North Africa/Middle East

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Lebanon's government foresees cancelling "a large part" of the Central Bank's foreign currency obligations to commercial banks and dissolving non-viable banks by November, according to a financial recovery plan passed by the cabinet on Friday, Reuters reported. The document, seen by Reuters and verified as accurate by a minister, was passed by cabinet in its final session hours before losing decision-making powers, following the election of a new parliament on May 15.
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Egypt surprised most economists by delivering its biggest interest-rate hike in nearly half a decade, an attempt to tackle soaring inflation and restore the allure of its local debt with foreign investors, Bloomberg News reported. The central bank increased the deposit and lending rates by 200 basis points each to 11.25% and 12.25% respectively, the Monetary Policy Committee said Thursday in a statement. Only one economist in a survey of nine correctly predicted the decision, with most forecasting an increase of 100 basis points.
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The United Arab Emirates will introduce a form of unemployment insurance, the cabinet said on Monday, the latest reform by the Gulf country as it strives to attract talent and investment amid increasing regional economic competition, Reuters reported. Insured workers would receive some money for a limited time period if made unemployed, UAE Prime Minister and Vice-President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who is also the ruler of trade hub Dubai, said on Twitter, citing a cabinet decision.
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Saudi Arabia's economy grew by 9.6% in the first quarter of 2022, compared to a year earlier, according to flash government estimates on Sunday, as a recovery in the oil sector drove the strongest growth in more than a decade, Reuters reported. During the first quarter, oil activity in Saudi Arabia increased by 20.4% and non-oil activity by 3.7%, the estimates showed.
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The Association of Banks in Lebanon said on Saturday it “completely rejects” the government’s latest draft of a financial recovery plan meant to pull the country out of an economic meltdown, Reuters reported. In a statement shared with Reuters, the ABL called the plan “disastrous” and said it would leave banks and depositors shouldering the “major portion” of losses. The government estimates that the financial sector's losses amount to $72 billion.
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Saudi Arabia's consumer price index rose 2% in March from a year earlier on the back of rising transport and food costs, increasing for the seventh consecutive month, government data showed on Thursday, Reuters reported. Food and beverages rose 3% compared to a year earlier, driven by a 2.4% rise in meat prices and 9.4% in vegetable prices, the General Authority for Statistics said in a statement.
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The Bank of Israel delivered an interest-rate hike that exceeded most forecasts to signal the start of a rare monetary tightening cycle in the face of inflation it now expects to peak later and at a higher level, according to the deputy governor, Bloomberg News reported. Andrew Abir, a voting member of the monetary committee and the central bank’s No. 2 official, said Israel’s inflation -- currently above the government’s 1%-3% target range -- will likely only begin to decline in the second half of the year.
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Tunisia's government said on Tuesday it suspended the export of vegetables in an effort to control inflamed prices in the local market as a severe economic crisis hits the North African country, Reuters reported. Commerce ministry spokesperson Mohamed Ali Ferchichi said the ministry decided to stop the export of tomatoes, peppers, onions and potatoes in an effort to reduce prices. Tunisia mainly exports these vegetables to its neighbor Libya.
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Egypt said Sunday its annual inflation rate surged past 12% in March, up from 10% in February, largely because of Russia’s war in Ukraine, which has strained global markets and sent oil prices to record highs, the Associated Press reported. Data released by the Central Agency for Mobilization and Statistics shows price hikes across many sectors, from fuel, electricity and food items to housing, medical services and entertainment. The figures cover the period from April 1, 2021, to March 30, 2022.
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Lebanon and the International Monetary Fund on Thursday reached a tentative agreement on comprehensive economic policies for the crisis-hit country that could eventually pave the way for some relief, unlocking billions of dollars in loans, the Associated Press reported. The four-year agreement, which is subject to approval by IMF management and executive board, was announced by Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati after a meeting with IMF delegates in Beirut. He said Lebanon promised the IMF that Beirut would implement wide-ranging reforms in the small nation notorious for corruption.
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