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from FaithWorld:

Christians in Arab Gulf face hurdles to worship

doha church (Photo: Worshippers pack the first Mass at St Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Doha, March 15, 2008/Fadi Al-Assaad)

Every Friday in the Muslim Gulf Arab state of Kuwait, 2,000 worshippers cram into a 600-seat church or listen outside to the mass relayed on loudspeakers, prompting their Roman Catholic bishop to worry about a stampede. "If a panic happens, it will be a catastrophe ... it is a miracle that nothing has happened," said Bishop Camillo Ballin.

These churchgoers represent only the tip of the iceberg. Ballin reckons his flock in Kuwait numbers around 350,000 out of a total of half a million Christians in the country.

At least 3.5 million Christians of all denominations live in the Gulf Arab region, the birthplace of Islam and home to some of the most conservative Arab Muslim societies in the world. The freedom to practice Christianity -- or any religion other than Islam -- is not always a given in the Gulf and varies from country to country. Saudi Arabia, which applies an austere form of Sunni Islam, has by far the tightest restrictions.

kuwait pastorThis week, Saudi media said 13 Filipinos had been charged with proselytizing after a raid on a Riyadh hotel where nearly 150 people had been attending a private Catholic Mass.

from Route to Recovery:

Facing tough credit market, casino owner will go it alone

ROUTE-RECOVERY/

GULFPORT, Mississippi – Before the recession hit, Rick Carter was hoping to borrow money to renovate a hotel damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Now he says the stringent conditions and high borrowing costs banks want to charge him amid the ongoing credit crunch mean there’s no way he’d sign up for a loan.

from Route to Recovery:

Four years after Katrina, high-cost insurance dogs Gulf Coast

ROUTE-RECOVERY/

GULFPORT, Mississippi – It’s been more than four years since Hurricane Katrina lifted the casino barges of this Gulf Coast town at the end of August 2005 and dumped them on the shore, yet locals complain they are still paying a high financial price for that cataclysmic event.

The problem this area faces comes to one that is global – a lack of available credit – and one that is entirely local – a lack of available insurance.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Should Pakistan grow food for the Gulf?

Queuing to buy wheat flour in Peshawar/May file photoThis is an idea that looks crazy at first glance -- Pakistan, struggling with its own food shortages and rising prices, rents out its farmland to grow grains for the rich Gulf states instead. 

But the idea appears to be gaining momentum. Saudi Arabia is holding talks with officials in Pakistan, among other countries, to set up projects to grow wheat and other grains to protect itself from crises in world food supplies. Dubai-based private equity firm Abraaj Capital has already said it is looking at investing in agriculture in Pakistan  and other Gulf countries are also showing an interest.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Looking at the positive side of Pakistan’s economy

A man eats free food in Karachi/Zahid HusseinAmid the conventional wisdom that Pakistan's economy is falling to pieces -- a view reinforced inside the country by soaring food prices and frequent power cuts -- it's interesting to see that someone still sees it as a hot market for foreign funds.

The Melchior Selected Trust Pakistan Opportunities Fund, one of the first funds to target Pakistan, believes the country's problems have been exaggerated and sees its market as having the potential of "India at half the price", according to this Reuters story.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Maybank buys into Pakistan

Maybak tower in Kuala Lumpur/Bozuki MohammadAfter asking last month whether the media should be more positive about Pakistan -- the comments on the whole seemed to suggest we should be, while not being blind to the risks-- it was interesting to see that Malaysia's top lender, Malayan Banking, had no such doubts.

 Maybank said it had bought a 15 percent stake in Pakistan's largest listed lender MCB Bank for $680 million, the largest banking acquisition into Pakistan, as it bet on a bright economic future despite the recent political turbulence.  It said the acquisition would give it access to "a high-growth and under-penetrated banking market with a large population", and that it was confident about Pakistan's political outlook.

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