The Syrian regime grants a license to the new telecommunications company “Wafa Telecom”

Syrian regime authorities on Monday granted a rare license to a new telecommunications company that will start operating in nine months, the communications minister said.

Wafa Telecom will become the third Syrian telecommunications operator in a market currently controlled by Syriatel and MTN.

Iyad al-Khatib told a press conference that he hopes the new company will “improve the reality of cellular communications in Syria, especially after its infrastructure was damaged” during the country’s civil war.

He said the new venture was locally funded and estimated that it would cover at least 30% of the Syrian telecom market.

The European Union added Khatib to a sanctions list in 2019 for his role in Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s “violent repression” of civilians.

Wafa Telecom CEO Ghassan Saba said the company relied on foreign expertise, amid reports of Iranian investment in his business.

Al-Khatib dismissed reports of Iranian or foreign funding.

Syriatel is the largest telecommunications company in the country and accounts for 70% of the market.

It was founded by business tycoon Rami Makhlouf, a cousin of Assad who made headlines in 2020 after criticizing the regime in Facebook videos.

Makhlouf was forced out of the business after the government ordered Syriatel to pay over $180 million to the treasury.

MTN’s main market is Africa. He announced in 2020 that he was looking to exit the Middle East market and was in talks to sell his 75% stake in MTN Syria.

Sean B. Jackson