The Saudi Ministry of Tourism announced today that Saudi Arabia has achieved a remarkable milestone by welcoming over 100 million tourists in 2023, surpassing its 2030 target seven years ahead of schedule. This achievement has positioned Saudi Arabia as a leading global tourism destination and underscores its emergence as a tourism powerhouse on the world stage. Encouraged by this success, the Kingdom now aims to attract 150 million tourists by the year 2030.

Both the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) have extended their congratulations to Saudi Arabia for exceeding one of its key objectives outlined in the SaudiVision2030 initiative. This remarkable accomplishment reflects the collaborative efforts, innovative strategies, and clear vision for the future that Saudi Arabia has demonstrated in the tourism sector.

The ministry revealed that the total number of tourists, comprising both domestic and international visitors, reached 106.2 million in 2023. This marks a substantial 56 per cent increase over the figures recorded in 2019 and a notable 12 per cent surge compared to 2022. Specifically, international tourists numbered 27.4 million, reflecting a 56 per cent increase over 2019 and a remarkable 65 per cent rise compared to 2022.

Saudi Arabia’s achievement of welcoming over 100 million tourists in 2023 has been hailed by UNWTO as a testament to what can be achieved through collaboration, innovation, and a forward-looking vision. As Saudi Arabia continues its journey towards attracting 150 million tourists by 2030, UN Tourism reaffirms its commitment to supporting the Kingdom, celebrating its successes, and advocating for a more resilient, sustainable, and inclusive global tourism sector.

The Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported that both international and domestic tourists collectively spent more than 250 billion Saudi riyals ($67 billion) in 2023, contributing over 4 per cent to the Kingdom’s total GDP and 7 per cent to its non-oil GDP.

Saudi Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb attributed the significant increase in tourist numbers to the National Tourism Strategy launched five years ago. He emphasized that the tourism ecosystem continues to align with the national tourism strategy, focusing on developing diverse tourist destinations, enriching visitor experiences, and enhancing hospitality facilities and services for both local and international tourists.

In summary, Saudi Arabia’s achievement of surpassing 100 million tourists in 2023 represents a historic milestone and a significant step towards establishing itself as a global tourism hub. With ambitious targets set for the future, Saudi Arabia is poised to further enhance its position in the global tourism landscape while contributing to the sustainable development of the sector.

Egypt has inked seven memoranda of understanding with international developers in the fields of green hydrogen and renewable energy in the Suez Canal Economic Zone, paving the way for a potential investment valued at approximately $40 billion over a decade, as per a statement from the cabinet released on Wednesday.

According to Planning Minister Hala al-Said, the initial phase anticipates an investment of around $12 billion, followed by an additional $29 billion earmarked for the first phase.

Over the past two years, Egypt has entered into a series of memoranda of understanding and framework agreements for the advancement of green hydrogen. The North African nation is striving to establish itself as a prominent green hydrogen and renewable energy centre, notwithstanding competition from other countries in North Africa and the Middle East.

Amid Egypt’s pursuit of green energy initiatives, the country grapples with its own economic challenges. Years of political instability, coupled with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, have strained the nation’s economy.

Egypt faces issues such as high unemployment rates, inflationary pressures, and a significant budget deficit, all of which underscore the importance of attracting substantial investments, like those in green hydrogen and renewable energy, to stimulate economic growth and development.

Furthermore, Egypt’s economic landscape has been influenced by the recent escalation of tensions and conflict in the Gaza Strip. The Gaza war, with its proximity to Egypt’s borders, has heightened security concerns and strained diplomatic relations in the region.

Egypt has been involved in mediating ceasefires and brokering peace talks, seeking to mitigate the impact of the conflict on its own stability and security. The repercussions of the Gaza war ripple beyond its borders, affecting Egypt’s geopolitical dynamics and regional stability, underscoring the need for concerted efforts towards lasting peace and stability in the region.

In recent years, Egypt has actively sought foreign investment to bolster its economy and mitigate its growing debt burden. The country has implemented economic reforms and initiatives aimed at attracting foreign capital and fostering a more business-friendly environment. These efforts have yielded some success, with significant foreign investment flowing into various sectors of the Egyptian economy, including energy, infrastructure, and manufacturing.

Moreover, Egypt has engaged with international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to address its economic challenges and secure much-needed financial assistance. In 2016, Egypt entered into a three-year $12 billion IMF loan program aimed at implementing structural reforms to restore macroeconomic stability, stimulate growth, and create jobs. The IMF program included measures to reduce subsidies, streamline public spending, and improve the investment climate.

While the IMF program helped stabilise Egypt’s economy and restore investor confidence, it also necessitated tough austerity measures and fiscal tightening, which placed a strain on the population, particularly the most vulnerable segments. The reduction of subsidies, in particular, led to price increases for essential goods and services, exacerbating the financial strain on low-income households.

Despite the IMF assistance and foreign investment inflows, Egypt’s public debt has continued to rise in recent years, reaching alarming levels. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the country’s debt situation, as the government implemented measures to contain the virus and support the economy, leading to increased borrowing and fiscal deficits.

