Lefteris Pitarakis, Associated Press
CAIRO — Egypt's stock market will reopen Tuesday after being closed more than a month during unrest that toppled the country's president, officials said Sunday.
Saudi investors, meanwhile, called on their government to step in and halt days of declines as protests in Libya and Gulf countries weighed heavily on investor confidence.
The Egyptian Exchange's reopening has been delayed several times since closing after trading on Jan. 27 amid worries that panicked investors could dump shares as thousands of foreigners fled the country. The market's benchmark EGX30 index had fallen almost 17 percent in two consecutive trading sessions before it shut down.
The mass demonstrations that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak were followed by labor protests and strikes that forced public sector banks to close for about a week.
The reopening comes at a challenging time. While Egypt appears to have moved past the immediate political crisis, protests continue as activists demand speedier reforms from the new military rulers. Meanwhile, unrest is simmering throughout the region.
"I don't think there's going to be a major collapse. But there will certainly be some significant selling pressure, taking into account that people's money has been locked in for a month," said Karim Helal, managing director of CI Capital.
Helal said he expected a steady recovery after the first few days.
News of the reopening, which came in a statement from the Cabinet, was met with some trepidation in the Egyptian capital. The official MENA news agency reported that hundreds of people gathered in front of the exchange to call on the military rulers to keep the exchange closed.
Meanwhile, stock markets tumbled across the oil-rich Gulf Arab region as protests spread across the Middle East, shifting ever closer to oil kingpin Saudi Arabia.
A bloody crackdown by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has sent shudders through global oil markets, and as protests have spread to the Gulf, there are growing concerns that global oil supplies could be impacted.
The protests in Libya are the first to seriously affect a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. A disruption in production in the North African nation temporarily pushed the U.S. crude oil benchmark futures contract to over $100 per barrel late last week, while the London-based Brent futures contract remains well above $110 per barrel.
"What's going on in Libya is impacting the rest of the markets," said Irfan Ellam, head of research at the Dubai, United Arab Emirates-based Al Mal Capital.
In Bahrain on Sunday, protests by the Shiite majority continued to challenge the minority Sunni monarchy, while in Oman, police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters in clashes that left one person dead.
Saudi Arabia's Tadawul All Shares Index fell 5 percent, bringing it to 5,950 points, its lowest level in about six months. The drop triggered calls from some panicked Saudi investors to close the market and for the government to intervene to stave off further drops.
One prominent Saudi businessmen, Abdel-Aziz Al Rajhi, a member of the family affiliated with Al Rajhi Bank, the country's largest publicly traded lender by market value, told The Associated Press that there is a growing movement to ask the king to directly intervene.
Calls for reform are mounting in Saudi Arabia, where the king last week decreed sweeping measures to help alleviate the financial burden for the kingdom's lower income citizens.
In Dubai, the Dubai Financial Market's stock index closed down 0.86 percent to 1,466 points. The decline brought its losses so far this year to slightly over 10 percent.
Oman's stock index was down 2.83 percent as protests began to surface there. In Qatar, which has the world's second highest per capita income, the main index was down 0.21 percent to 8,193 points.
Shares of Dubai-based developer Emaar Properties, the company behind the world's tallest building, fell 2.4 percent.
Brokers said the market drops were a reflection of uncertainty about the long-term impact of the protests.
Trading in the markets appeared relatively subdued, with sentiment — as in oil markets — taking precedence over fundamentals.
"There are a lot of people sitting on the sidelines," said Ellam. "We're seeing deep value in quite a few areas," such as the Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company, which was one of the few to see its share price climb. The shares of the company, also known as "du," climbed 0.68 percent to 2.98 dirhams.
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