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New Suez Canal declared open in spectacular ceremony on edge of Sinai desert

ISMAILIA // The new Suez Canal - Egypt's self-proclaimed national "miracle" - was declared open in a spectacular ceremony on the edge of the Sinai desert in the presence of world leaders, dignitaries and proud citizens.

The Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi took charge of the inauguration of the project, which was completed in one year, a third of the expected time.

He said: "The new canal will become a symbol of the new Egypt, a gift from the nation to the world, and a demonstration of the determination and commitment of the Egyptian people."

Among those attending the ceremony was a top-level party from the UAE, led by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai. UAE companies were members of the consortium that helped build the canal extension, cementing the already close ties between the governments of the UAE and Egypt.

"The quick completion of the Suez Canal proves to the world that the Egyptian people do not know the impossible and do not admit despair," said Sheikh Mohammed. "Congratulations to the Egyptian people on the canal and to us on the Egyptians' joy."

Egypt sees the canal, which gives the existing sealane the capability to take two-way traffic for its entire 160-kilometre length, as a crucial part of its growth strategy, creating employment in the economically deprived Sinai.

The project involved the digging of another stretch of canal running parallel with the existing one for 35 kilometres, as well as dredging and widening some of the rest. It cost US$8.2?billion (Dh30.1bn), raised entirely by public subscription in the country, and employed 43,000 people in its construction.

The canal, which is Egypt's main source of foreign currency earnings, is projected to bring in $12.3bn by 2023, double the current figure.

As the first ship passed through the waterway, Mr El Sisi pledged that his country would defeat terrorism. "Egypt during this year stood against the most dangerous terrorist ideology, that would burn the world if it could," he said. "We are fighting them and will defeat them."

Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of State and head of the UAE-Egypt Liaison Office, lauded Egypt's leadership, government and people on the completion of the new Suez Canal.

He said: "We would like to congratulate the leadership, government and people of Egypt for this monumental achievement that has brought into fruition the strategic vision of the president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah El Sisi. His unwavering insistence that this project is finalised in one year, truly reflects the resilience of the Egyptian people.

"We in the UAE are proud of our supportive role in making this project a reality through the hard work of the challenge consortium, led by the National Marine Dredging Company and through the diligent follow-up of the UAE-Egypt Liaison Office. In close coordination with the Suez Canal Authority, we were able to ensure best-practice implementation."

He continued: "Had it not been for the diligent follow-up of the president of Egypt and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, this would not have been the success and record-breaking feat that it is today."

The new Suez Canal, placed at the maritime crossroads linking Asia, Africa and Europe, further solidifies the strategic geopolitical role of Egypt and offers a great promise of economic and social returns for Egypt and its people, Dr Al Jaber added.

Mohammed bin Nakhira Al Dhaheri, UAE Ambassador to Egypt, emphasised that it would support global trade and called the opening a "historic occasion in contemporary Arab history".

Francois Hollande, president of France, also attended the ceremony, as did King Abdullah II of Jordan, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain, and Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras.

In addition you can watch the following:

LIVE: Opening of the Suez Canal's new waterway: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BuMm0BtUnIQ

Egyptian president Al-Sissi inaugurates Suez canal expansion translated into English:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRt0Mzpl1Zk

Eni discovers largest known gas field in Mediterranean

The Italian energy group Eni has discovered the largest known gas field in the Mediterranean off the Egyptian coast and predicted that the find could help meet Egypt's gas needs for decades.

Eni said in a statement that the Zohr field, which covers an area of about 60 square miles (100sq km), could hold as much as 30tn cubic feet of gas.

"Zohr is the largest gas discovery ever made in Egypt and in the Mediterranean Sea and could become one of the world's largest natural-gas finds," it said, adding that it had full concession rights to the area.

The find follows other significant gas discoveries in the Mediterranean in recent years. They are expected to have a major impact on the region's economy and potentially offer Europe new supply options, allowing it to reduce its dependence on Russian gas imports. It also represents a major boost for Egypt, where power cuts caused by gas and oil shortages have often fuelled unrest.

