Qatar Telecom looks to increase stake in Tunisiana

The Persian Gulf’s biggest telecoms company by revenue, Qatar Telecom (Qtel), is eager to increase its 75% holding stake in Tunisian telecoms operator Tunisiana.

Qtel has rapidly increased its presence in Tunisia over the past year, and completed a 50% stake acquisition in the company from Egyptian-based Orascom Telecom in January 2011, for a reported $1.2 billion.

“We have signalled our willingness to increase our stake,” said Abdullah Al Thani, chairman at Qtel. Thani was keen to stress any decision would only depend on agreement and compliance from the Tunisian government.

The ownership structure of Tunisia’s only private telecoms operator has been rigged with controversy. 50% of the company was previously owned by a consortium that was split 50-50 between it and two businessmen close to the old regime, one of whom was the son-in-law of former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who was ousted from power on January 14 2011. The present Tunisian government has since seized the remaining 25% stake in the company.

As the Middle Eastern telecoms market becomes increasingly competitive, the region’s main telecoms providers have signalled intent to extend operation beyond the UAE in to the emerging markets of Asia and Africa. Bloomberg reports Qtel’s increased activity in Africa could be a direct result of pressure it faces in its home market from increased competition from Vodafone Qatar which launched mobile services in 2009.

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