Egypt’s growing debt burden poses significant challenges to its long-term economic sustainability and fiscal stability. The government faces the daunting task of balancing the need for continued investment in critical sectors such as infrastructure and healthcare with the imperative of fiscal consolidation and debt management.

Addressing Egypt’s debt challenges will require a multi-faceted approach that combines efforts to boost revenue generation, improve public financial management, enhance debt transparency, and pursue sustainable economic growth strategies. Moreover, attracting long-term, sustainable foreign investment will be crucial to diversifying the economy, creating jobs, and reducing reliance on external borrowing. Through prudent fiscal management and strategic economic reforms, Egypt can navigate its debt challenges and lay the foundation for inclusive and sustainable growth in the years to come.

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Prosecutors in Germany have launched an investigation into Riad Salameh, the ex-governor of Lebanon’s central bank, over allegations of money laundering and other financial crimes. Alongside his brother and other suspects, Salameh faces charges including forgery, money laundering, and embezzlement. The Munich public prosecutor’s office confirmed the issuance of an arrest warrant for him on Tuesday.

Salameh, who held the position of central bank governor from 1993 to 2023, is under scrutiny for purportedly transferring substantial sums from Lebanon’s central bank for personal gain, at the expense of the Lebanese state. The investigation has also shed light on allegations of funds being laundered abroad, with part of the money reportedly channelled through a British Virgin Islands-based company before being invested in European real estate, notably in Germany.

In a joint effort with authorities from France and Luxembourg, German officials have seized three commercial properties in Munich and Hamburg valued at approximately 28 million euros. Additionally, shares in a Dusseldorf-based property company worth about 7 million euros have been secured.

Salameh’s tenure as central bank chief ended in July amidst mounting allegations and international scrutiny. Despite initially being celebrated for his role in Lebanon’s post-civil war reconstruction, Salameh has since faced severe criticism, both domestically and abroad, for his alleged involvement in Lebanon’s financial crisis, which began in 2019.

The crisis, marked by the devaluation of the Lebanese pound and the depletion of citizens’ savings, has led to widespread unrest and condemnation of the country’s ruling elite, including Salameh. Many financial experts attribute the crisis to decades of corruption and mismanagement within Lebanon’s political establishment.

Salameh has vehemently denied the accusations against him, insisting that his wealth stems from his previous career as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch, as well as from inherited properties and investments. However, his denials have not halted the pursuit of justice, with France issuing an arrest warrant and Interpol issuing a red notice for his apprehension.

The downfall of Salameh, once hailed as a symbol of Lebanon’s economic recovery, underscores the complexities and challenges facing the country’s financial system. The investigation into his alleged misconduct serves as a stark reminder of the consequences of financial malpractice and corruption within the highest echelons of power.

Despite the ongoing investigations and legal proceedings, Salameh remains resilient in his defence, maintaining his innocence amidst mounting pressure and scrutiny. The outcome of the investigations, both in Germany and internationally, will undoubtedly shape the narrative surrounding Lebanon’s financial crisis and the pursuit of accountability for those implicated in its downfall.

As Lebanon continues to grapple with the aftermath of its financial collapse, the pursuit of justice for alleged perpetrators like Salameh represents a crucial step towards restoring faith in the country’s institutions and rebuilding its shattered economy.

In conclusion, the investigation into Riad Salameh’s alleged involvement in money laundering and other financial crimes reflects a broader reckoning with corruption and mismanagement within Lebanon’s financial sector. The outcome of the investigations will have far-reaching implications for Lebanon’s future and the pursuit of accountability for those responsible for its economic turmoil.

Iran and Pakistan are once again eyeing a revival of a long-dormant gas pipeline project that has faced setbacks for over a decade. Known as the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, or IP Gas, this ambitious initiative has been mired in challenges stemming from geopolitical tensions, economic considerations, and international sanctions.

Initially conceived to transport natural gas from Iran to Pakistan, the project’s progress has been sluggish since its inception. In March 2013, Presidents Zardari and Ahmadinejad ceremonially inaugurated the project near Iran’s Chabahar port, signalling the commencement of the USD 7.5 billion venture. However, progress stalled due to US sanctions on Iran, despite Iran completing its part of the pipeline.

Negotiations must conclude by March 2024 to avoid legal ramifications, with Islamabad having until September 2024 to meet its obligations. Both nations are exploring avenues to complete the pipeline while circumventing US sanctions, underscoring the project’s significance for their respective national interests.

Pakistan has pursued various legal and diplomatic avenues to avoid penalties and has sought a waiver from the US regarding the project. The completion of the pipeline is deemed crucial for Pakistan’s energy security and to address its burgeoning energy needs, fostering economic and commercial ties between the two countries.

Despite facing resistance from Western partners, Pakistan has made strides in advancing the pipeline project. The initial phase, spanning 80 kilometres from Gwadar to the Iranian border, has received governmental approval and funding. However, securing financing remains a formidable obstacle, with speculation rife that China and Russia may provide funding for the Pakistani segment of the pipeline.