Eni said the discovery was at a depth of 1,450 metres (4,757 ft), and that it planned to fast-track development of the site using existing infrastructure. It said yet more gas might be discovered in future drilling.

Eni, which is 30% state-owned, is the biggest foreign oil and gas producer in Africa, where it has significant operations in Libya. In 2011, it made huge finds off Mozambique, with an estimated 85tn cubic feet of gas in place.

It has operated for more than 60 years in Egypt and is one of the main energy producers in the country, with a daily output of 200,000 barrels of oil equivalent.

In June, it signed an energy exploration deal with Cairo worth $2bn (1.3bn), allowing it to explore in Sinai, the Gulf of Suez, the Mediterranean and the Nile delta. In July, Egypt raised the price it pays Eni for the natural gas it produces.

"This historic discovery will be able to transform the energy scenario of Egypt," said Eni's chief executive, Claudio Descalzi, who met the Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, on Saturday to discuss the find.

Egypt, which once exported gas to Israel and elsewhere, has become a net energy importer over the past few years. Under Sisi, Egypt's state-owned gas company Egas has increasingly rationed supplies to much of the country's industry, which has at times crippled production and hampered economic recovery.

The government has attempted to improve the energy situation by slashing state subsidies, paying down its debt to foreign energy firms and negotiating import agreements.

Survey: Female expats enjoy living in Qatar more than male counterparts

Qatar is apparently a more favorable expat destination for women than men, a new survey of more than 14,000 expats living in 195 countries has found.

According to the Expat Insider Survey 2015, carried out by networking website Internations, Qatar ranked nine spots ahead in terms of general satisfaction for female versus male expats - 45th overall, versus 54th for men.

The survey does not specify why, but suggested that men were more likely to criticize the cost of living, and that women may find it somewhat easier to settle in.

Overall, Qatar remains relatively unpopular among global expats, despite rising four places in the rankings to 54th out of the 64 countries listed, compared to 58th out of 61 nations in last year's survey.

The top three countries to live in this year were Ecuador, Mexico and Malta. The bottom three were Nigeria, Greece and Kuwait.

All survey respondents were quizzed on key areas like quality of life, ease of settling in, working life, ease of family life and cost of living.

In Qatar, the top three nationalities of expats questioned were from India (16 percent of respondents), the Philippines (15 percent) and the UK (11 percent.)

Construction was the main industry employing respondents, followed by education and business services.

Female workers

Whilst the preference of female versus male expats for Qatar is notable, both sexes still put the country far down the global rankings, at 45th for women and 54th for men.

By contrast, neighboring UAE ranks very highly for women.

It came in 13th, beating, among others, the USA and all Scandinavian countries, with women working there saying they find it relatively easy to settle in and that they are satisfied with their career prospects.

Qatar is further down the list for overall satisfaction due to a low ranking in several key areas, most notably family life (38 out of 41 countries), ease of settling in (51 out of 64) and quality of life (56 out of 64).

It does however rank relatively highly on ease of finding work abroad (29 of 64) and for financial benefits (also 29 or 64.)

'Peaceful, but boring'

The Expat Insider country report for Qatar concludes that the country is "peaceful, but boring."

It highlighted an apparent lack of leisure activities as one reason for its poor performance in the Quality of Life Index.

Less than half of the expats in Qatar (46 percent) considered available leisure activities to be good overall, compared to 75 percent of expats globally.

One anonymous expat quoted in the report states that "there's little to do here other than shopping, which appears to be the primary pastime."

Furthermore, Qatar's roads and other transportation options come in for criticism, with 46 percent saying they are unhappy with the status quo, twice as many as the global percentage of 23 percent.

Long hours, separated families

According to the report, the average working week in Qatar is among the longest in the region at 46.3 hours.

That's higher than the global average of 42 hours a week and ahead of regional neighbors like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which last 45.6 hours and 44.8 hours, respectively.

Qatar's latest population figures show that out of a total tally of around two million people, only one in four is female, a ratio that has remained constant for years.

