Cathay Pacific Air Dubbing Dubai Hub

Cathay Pacific Airlines. Photo courtesy Aero Icarus.

The Hong Kong-based airline, Cathay Pacific, has designated Dubai as its official hub for all passenger and cargo air traffic throughout the Middle East. The airline said that the decision was part of its overall “renewed focus” strategy.

Beginning on September 1 Jonathan Ng will be the country manager for Cathay Pacific in the Middle East. Previously Ng was the company’s country manager for Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Regional sales head and marketing manager for the Middle East will be filled by Nikhil Kilpady, transferring from the UAE and Oman.

The airlines routes include two flights per day from Dubai to Hong Kong, and once a day service from Bahrain to Hong Kong. There is also a daily flight from Dubai and Bahrain and back. Cathay Pacific no longer services Riyadh since last March. The airline also used to have service to Doha, Jeddah and Abu Dhabi.

The airline announced it had its first annual revenue loss since the global economic crisis of 2008. It said increased competition from mainland Chinese carriers is hurting their bottom line. The company has about 33,700 employees across the world, as of March. The company recently had to remove 600 jobs from its roster in response to the difficult economic times.

Cigna Health Acquires Zurich Insurance Middle East

The giant health services company Cigna announced that it has successfully acquired the general insurer Zurich Insurance Middle East. For the time being the new division will maintain its current name. Plans to re-brand as a Cigna company are on hold until the takeover is completely finalized.

Now Cigna offers group health solutions and services for multinational and small businesses in the Middle East. The addition of Zurich to their constellation of companies will allow Cigna to provide health services also to individuals, employers, and governments in the UAE, Lebanon, Kuwait, and Oman.

“Cigna has enjoyed a strong presence in the Middle East for more than 15 years through our local partners. Today, we mark a significant new phase of our journey and commitment to the region,” said Jason Sadler, president of Cigna International Markets.

The former CEO of Cigna in Taiwan, Arthur Cozad, was appointed to be the new CEO of the Middle East market. Earlier in 2017 the company opened a new branch in Dubai, at the International Financial center, designated to be the company’s regional headquarters.
Cigna has a 95 million customer base served by over 40,000 employees.

Royal Jordanian Airlines in the Clear with US Homeland Security

The national carrier of Jordan, Royal Jordanian Airlines, announced that passengers

Royal Jordanian Airlines Airbus A319. Photo by Aero Icarus

traveling from Amman to the United States will be allowed to bring their laptops and other electronic devices into the plane’s cabin.

Royal Jordanian is now the fifth Middle Eastern-based airline to be taken off the US’s exclusion list, which demands that passengers hand over their laptops, iPads and other electronics to airline officials to be stored out of reach of the passengers to the flight to the US. The ban made traveling to the US inconvenient, especially for businessmen who use their laptops for work while in flight.

The other four airlines who now meet the security standards of the US Department of Homeland Security are Emirates, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airline.
Beginning in March this year the US banned laptops and other larger electronics from the cabins of direct flights originating in 10 airports in eight countries: Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Turkey, in fear that those devices could be used to hide explosives or other means of disrupting flights.

The ban was lifted from Royal Jordanian flights for the same reasons it was lifted from the other airlines, due to improved security processes by those airlines for their US-bound routes.

On June 29, the US announced more strict security measures for in-bound flights which will entail longer time for passenger screening and the examination of electronic devices for explosives. The measures are due to take effect within three weeks of the announcement. It is estimated that the upgraded screenings will affect 325,000 passengers each day, traveling on 180 airlines, from 280 airports all over the world.

Russian Hackers Responsible for Sowing Discord Middle East

Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani. Picture by Presidencia de la República Mexicana

CNN reported on Tuesday that Russian hackers were able to insert a made-up news story into Qatar’s state news agency in order to influence diplomacy in the Middle East in a negative way.

According to US authorities, Russia was most likely trying to create a breach in relations between the United States and its allies in the Gulf region.

US intelligence agencies hinted that Russian hackers were connected to the first cyberattack that took place two weeks ago. Since that event FBI agents went to Doha, the capital of Qatar, to help them investigate who was responsible for the original attack.

Although it is clear that some entities based in Russia are the source of the hacking, it is not yet known if they are criminal organizations or Russian military groups, like perhaps the GRU. The actual source might not be that significant since, as one unnamed official said, based on previous intelligence on Russia’s cyber-hacking behavior,

“nothing much happens in that country without the blessing of the government.”

The Qatar News Agency published a story on May 23 that they stated was falsely attributed to Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, the country’s emir. The story quoted the emir as wondering what the future has in store for President Trump and the hostility the US harbors towards Iran. Iran is an ally of Qatar, but an enemy of the other Gulf states, including US ally Saudi Arabia.

The story said that Al-Thani said, “There is no wisdom in harboring hostility towards Iran.” Qatar said that the report itself as well as the quote were not true, calling the report a “shameful cybercrime.”

Relations between Qatar and the other Gulf Cooperation states hit a new low this week when it was announced that Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates were going to withdraw their ambassadors and support staff out of Qatar, and cease flights in the region.

“Whatever has been thrown as an accusation is all based on misinformation and we think that the entire crisis being based on misinformation,” Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said. “Because it was started based on fabricated news, being wedged and being inserted in our national news agency which was hacked and proved by the FBI.”

Oman Air Flying Direct to Nairobi from Muscat

Targeting the market in the Middle East, Oman Air added several direct flights per week to Kenyan’s capital, Nairobi from the Omani capital of Muscat.

From now until May 31 Oman Air will offer customers a promotional return fare of $450. The airline, which is the national carrier of the Sultanate of Oman, will offer travelers four flights per week from Muscat to Nairobi.

