Algeria is edging slowly towards Islamic banking services to suit more religiously conservative investors. Finance Minister Hadji Baba Ammi has already announced plans for the country's first local bond. Now six state-run banks plan to start Islamic financial services by the end of the year or in early 2018 and a national sharia board that would oversee Islamic banking is also planned by the end of 2017. Algeria's Islamic finance plan still faces huge barriers. It lacks a legal framework and technical expertise. Algeria is far behind North African neighbours Morocco and Tunisia, which have started to develop legislation for Islamic finance. The country is targetting domestic savers rather than foreign investors. Many local people distrust the state-owned banks and keep large sums at home in Algerian and foreign currency.
Generous government salaries and free healthcare, funded by vast natural gas reserves in a country with only about 300,000 citizens, do not always translate into healthy bank balances for ordinary Qataris. Instead, they can come under intense social pressure to live way beyond their means, spending lavishly on everything from the latest smart phones and designer fashions to family weddings. Now their problems are deepening as diving global energy prices mean even the Qatari welfare state is becoming less generous. Many are borrowing enormous sums from local banks to finance lifestyles they cannot afford, according to a study by Qatar University.
The Islamic Development Bank (IDB) is in discussions with Chinese officials to study the use of Islamic financing in the planned Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The move could spur the use of sukuk (Islamic bonds), which have gained prominence as funding tools for a range of countries in recent years, and among multilateral lenders to help fund some of Asia's mounting infrastructure needs. A potential link-up between IDB and AIIB, which have 20 member countries in common, would also open a growing pool of capital in the hands of private-sector Islamic investors across the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
American banker Glenn Stewart was running a financial firm for the Gosaibi family, but in 2009, after the fall of the Lehman Brothers, creditors demanded the firm repay its loans. What followed was the biggest corporate default on record in the Middle East, lawsuits against Stewart in 10 different countries, and Stewart's eventual escape from Bahrain with the help of an ex-CIA operative. Stewart and his Gosabi family partner, billionaire Maan al-Sanea, are accused of stealing up to $10 billion and driving the bank they established to collapse. Stewart, who says he was essentially "the chief house slave" in the Gosaibi family, claims he was "tricked, big time".
Islamic banking is growing faster than its conventional counterpart but is focused in a few core markets and risks missing an opportunity to build a global footprint, the EY consultancy said in a report. Islamic banks across six core markets of Qatar, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey held $625 billion at the end of 2013 or 80 percent of the global Islamic finance market, the report said. Beyond these markets, the industry is expected to make some gains in Egypt, Pakistan and North African countries such as Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. However, in the absence of regulatory reforms and strong sovereign support, the pace of growth is likely to be moderate.
The countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have a very high chance of success in the development of their financial markets and promoting their competitiveness. This is shown in a recent research by Deutsche Bank. One of the key factors stressed on in the research report is progress made in corporate governance-related matters. The Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf countries has made significant advances in establishing effective financial market regulation and oversight as well as a strong grip on market abuse and financial fraud. Continuing to follow this direction and committing the resources needed to achieve optimal consistency and effectiveness in regulation and market supervision is seen as crucial for achieving the goals of financial development and economic diversification.