The official declined to name the companies bidding for the licence, or say how many were interested. However, sources say they expect Spain’s Telefonicaand Orascom Telecomof Egypt to be among the candidates. The Spanish company is understood to be bidding in a consortium with Portugal Telecomand Banque Marocaine du Commerce Exterieur (BMCE). The three companies are the main shareholders in Moroccan GSM operator Meditel, and offered the highest price for the Tunisian licence when it was first tendered earlier this year. The other bidder then was Telecom Italia Mobile.

The official says the ministry is confident that the latest licensing round will result in a bid considerably higher than the $381 million offered by the Telefonica consortium in July. ‘Tunisia offers the best market in the region for a mobile phone operator, and we are convinced of the value of the licence,’ he says. ‘If we do not receive an appropriate offer, we will not sell.’

On 10 December, the ministry selected Paris-based Rothschild Conseil International to advise on the retender of the licence.