Perhaps reflecting this skewed figure, the report said that while 64 percent of expats in Qatar are in a relationship, around 30 percent of those people were in long-distance relationships, compared to a global average of 14 percent.

Qatar also ranked fairly poorly in terms of the cost of living, at 46th out of 64 countries, but still came ahead of more popular expat destinations like Australia and the UK.

Few local friends

Like last year, the report continued to highlight the divide between expats and locals in Qatar.

It states that just under half (49 percent) of the expats surveyed in Qatar found the local population to be friendly, compared to a global average of 72 percent of expats who rated the friendliness of nationals in their host countries.

Moreover, 36 percent said they'd found it hard getting used to the local culture, and 43 percent said that they didn't feel at home in Qatar, compared to a global average of 61 percent.

Furthermore, half of all expats questioned also said that it was particularly hard to make friends with Qatari citizens, although the report notes that this may be due to the fact that Qatari nationals make up only 15 percent of the country's total population.

On the positive side, almost two-thirds (65 percent) said that language barriers were not an issue in Qatar.

World Cup 2022 host Qatar to start enforcing Wage Protection System from November

World Cup 2022 host Qatar will begin enforcing a law that ensures migrant workers get paid on time from November, labour ministry officials said on Wednesday.

The Wage Protection System (WPS) - trumpeted by the government as a "significant" reform - has been delayed from an initial start date of August 18 to allow companies more time to prepare for the change.

"We will start applying the law on November 3rd," labour ministry official Saleh Al Shawi said.

Any violations could mean imprisonment, and there are fines of up to 6,000 Qatari riyals, he said.

Under the WPS, workers will be paid either twice a month or monthly, with wages electronically transferred to their bank accounts.

Banks will be compelled to open accounts for workers and transfer the wages once they have been paid by companies.

Shawi said that all banks within Qatar will participate in the WPS and inspection teams will be used to watch out for any violations.

"We are ready," he said.

Failure to pay salaries on time, especially for blue collar workers, has been one of the biggest complaints voiced by rights groups against companies in the energy-rich Gulf state.

A 2013 academic study, "Portrait of Low-Income Migrants in Contemporary Qatar", found that around a fifth of migrant workers were "sometimes, rarely or never" paid on time.

The WPS has been touted by the government as proof of its commitment to reform, in response to furious criticism of Qatar's labour practices since the controversial decision to allow it to host football's biggest tournament.

Ministers predict that changes to the 'kafala' sponsorship system, which has been widely blamed for enabling the abuse of foreign workers, especially labourers involved in the country's vast infrastructure projects, will be announced later this year.

UAE's real estate markets rattled by oil slump

The sharp decline in oil prices over the past one year has started to impact the UAE real estate market in a big way, with property transaction levels falling across Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah, said a report.

A further reduction in oil prices is also likely once Iran receives the green light to begin oil exports. In turn, this will impact on the rate of office space take up and subsequently, the creation of households and overall residential demand, stated top international real estate consultancy Cluttons in its latest report.

The impact is expected to be variable across the nation's three largest emirates, it stated.

However, the return of an Iranian variable to the national real estate equation could be particularly momentous for the real estate market, it added.

Cluttons in its annual 2015 UAE Property Report pointed out that the direct correlation between hydrocarbon revenues and state spending would further put pressure on the rate of job creation.

Steve Morgan, the chief executive, Cluttons Middle East, said: "We see a number of economic factors at play which will impact the level of transactions in the near term. The decline in oil prices has seen the government take necessary fiscal measures to boost its financial position, including the deregulation of fuel prices and the much talked about future move towards the introduction of VAT and corporation tax."

"These initiatives will likely cause consumer price inflation levels to increase, resulting in a reluctance of tenants to pay higher end rents and families to purchase homes. However, some of the rises may be off-set by the fall in diesel prices, helping to maintain the UAE's competitive edge, which is unchallenged in the region," observed Morgan.

"With the expected lifting of Iranian trades sanctions, it is our view that Iranian nationals will seize the opportunity to make significant real estate investments in the UAE, particularly Dubai, pushing them back up the buyer nationality league table," said the expert.

