Small, yes, but it's becoming the Middle East's listening post

By , the Monitor's Middle East correspondent.

In a region where quality of telecommunications varies with the landscape, Cyprus is advanced by world standards. Having channeled much of its modest recovery money into telephone, telegraph, and telex repairs and expansion, Cyprus is on the verge of being the listening and relay post of the Middle East. Already it is fourth in the world, after Britain, Australia, and the United States, in direct-dial links with other countries.

By contrast, outside of Israel and the oilrich nations of the Arabian Peninsula, the Mideast telephone norm is dusty and battered. In Cairo, one shouts through a stiff electrical fuzz to be heard. In Beirut, which until the mid-1970s had the region's best communication facilities, it is virtually impossible to phone from one neighborhood to another, although not difficult (until recent undersea cable problems) to call overseas. In Jordan, Amman's phones are top-notch, but international calls can face delays of an hour or more.

Politics also interferes with telecommunications to a great extent. One cannot dial Israel from an Arab country, or vice versa (although by revolutionary oversight Tehran and Tel Aviv are still connected). Everyone has arrangements to cope: A courier will hand carry a message, a large "tip" will open a hotel line, the generally reliable telex will be used for creative purposes, or some business will simply await phone access in a more modern country.

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In Cyprus, where many Arab businessmen shuttle on weekends to be sure of phone connections, internal and external networks are excellent. There is no waiting period for a phone, and practically none for a telex. Maintenance by the Cyprus Telecommunications Authority (CYTA) is good, and service runs 24 hours. One can pick up the phone in this small island republic and talk directly to 64 countries, including bothm Israel and Arab states (although because of the Greek-Turkish division of the island, one cannot be connected with northern Cyprus).

In 1980, a ground station connected the island to the Atlantic Ocean Regional Satellite, and a supplementary undersea cable was laid to Greece, ensuring uninterrupted service.

The facilities get high marks from users in the region. A prominent American news service based in Beirut turns up several times a week, using CYTA to Tehran to talk with correspondents and government officials. Most American and European broadcasting companies shuttle their nightly news film to Cyprus for onward relay via satellite. The British Broadcasting Company is planning to use Cyprus as a relay for news being fed from the Indian Ocean area.

"We get inquiries every day about our capabilities," says Savvas Kokkinides, administrative secretary of CYTA. "Businessmen are influenced by the fact that we have one of the most advanced communication systems in the world. Many offices are locating here for this reason."

Advancing the system even further, computer "modem" units, facsimile reproduction capability, and automatic mobile telephone equipment are being installed in 1981. A four-year rural telephone development project is under way , aiming to give every village on the island up-to-date facilities -- which should enhance decentralization and open remote areas of the island to development.

The 1974 Turkish intervention destroyed or damaged one-third of installations and put a severe financial burden on CYTA. But restoration of service and modernization were deemed important to the future of the Cypriot economy. That decision has paid off in a series of new business operations that rely on quick, efficient communication -- banking, warehousing, shipping, and light manufacturing. CYTA itself realized a $7 million (US) surplus in 1979. Facts on Cyprus Geography: 3,572 square miles, slightly larger than Puerto Rico. The island is divided de facto into Republic of Cyprus on the south and the Turkish federated state of Kibris (internationally unrecognized) on the north. Two mountainous regions, the Troodos and the Pentadactylos (or Kyrenia) ranges, are separated by a central plain. Population: 619,000 total on island, 80 percent of whom live in the Greek south. Languages: Greek, English, Turkish Principal towns: Nicosia (capital), Limassol, Larnaca, Paphos. In the Turkish sector are northern Nicosia, Kyrenia, Famagusta. Per capita income: $3,100. Currency: Cyprus Pound 1. (r) $2.76 Chief imports: Manufactured goods, machinery, and transport equipment, fuels, food. Chief exports: Citrus, raisins, potatoes, wine, cement, clothing. Type of government: Parliamentary democracy. Inflation rate: 13 percent in 1980. Major industries: Mining (iron pyrites, gypsum, asbestos), beverages, footwear, clothing, cement. Religion: Greek Orthodox, Muslim.

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