MANAMA Feb 19 Bahraini bankers expressed
relief on Sunday that the Feb. 14 anniversary of last year's
democracy uprising passed without major disruptions but said
lenders needed to see more infrastructure projects in the Gulf
bank and tourism hub.
"Thank God Feb. 14 went fine to a great extent. There is
hope that the political situation will be seen as stabilised to
a great extent and agencies start increasing ratings,"
Abdulkarim Bucheery, chief executive officer of Bank of Bahrain,
said at a meeting with reporters.
Bahrain, home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, has been in turmoil
since a protest movement erupted on Feb. 14 last year and the
government imposed over two months of martial law to crush it.
Some ratings agencies downgraded Bahraini banks.
Anti-government activists had vowed to reoccupy a central
roundabout in Manama on this week's anniversary, but security
forces kept tight guard on the traffic intersection, which has
remained closed to the public.
There were clashes all week in Shi'ite districts outside the
capital, where riot police deployed armoured vehicles,
watercannon and helicopters to prevent the revival of a movement
driven by Shi'ites who say they face political and economic
marginalisation. The government denies this.
Bucheery said only four or five financial institutions left
Bahrain last year and said the reasons were also linked to the
global economic downturn. He said two Indian banks had applied
for licences to open branches in the island state.
He also said a government move to stop on-arrival visas for
some Western nationalities would not affect banking.
A number of foreign activists entered Bahrain on tourist
visas this month to express solidarity with protesters, who want
democratic reforms that would give the elected parliament power
to form governments. Twelve have been deported.
The protests against a government dominated by the Sunni
Muslim Al Khalifa family dealt a body blow to the real estate
sector and tourism. Many office blocks stand half empty and
weekend Saudi tourism is a shadow of what it was before.
"The government still needs to push infrastructure projects.
There is no liquidity problem on the bank side but the issue is
scarcity of projects," Bucheery said, adding the sector felt
relief that the economy had not suffered greater damage.
Bankers welcomed the appointment of Kamal Ahmed last week to
the transport ministry portfolio. Ahmed was previously chief
operating officer at the Economic Development Board and is seen
by many as the kind of technocrat needed in government.
Ahmed's ministry is expected to supervise a Saudi Bahrain
rail project which will be funded by the two governments and
private investors, as well as restructuring of Bahrain's
aviation sector, including carrier Gulf Air.
"Kamal Ahmed comes from a business background and I think
the focus for Bahrain is building the railway to Saudi Arabia.
Having a minister for transportation is the right thing to do
for the economy and the country," Ali Moosa, managing director
of JP Morgan in Manama, told Reuters.
(Editing by David Cowell)