"In 2010, Iranians accounted for 12 per cent of Dubai's real estate transactions, positioning them in fourth place behind Indians, Britishers and Pakistanis. Data from the Dubai Land Department on investment volumes showed investment from Iranian's had dwindled to a low of just three per cent during the first quarter of 2015," he added.

Commenting on the residential market, Cluttons said in capital Abu Dhabi, the house prices slipped by 0.2 per cent in the second quarter of 2015, the first contraction since the third quarter of 2012, and leaves the current average house price standing at Dh1,336 ($364) sq ft.

Demand remains stable in the top-end luxury market according to the report, and more affordable sub Dh1,000 ($272) sq ft properties. This is driven by affluent Emirati and GCC buyers continuing to home in on schemes based on perceived exclusivity, while the large expat population that is being squeezed out of the rental market due to rampant rental growth, is targeting more affordable properties that are perceived as better value for money, said Cluttons in its report.

The property expert pointed out at a 1.5 per cent-rise in average rents, registered during the second quarter, pushing annual growth in the capital up to 3.9 per cent. Hydra Village was the strongest performing submarket, with rents for three bedroom for villas surging by almost 32 per cent during the first six months of the year to Dh125,000 ($34,023) per annum.

Faisal Durrani, the head of research at Cluttons, said: "With government spending subsiding, the rate of job creation and residential demand is also expected to stabilise. With this in mind, it is our view that the residential market will see further slight to moderate price falls over the remainder of 2015."

"Overall, quarterly house price declines of between 0.5 per cent and one per cent can be expected in both Q3 and Q4, while rents are expected to remain largely flat during the second half," stated Durrani.

In Dubai, the total number of residential real estate transactions has remained fairly stable this year, according to data from Reidin. There has been almost no change in average apartment values during the first half, with a 0.6 per cent fall recorded between January and June.

"The villa market continues to bear the brunt of the federal mortgage cap restrictions, which have made affordability a central issue for potential buyers who are now required to hold significant equity to fund upfront costs," explained Durrani.

"Values on average declined by 3.4 per cent during the second quarter, bringing the annual rate of change down to - seven per cent. We expect a further 5 to 7 per cent fall in villa values is expected this year as supply levels rise and affordability issues challenge buyers," he added.

Cluttons' report shows that during the second quarter of this year, average rents in Dubai declined by 0.9 per cent, taking the overall change in the six months to June to -1.3 per cent. Apartments in affordable communities have held steady in 2015, while the villa market has witnessed a one per cent drop during Q2.

On the future outlook, Clutton said: "Looking further ahead, the rental market is set to be boosted by Expo 2020 moving from being on the medium-term event horizon to the short term, with infrastructure projects moving forward and in turn supporting job creation."

The expected population growth to 2.8 million by 2020 will also help to increase demand for space.

"We expect the sales market to weaken further this year based on a combination of the Federal Mortgage Cap, affordability challenges and a strengthening supply pipeline, which has seen 41,000 new units announced already this year," stated Durrani.

"It is our view that the rental market will continue to perform at a reasonably stable level, with further declines in the region of 1.5 to 2 per cent likely during the second half of the year. The severity of the decline is being hugely offset by the strong rate of job creation and population growth, which remains stable, strong and diverse," he added.

In Sharjah, tenants are now firmly in the driving seat as the lettings market slows in response to declines in Dubai and the introduction of what is perceived to be high-quality accommodation in neighbouring Ajman.

The emirate recorded a 2.3 per cent dip in average rents, yet these still stand 3.3 per cent ahead of this time last year. Apartments registered a 4.2 per cent decline during the second quarter, while villa rents edged up slightly by 1.4 per cent.

"In the sales market, world-class master planned communities such as Al Zahia and Tilal City are quietly growing in popularity and setting the benchmark for future master planned communities. These affordable upscale developments, which are designed around the emirate's rich Islamic heritage are allowing for the emergence of a niche residential market that caters for families who have been priced out of other UAE markets and those that have been waiting for more affordable communities in surroundings that echo their more traditional lifestyles," said Durrani.

