In January, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority told potential bidders that the competition would be pushed back from February to May (MEED 18:1:08).

However, it has recently extended the management contracts of the two companies that operate the networks, raising speculation of a further delay.

Kuwaiti operator Zain and Alfa, which is majority owned by a subsidiary of Germany’s Deutsche Telecom, expected their management contracts to end on 1 June. The two companies have been told they can now operate the networks until 1 December.

Kamal Shehadi, director general of the regulator, refused to comment on any further delays.

According to Shehadi, 10 telecoms firms have expressed an interest in the operators. Five Middle East companies – the UAE’s Etisalat, Egypt’s Orascom Telecom, Qatar’s Qtel, Saudi Telecom and Zain – have declared their interest.

When the first delay was announced in January, a government official blamed Lebanon’s failure to elect a new president. This situation has yet to be resolved. “The regulator cannot do anything without parliamentary approval and a new president,” says an industry source. “The government does not have the political backing to privatise the networks.”