.

"Brazil is broke, boss, I can't do anything," Bolsonaro told one of his supporters who greeted him in front of his official residence in the capital Brasilia.

The president said that the coronavirus had prevented him from raising the level of tax-exempt income, a pledge made by the far-right politician during his election campaign before he took office.

"I wanted to modify the tax reduction table, but there was that press-fueled virus that we have there, that press without any character," he added.

Earlier this month, the nine-month emergency aid paid out to 68 million Brazilians ended under pressure from markets that are worried about Brazil's high deficit and debt.

Over 200,000 Brazilians have died from COVID-19, according to official figures, giving the second highest death toll worldwide after the USA.

FAO Food Price Index Hits 3-Year High in 2020

The FAO Food Price Index (FFPI) hit a three-year high in 2020, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported on Thursday.

The FFPI averaged 97.9 points, up 3.1 percent compared to 2019, but still more than 25 percent below its peak of 131.9 points in 2011.

The FFPI also averaged 107.5 points in December, up 2.2 percent from November's 105.2 points, marking the seventh month of consecutive increases.

Grains and cereals, the largest component in the overall index, increased 1.1 percent in December from November, marking the sixth consecutive monthly rise. 

The vegetable oil price index averaged 127.6 points in December, gaining 5.7 points or 4.7 percent month-on-month, marking the highest level since September 2012.

Average sugar prices averaged 87.0 points in December, losing 0.5 point or 0.6 percent month-on-month.

Virus Roundup: Over 89 Mn COVID-19 Cases Worldwide, With 1.9 Mn Deaths

More than 89 million people have contracted COVID-19 and more than 1.9 million have died from the virus, data compiled by John Hopkins University (JHU) showed on Saturday.

The majority of the infections and deaths have been reported in the United States.

Meanwhile, three more cases of the British COVID-19 variant have been detected in New York, as the state began a current allocation of 300,000 vaccine doses weekly after the expansion of its vaccination distribution network.

The US surpassed 300,000 new daily infections for the first time on Friday.

Separately, Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh received COVID-19 vaccinations in the UK on Saturday, with the announcement made public "to prevent inaccuracies and further speculation," according to a statement by Buckingham Palace.

Saudi Arabia's King Salman received a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Friday, following Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his brother Prince Khaled bin Salman, and other royals.

President-elect Joe Biden is set for his first vaccine dose on Monday "to continue to instill confidence in the vaccine's safety and efficacy," incoming White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

His spokesman said Biden will shift to release more vaccine doses when he assumes office.

"He supports releasing available doses immediately and believes the government should stop holding back vaccine supply so we can get more shots in Americans' arms now," TJ Ducklo said.

In addition, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has declared a "major incident" as the virus continues to spread nationwide.

One in every 30 residents in London have contracted the virus, he said, and there are fears the capital's hospitals will be overwhelmed. 

"The stark reality is that we will run out of beds for patients in the next couple of weeks unless the spread of the virus slows down drastically," he said.

"We are declaring a major incident because the threat this virus poses to our city is at crisis point. If we do not take immediate action now, our NHS could be overwhelmed and more people will die," he added.

Arab Markets
Egypt EGX30 10,952.14 +1.13%
KSA TASI 8,737.20 +0.77%
UAE ABU DHABI ADX 5,163.75 +0.68%
UAE DUBAI DFM 2,625.66 +0.76%
World Markets
US Dow Jones IA 31,097.97 +0.18%
NASDAQ-100 13,201.98 +1.03%
S&P 500 3,824.68 +0.55%
UK FTSE 100 6,873.26 +0.24%
Germany DAX 14,049.53 +0.58%
France CAC 40 5,706.88 +0.65%
Japan Nikkei 225 28,139.03 +2.36%
China HANG SENG INDEX 27,878.22 +1.20%
Currencies
US Dollar 15.64 15.74
Euro 19.28 19.41
Sterling 21.28 21.41
Saudi Riyal 4.17 4.20
UAE Dirham 4.26 4.29
Kuwaiti Dinar 51.53 51.93
Swiss Franc 17.82 17.94
Commodities
Oil Brent USD/bbl. 55.99 +2.96%
Wheat USD/bu.Mar 2020 638.75 -0.55%
Gold USD/t oz. 1,849.01 -3.39%
Gold Egypt LE/ oz. 1,849.15 +0.10%
Silver Egypt LE/ oz. 17.94 -0.03%

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