Numerous challenges beset the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, including US sanctions, financial constraints, geopolitical conflicts, and operational delays. Overcoming these hurdles necessitates strategic planning and concerted collaboration between the two nations.

Projected expenses of USD 7.5 billion have contributed to delays in securing adequate financing. Moreover, regional dynamics exert influence on progress and decision-making, with geopolitical conflicts adding another layer of complexity.

Iran grapples with domestic natural gas shortages, which have ramifications for its energy exports and oil production. Despite facing scarcity and mounting local demand, Iran continues to rely on gas exports, posing economic challenges and jeopardising internal energy security.

The depletion of gas output poses a threat to Iran’s oil production, exacerbated by low investments and technological constraints. Iran’s ability to sustain oil production is imperilled by its gas shortage, as the country must inject approximately 300 million cubic meters of gas per day into its ageing oil reservoirs to maintain production levels.

The expansion of QatarEnergy’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) production underscores the competitive landscape in the global energy market. Iran’s ability to address its energy shortages and navigate international sanctions will determine the fate of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project.

Efforts to address challenges persist, but uncertainties loom over the project’s viability until Iran’s energy situation improves and sanctions are lifted. The feasibility of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline hinges on Iran’s ability to tackle domestic natural gas shortages and the lifting of international sanctions.

In conclusion, while completing the pipeline holds the promise of meeting Pakistan’s energy needs and bolstering bilateral ties, its future remains uncertain pending resolution of Iran’s energy challenges and the removal of sanctions. Despite ongoing efforts, numerous barriers persist, underscoring the intricate nature of energy projects in the geopolitical landscape.

Iran’s predicament highlights the delicate balance between meeting export demands and addressing internal energy needs amidst gas scarcity. The economic repercussions of Iran’s gas shortage extend beyond business implications, threatening the nation’s internal energy security. Resolving Iran’s energy crisis demands substantial financial investments, scientific advancements, and efficient energy management practices. The future of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project remains contingent on Iran’s ability to navigate its energy challenges and the lifting of international sanctions.

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Iraq marked a significant milestone on Friday with the reopening of its largest oil refinery, a move anticipated to diminish its reliance on fuel imports. The North Refinery, situated in Baiji, a city approximately 200 kilometres (124 miles) north of Baghdad, underwent extensive damage during intense conflicts with the Islamic State group (IS) following its territorial expansion across a substantial portion of Iraq in 2014.

Assem Jihad, the spokesperson for Iraq’s oil ministry, informed AFP that following the refinery’s comprehensive rehabilitation, it now boasts an effective capacity of 250,000 barrels per day (bpd). Over the past few years, two smaller production units within the refinery complex were gradually brought back online. However, the reopening on Friday has restored the refinery to a capacity closer to its former prowess, with an additional unit capable of producing 150,000 bpd.

During the inauguration ceremony aired on state television, Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani’s office expressed optimism about the nation’s energy independence. They stated, “With this accomplishment, we are getting closer to meeting the country’s (oil) derivative needs no later than mid next year,” indicating that achieving this goal would allow Iraq to curtail its fuel imports. Despite being an oil-rich country with a daily production of four million barrels, Iraq still finds itself importing oil derivatives, Sudani highlighted.

Constructed in 1975, the refinery had a production capacity of up to 300,000 bpd before falling under IS control in June 2014, when the jihadist group captured Baiji, once a bustling industrial hub of Iraq. However, government forces managed to recapture the facility and the city in October 2015, following intense clashes, but the extensive damage sustained meant the refinery remained non-operational for years.

Iraq hosts several other refineries, with facilities in the southern regions boasting a production capacity of 280,000 bpd, according to Jihad. Additionally, in April, Iraq celebrated the inauguration of an oil refinery in Karbala, located in the central part of the country, with a capacity of 140,000 bpd.

Despite Iraq’s substantial oil wealth, the nation’s dilapidated infrastructure and systemic corruption have impeded reconstruction efforts. Iraq remains heavily reliant on imports to meet its energy demands, a paradox considering its vast oil resources. According to the World Bank, Iraq possesses 145 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, equivalent to 96 years’ worth of production at the present rate.

The significance of oil revenues to Iraq’s fiscal health cannot be overstated, as crude oil sales constitute 90 percent of the Iraqi budget’s revenues. As Iraq moves towards revitalizing its oil infrastructure, hopes are high for a more self-sustaining energy sector, potentially reducing its reliance on imports and fostering greater economic stability.

Meanwhile, in the northern Kurdish province of Iraq, efforts are underway to bolster regional energy infrastructure to complement the country’s broader initiatives. Despite challenges, Iraq’s strides in rehabilitating its oil refineries signify a crucial step towards enhancing its energy independence and economic resilience on the global stage.

In the midst of Iraq’s efforts to revive its oil sector, foreign interests have remained keenly focused on the country’s energy resources. Major international players, including oil corporations from Europe, Asia, and the Americas, have been eyeing Iraq’s oil industry for investment opportunities and partnerships.

The reopening of the Baiji refinery signals not only a milestone for Iraq’s energy independence but also attracts renewed attention from global stakeholders seeking to participate in the nation’s oil sector revitalization.

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