Yesterday morning I opened my inbox and found a very welcome email from Qifa Nabki, who had been following my posts on the auction of “platinum” mobile phone numbers that the Ministry of Telecommunications was advertising in the local papers. The auction – which had a $200 + tax entry fee – was held Friday evening, and Qifa knew that I would be interested in the results.
Qifa’s email included the link to a story in Saturday’s Al Akhbar, an opposition-friendly newspaper that had covered the auction. (For those of you less wrapped up in Lebanese politics than some of us: the Ministry’s new head, Gibran Bassil, is a member of one of the opposition parties. Before he became minister, the Telecomm Ministry did … nothing. Absolutely nothing. So the question is now: is the new minister able to push through so many changes because he is so much better than his predecessor, or because the opposition blocked these changes when a majority-party minister was in power? The answer, of course, depends on one’s political leanings :).)
For those of you who read Arabic, here is the link to Akhbar‘s article. For those of you who do not, here I am as your cheerful translator!
According to the article, 32 “vacant distinguished numbers, of the platinum type” were sold at Friday’s auction, reaping more than $2,516,000. That’s a huge amount – an average of $78,625 per number. While I’m shocked that the auction actually drew so much money – and for “70” numbers! – I’m also amused by the paper’s description of them as “distinguished”. In Arabic, the word “distinguished” is used all the time to describe diplomatic ties: countries are often described as having “distinguished relations” with one another, and government ministers and heads of state send “distinguished greetings” to one another on holidays and birthdays. And apparently these distinguished figures need equally distinguished mobile numbers :).
The article suggests that this auction represents a “dangerous culture of consumption” developing in Lebanese society reminiscent of “what has happened in the Gulf”. I’m not sure that consumption culture generally can be blamed on the Gulf – after all, Lebanese were busily buying imported products when today’s Gulf states were still British protectorates – but certainly the license plate and mobile number auctions seem to have taken off there first.
Curious to know who made the winning bids on some of these numbers, and how much they paid? Al Akhbar and I are here to help.
Roughly 110 people signed up to participate in the auction – people Akhbar described un-euphemistically as “wealthy” Lebanese. But only 13 of them left with lightened wallets and new numbers – meaning that several went home with multiple purchases.
Bilal Bunduqji, one of the owners of the Petit Cafe restaurants, paid $855,000 for nine numbers (that’s an average of $95,000 per number). One of them, 70 77 77 77, cost the lion’s share: $400,000.
Salman Al Rayyes paid $450,000 for 70 70 70 70.
Muna Abou Hadeer paid $400,000 for 70 70 00 00, as well as $42,000 for another (unspecified) number.
Wadia Al Abssi (now there’s an eye-raising last name) purchased five numbers for a total of $142,000.
Bilal Bou Khalid purchased three numbers for a total of $81,000.
Sajad Khan bought four numbers for a total of $80,000.
Kamel Amhaz purchased one number for $170,000.
Mustapha al-Shabb purchased two numbers for a total of $69,000.
Zein al-Atat purchased two numbers for a total of $42,000.
Manal al-Ramah purchased one number for $40,000.
Ibrahim Qabalan purchased one number for $27,000.
Fouad Bou Khazen purchased one number for $80,000.
Karl Kassab purchased one number for $30,000.
According to the paper, the revenues raised from this auction are to be used for the “improvement of rural services” – meaning rural telephone services, I think. Let’s hope that they are put to good use – and let’s hope that the lucky 13 auction winners are all happy with their purchases. (I frequently suffer from buyer’s remorse, even on small purchases – so I say this sympathetically.) Akhbar‘s article ends with a quote from Bunduqji, who sounds pretty happy about his purchases. He’s planning to flip the numbers and sell them at a profit to khaleejis and other foreigners.
So: if you hail from the Gulf or anywhere else in the world and you are looking for a pretty number, dial +961 70 70 70 70 and ask the nice man who answers what he has for sale.