Gulf bankers eye Libya

Mubasher Financial Services is seeking to become a full-fledged investment bank in Libya.

The eastern Libyan port city of Benghazi. Bankers from the Arabian Gulf are checking out projects in Libya. Abdullah Doma / AFP
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Every other week, Tarek Al Husseini boards a flight to Libya.

He is one of many UAE-based bankers in a rush to identify opportunities for development, a year and a half after Muammar Qaddafi was toppled. Mr Al Husseini has been at the helm of expanding Mubasher Financial Services's operations in Tripoli.

His aim is to grow the regional brokerage house's local unit from a share-trading company to a full-fledged investment bank.

Mr Al Husseini secured a licence to expand Mubasher's Tripoli operations to include asset management, advisory for initial public offerings and private equity.

"The flights are well-packed with passengers from China, Pakistan and the Philippines. Some of them are business travellers, while others are blue-collar types," Mr Al Husseini says of his trips to Libya.

"We're primarily focused on private equity, infrastructure funds and PPP [public-private partnership] arrangements in several sectors including real estate, retail and health care," he said.

Bankers from the Arabian Gulf are checking out projects in Libya, from health care to infrastructure, as the newly elected government seeks to build institutions and develop the economy. The country's resources are plentiful - vast oil and gas reserves, mineral wealth and an extended coastline with the Mediterranean.

"Libya, from a macro perspective, can be comparable to the UAE. You have massive reserves, with many still to be explored, and at the same time there's a relatively small population," said Ziad Makkawi, the chairman of Blue Gate Capital Partners, a Dubai-based private equity investment firm focused on Libya and Iraq. "We are very positive on Libya, despite the fact that it is in the middle of transition from post revolution." The private equity firm has shied away from capital-intensive projects until there is more stability.

However, the partners have established an office in Tripoli with the aim of building relationships, understanding what the Libyans need and preparing bids for specific projects, Mr Makkawi said.

Mubasher Financial Services, headquartered in Bahrain, has operated a small unit with four staff at its branch in Tripoli since 2009. The unit was forced to halt operations after popular uprisings ignited on February 15, 2011, which subsequently forced the nation's stockmarket to shut for a little over a year.

There are 10 companies listed on the exchange valued at US$3.1 billion (Dh11.38bn), Ahmed Karoud, the general manager of the exchange, told The National last year.

"The security situation in the country wasn't suitable for operations to proceed," Mr Al Husseini said. But unlike some foreign companies that evacuated their staff when the security environment worsened, Mubasher decided to wait out the uprising.

"But we kept our offices and our commitment to the country and the economy. When you're in a country, you are there for the long term. You can't be opportunistic and withdraw because of some political unrest," he said