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Thursday, 18 November 2010 - Lebanon not up to telecoms speed

Mobile phone shops in Lebanon are crammed with handset and BlackBerry cases in a dazzling variety of colours and textures.

In contrast with the range of accessories on offer, however, customers can only opt for one of two service providers. Both Alfa and MTC Touch, the country’s mobile phone operators, are controlled by the state, and both charge some of the highest tariffs in the region for what are widely viewed as under-developed services.

“The quality of service is very poor,” says Nassib Ghobril, the chief economist and head of research at Byblos Bank. “Lebanon used to be a leader.” / Middle East - Dubai seeks way round US curbs on Iran trade

Dubai is seeking to facilitate legitimate trade with Iran to counteract the effects of unilateral US sanctions, which have dried up financing for business deals with Tehran.

Following mounting complaints from Dubai merchants, the federal government in the United Arab Emirates and Washington are setting up a committee to clarify the financial sanctions and their scope.

The taskforce will meet for the first time next month, according to people familiar with the matter. / Middle East - RBS shrugs off exposure to Dubai

When Dubai World’s debt standstill announcement rattled global markets last November, few banks looked as exposed as Royal Bank of Scotland, the partially nationalised UK lender.

Moreover, although the bank declines to give a precise figure, Marco Mazzucchelli, RBS’s deputy chief executive of global banking and markets, admits that total exposure to Dubai’s myriad state-linked companies – many of which are now also restructuring – is “many multiples” of its estimated £1bn ($1.6bn) Dubai World debts.

“Clearly, it was not a happy time for us,” he says. “It didn’t come entirely out of the blue, as we knew Dubai was overleveraged and had to have some sort of debt restructuring, but we didn’t expect it to happen when it did...With hindsight we should have had less exposure.”