The report indicates that the lifting of trade sanctions on Iran could boost the UAE's economic activity. Prior to the introduction of the sanctions, Iran was the UAE's biggest trading partners, while in the past both local and global businesses hubbed any Iranian operations out of Dubai.

Morgan continued: "We have already noted an upturn in speculative requirements from Dubai-based Iranian businesses looking to expand their premises in anticipation of a resumption in normal trade with Iran. Furthermore, we have also already noted several instances of Iranian businesses in the emirate approaching banks for loans to fund planned expansion".

In addition, Cluttons anticipates an upturn in international businesses looking to service any Iranian operations out of Dubai, which will once again place upward pressure on Grade A rents in sought after submarkets, particularly the city's primary free zones such as the DIFC, the Internet and Media Cities, D3 and Dubai Airport Free Zone.

Cluttons latest research also shows that in Abu Dhabi the office market's recent stagnation is in large part linked to the slowdown in public spending, which has translated into a drop in demand for new office space.

"However, due to a general lack of supply, particularly at the Grade A end of the market, rents have held steady and are expected to remain stable over the course of 2015, with occupancy levels close to 100 per cent," explained Durrani.0

Abu Dhabi's dependence on hydrocarbon revenues, he stated, has meant that the rate of office take up, which is traditionally dominated by oil and gas companies has cooled significantly.

"This is likely to put increased downward pressure on more secondary and tertiary locations in the first instance, with prime rents likely to face headwinds at the beginning of 2016," he added.

"This is likely to put increased downward pressure on more secondary and tertiary locations in the first instance, with prime rents likely to face headwinds at the beginning of 2016," he added.

The ability of the market to weather the continued low oil price environment, or weakening demand, is expected to put rents under pressure, particularly at the top of the market, it noted.

Morgan said: "In more secondary and tertiary locations landlords are adjusting rents downwards in an effort to generate demand. This widening gap between the two tiers of the market is unlikely to be sustainable, with Grade A rents likely to slip later on in the year."

"Overall, rent declines of up to five per cent are likely across the board before the end of the year," he added.-TradeArabia News Service

Aldar launches new residential project in UAE

Aldar Properties, Abu Dhabi's leading listed property development, investment and management company, has announced the launch of West Yas, a new residential project to be built on the Yas Island.

West Yas is a key component of Aldar's commitment to create quality, comfortable, and desirable destinations meeting customers' demand, said a top official.

CEO Mohammad Al Mubarak said: "The project launch is a significant phase of the Yas Island story, bringing over 1,000 modern villas to this fabulous destination. West Yas also marks the next stage of Aldar's residential development in Abu Dhabi's most sought after areas. This project delivers on our strategy to launch new developments that can drive the completion of Yas Island."

West Yas is located along Yas Island's natural mangroves and features 1,017 four and five-bedroom luxury villas, with prices starting from Dh4 million ($1.08 million), said a statement from Aldar.

West Yas is located along Yas Island's natural mangroves and features 1,017 four and five-bedroom luxury villas, with prices starting from Dh4 million ($1.08 million), said a statement from Aldar.

Aldar has invited purchasers to attend the first phase sales event to be held at Yas Island's Crowne Plaza hotel on September 12, said the statement.

The event will showcase the unique selling points of West Yas including its setting within the Yas Island development, master planned community, and standalone villa design developed with UAE Nationals in mind, it stated.

In addition, purchasers will benefit from multiple payment plans, offering flexibility over down payment and instalment schedules, it added.

Marketed exclusively to UAE Nationals, West Yas will become a major community for Emiratis from across the country, enabling them to live and work in the capital, said Al Mubarak.

The residents of West Yas will also enjoy proximity to Yas Mall and the multiple leisure facilities on the island including: Yas Waterworld; Yas Marina Circuit; Yas Marina; Yas Links; Ferrari World Abu Dhabi; and food and beverage outlets located in the numerous hotels on the island, he added.

UAE lowers gasoline, diesel prices

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) will lower domestic prices for gasoline and diesel in September, the Ministry of Energy said on Thursday.

