Skype to open first Mideast office in Bahrain

Video chat operator working from Manama, despite bans in UAE, Oman.

saudi computers arab 224.88 ap (photo credit: Associated Press)
saudi computers arab 224.88 ap
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Online communications operator Skype is setting up its first Middle East base, in an effort to expand its client base, the company announced on Monday.
Skype, which allows its users to make free voice and video call over the Internet by downloading their software, chose Manama, capital of the Gulf state of Bahrain, as the location for its first regional office.
“It is our eyes and ears and a platform to reach out to our partners in the Middle East and Africa region,” said Rouzbeh Pasha, Skype’s head of Middle East & Africa market development. “We went through a list of countries in the region and Bahrain ticked the most boxes for Skype as an online software company.”
Sheikh Mohammed bin Essa al-Khalifa, chief executive of the Bahrain Economic Development Board, cited a number of factors behind Skype’s choice to set up camp in Bahrain over regional competitors.
“We were obviously keen to attract Skype to Bahrain, given the reputation of the business and the success it has had in recent years,” Khalifa said. “Fundamentally, they were attracted to set up their regional representative office here by Bahrain’s liberal and advanced ICT [information and communication technology] infrastructure and policies.”
“I think it’s vital for the region that ICT development and investment continues, because other sectors such as energy and financial services are growing and require world class ICT support and infrastructure,” he said in reference to growth throughout the Gulf Cooperation Council, made up of Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
“We have a growing young population eager to learn and exploit new technologies, such as Skype’s, whilst the moves towards closer integration across the Gulf Cooperation Council nations will provide further opportunities.
“We have invested in our infrastructure and people to maximize our strategic position as the gateway to the Gulf, which together with our strong track record, robust and effective regulation and low operating costs, will continue to offer international businesses an attractive base to access the Gulf’s trillion dollar economy,” Khalifa added.
Bahrain’s leadership in ICT-based development was recently noted in the World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report, which assesses the impact of ICT on the development process and the competitiveness of nations.
“Bahrain consolidates the impressive upward trend started last year, with another eight-place improvement and a performance driven by an extremely ICTand business-friendly market environment,” the 2009-2010 report read.
While the United Arab Emirates was ranked higher in the report, it has banned access to Skype, as have Oman and Kuwait.
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), the technical term for voice communications via the Internet, is also illegal in Lebanon. In accordance with the 2002 Lebanese Telecoms Act, over the last couple months officials have been shutting down a number of VoIP services similar to Skype. To date Skype has not been affected by the regulations in Lebanon.
In addition to being popular among Middle Eastern youth, Skype is used by many of the expatriates who have migrated to the region to find employment, often leaving their families back home.
Skype has 560 million subscribers around the world.