Telecoms & IT

The announcement by South African telecommunication company MTN that it was leaving Syria is a good reminder of the high risks for foreign companies of doing business in the country.
Syria’s largest mobile operator, Syriatel, has announced the appointment of a new chairman in a series of changes to the board that mark the end of founder Rami Makhlouf’s ownership of the company, more than a year since he lost control of its management.
Syrian investors close to Asma Al-Assad and other powerful business figures have established a company that is set to become the country’s third telecom operator -- the first time a new player enters the lucrative sector since 2001.
Chinese technology giant Huawei has appointed new managers to its subsidiary in Syria, confirming its continued presence in the country despite reports it was considering quitting several years ago.
The Syrian government has imposed a temporary ban on mobile phone imports to preserve scarce foreign currency reserves. The decision favours influential businessmen who imported large volumes before the ban.
Syria’s second telecom operator MTN-Syria has been placed under the judicial custody of a minority stakeholder with reported links to the country’s First Lady Asma Al-Assad, as the government seeks to exert greater control over the company.
Syria is planning to issue a long-awaited licence for a third telecoms operator at the beginning of next year, according to the country’s telecommunications minister.
MTN, a telecoms group based in South Africa, has announced that it is negotiating to sell its stake in one of the country’s two mobile phone companies, marking the exit of the last large foreign investor still present in Syria.
The management of Syriatel has effectively shifted to the Syrian government after a Syrian court granted judicial custody of the company to a state entity.
The past week has seen a stunning succession of decisions, statements, appointments and resignations that illustrate the piling up of government pressure on Rami Makhlouf to silence him once and for all and restructure Syria’s telecommunications sector.
Three board members of MTN-Syria resigned this week as government pressure continues to impact the telecoms sector.
Preliminary results indicate that Syriatel and MTN-Syria maintained their respective shares of the mobile phone market after seeing revenue growth of around 20 percent.
The Ministry of Finance has frozen the assets and bank accounts of MTN-Syria and of several of its board members, a decision that signals that it wants to put pressure on one of the country’s largest companies.
The Syrian authorities are putting more pressure on Syriatel, the country’s largest private sector company, The Syria Report has learned.
Syria’s two mobile phone operators have posted a significant increase in their 2018 profits, largely thanks to the lower annual license fee paid to the government.


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