The price of a litre of octane 95 gasoline will fall 8.4 per cent to Dh1.96 ($0.5336) at the start of September compared to Dh2.14 in August, the ministry said on its Twitter account.

Domestic diesel price will drop 9.3 per cent to Dh1.86 in September from to Dh2.05 in August.

Last month, the UAE said it would raise domestic prices for gasoline and cut them for diesel in a politically sensitive reform designed to save it money and encourage fuel efficiency. -Reuters

More than 18,000 illegal expats claim amnesty in Oman

More than 18,000 illegal expats have taken advantage of an amnesty in Oman, the Ministry of Manpower has said.

About 13,000 of the 18,484 already registered have been deported without penalty, while the remaining are being processed, the ministry's director general of labour welfare, Salim bin Said Al Badi, was quoted as saying by Muscat Daily.

The amnesty started on May and was extended to expire on October 28.

"The ministry's plan is to enable maximum number of Labour Law offenders to avail the amnesty and hence the period has been extended by three more months," Al Badi said.

Despite the thousands being deported, the number of expats in the sultanate grew 0.5 percent in July, to 1,631,560, according to the National Centre of Statistics and Information.

British Airways 'exiting'Kuwait skies over security?

KUWAIT: British Airways took a decision to stop flying to Kuwait within weeks due to what it observed as 'weak' security procedures at Kuwait International Airport, said Arabic daily Al-Rai quoting British sources in a letter by British Aviation Authorities to their Kuwaiti counterpart.

The British side said British Airways decision is final and will not be revoked, unless certain security procedures are taken quickly, and such procedures will be under watch and subject to evaluation.

Concerned Kuwait authorities took several steps, especially under the tense atmosphere of the region and in the presence of active terrorist groups. The Customs Department plans to buy communications and radioactive systems to increase the safety and security of their procedures and will be able to discover explosives and drugs.

Further, the Customs Department announced a bid to buy advanced systems and said there is coordination with the Interior ministry to increase checking and inspection of passengers and their cars.

Validity of entry visas reduced to one month

KUWAIT: The Manpower Public Authority (MPA) issued a decision to organize the conditions of transferring labor from one sponsor to another in many fields, an official sources at the authority said. The authority was working according to several ministerial decisions and decided to merge all decisions into one to make things easy, he said.

According to the source, the most notable of the new conditions included the government contracts, as the decision allowed the transfer of the technical labor on government contract to transfer to another sponsor with the approval of both employers.

The employer can transfer labor from one government contract to another, while the employer must cancel the work permit of workers registered on government contracts that cannot be transferred. The decision does allow the transfer of labor who are brought with work permits to work in the free trade zone or with foreign investors who practice economic activities mentioned in Law 116/2013, with regards to encouraging direct investment in Kuwait. Sponsors must comply with canceling the work permits of this labor to leave the country after the work is over.

Private sector The decision allows the transfer of labor in the private sector after one year and obtaining approval from the sponsor. The time period for transferring work permits can be excluded for labor that is brought from abroad by a work permit with the approval of the sponsor in the following conditions: transfer of labor used locally in all sectors except industry, agriculture, shepherding and hunting and labor registered on government contracts through local transfers with the elapsing of one year on the issuance of the work permit. Transfer is allowed through the liquidation of the facility or its merger with another.

Transfer is not allowed to outside the sectors for the labor brought to work in the industry, agriculture, shepherding, and hunting, and transfer is limited to within the same sectors. The decision allows the transfer of government workers to the private sector and vice-versa taking into consideration the systems followed at the Interior Ministry. The decision allows the labor to transfer the work permit from one employer to another within the private sector with approval by the employer when three years elapse, while the employer must be given 90 days warning period.

The decision said that disputes in work permits presented by labor before the elapsing of one year of the date of issuance, then MPA has the right to discuss the dispute at the concerned department to approve the application or reject it. The decision allows the transfer of family residency to work in the private sector for those who spent one continuous year in the country, while bearing in mind procedures followed by the Interior Ministry. -Al-Anbaa

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