Samer Abu Ltaif to Head Microsoft in Gulf

Microsoft sign at the entrance of Microsoft Dubai office.

The multinational hi-tech company Microsoft announced its appointment of Samer Abu Ltaif to be the new president for Middle East and Africa.

Abu Ltaif joined Microsoft in 2004 and served as the regional general manager of Microsoft Gulf. He had a crucial role in expanding the company’s Gulf presence and developing the 1,400 partners in the region.

He will be taking over from Ali Faramawy, who was the head of the MEA region for the past 13 years. After his stint as corporate vice president Faramawy will take over as the global head of the Emerging Markets Digital Transformation Organization.

“MEA has tremendous potential. The rich diversity across the region, combined with the fast-growing youth population and innovative spirit, opens up enormous opportunity,” Abu Ltaif said.

He will remain based in Dubai, which is one of the key hubs for Microsoft in the region.
The Dubai office of Microsoft was launched 15 years ago at the beginning of Dubai’s Internet City.

Enel Helping Oil Giants Make Transition to Renewable Energy

Annual electricity net generation from renewable energy in the world (1980-2011). Graphic courtesy of Lery007

Italian utility owner Enel SpA says now is the tine to approach middle eastern countries to get on board with renewable energy supplies as the cost of solar power falls along with oil.

Francesco Starace, CEO of Rome-based Enel said in an interview held in Abu Dhabi that, “We will wait for the first tenders in Saudi Arabia.” Dubai the second largest emirate in the United Arab Emirates, after Abu Dhabi, has begun a renewable program, along with Abu Dhabi. Starace said he would like to see Enel participate in that.

Starace has taken a pro-active position on developing greener sources of energy while scaling back on large power stations. Enel reintegrated its renewable energy division, Enel Green Power, last year, and is predicting a 39 percent cut in the use of fossil fuels over the coming five years for generating power. Two oil giants, Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, and the UAE, the fourth largest oil producer in OPEC, both would like to shrink their oil dependence and generate more power from solar and other sources.

Enel concluded an agreement with the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority to help improve the emirate’s power grid. They also reached an agreement with the Saudi Electricity Company in January, 2017. Over the next five years Saudi Arabia would like to generate 10 gigawatts of power from solar, wind and other types of renewable energy, said Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih. By 2050 DEWA hopes to be able to produce three-quarters of its power from renewable sources.


Oman Shifts Position on Iran and Terrorism

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia after he deplaned from his Boeing 747 following his arrival at Andrews Air Force Base in Camp Springs, Maryland, on September 3, 2015, to visit President Barack Obama. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Contrary to its usual role as conciliator and neutral arbitrator, Oman has indicated its willingness to be a part of 40-country alliance to oppose Iran and its state sponsorship of terrorism. Until now the Sultanate has been concerned that a wider regional confrontation with Iran would lead to internal de-stabilization within its own borders.

“Oman has always in the past taken positions and policies that are contrary to the Gulf positions regarding the region. This now shows the return of Oman to the Gulf consensus against Iran and its political positions,” one source said.

Siding with Saudi Arabia against Iran is a huge shift for Oman since “it is known that Oman has been close to Iran, the traditional enemy of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries.”

Saudi Arabian Prince Mohammed will most likely visit Muscat soon to prepare the groundwork for a visit to Oman by King Salman, the source added.

One reason given for the change in policy is that Oman realized that there was a definite “lack of seriousness and of benefits” of cooperation with the Iranians.

The 40-country alliance was announced last December by the Saudis, a move that was met with approval by the United States. Washington has been urging the region to unify in a campaign to fight ISIL militants who have control of land in Iraq and Syria.

ISIL had threatened the monarchies of the Gulf states, promising to overthrow the kingdoms, and has launched several attacks on Shi’ite Muslim mosques and military personnel in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Oman Cuts Health Benefits to Expat Government Employees

Graphic by Addicted04.

Due to a larger than expected budget deficit, the Sultanate of Oman will be cutting its budget by 5 percent, and some of those cuts are coming from some health care benefits it bestows on government employees.

Expats working in the Oman civil service will no longer be able to take advantage of free surgeries for 18 conditions, and free medications for six different illnesses. The new rules went into effect as of December 5th, and include operations for heart ailments and arthritis meds.

The decision includes both those employed full and part-time.

Other budget cuts are also under consideration as the deficit is expected to total OMR 4.4 billion during the first nine months of 2016, and no increase in revenues is expected.
Other cuts have been made in other sectors, such as employees of state organizations have experienced loss in benefits. There is also a plan to privatize several government assets. Work visa fees to Oman for expats also went up in November by 50 percent.

Execs Leaving Twitter Asia

Three senior executives have announced they are moving on from their posts in the Twitter management in Asia.

The latest resignation comes from Parminder Singh, the chief of Twitter’s business in India, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. After three years with the popular social media company Singh says he will be leaving within the month.

Singh’s announcement comes only two days after Rishi Jaitly, head of Twitter in India, said he was heading for greener pastures. Only just one week ago Karen Stocks, head of Twitter Australia, exited from her post as well.

Twitter has recently restructured their divisions, adding their Middle East business to the European umbrella and the India-Southeast Asia group added to the general Asia-Pacific jurisdiction. During Singh’s tenure the Middle East and India-Southeast Asia areas were together in their own division.

Analysts believe the new configuration of areas are part of a company cost-savings process. Twitter has also announced layoffs of nine percent of the Twitter staff. Twitter’s Asia business also experienced the departure of about 20 employees from their Bangalore office last September. Other money-saving steps include some jobs moved from their Hong Kong Office to the regional headquarters in Singapore. It is still not known whether anyone from either office will be looking for new jobs any time soon.