The United Arab Emirates is reportedly granting Apple an exemption from foreign ownership laws, allowing it to retain full control of planned operations in the country — including two new Apple Stores.
Apple was otherwise refusing to set up shop in the region, two sources informed Bloomberg. Although the country's monarchical government is working on a law that would permit full foreign ownership in some industries, businesses in the U.A.E. must normally be 51 percent owned by Emiratis, or a parent company completely owned by them, unless they're operating in so-called free zones.
Ahmad Al-Hosani, director of trade registration for the country's Ministry of Economy, would only tell Bloomberg that Apple was licensed "according to the requirements of, and in compliance with the Commercial Companies Law, as well as the ministerial resolution on foreign company branches."
The first Apple Store should open in Dubai later this year, the sources said, followed by a shop in Abu Dhabi. The Dubai outlet will be Apple's first in the Middle East outside of Turkey.
The U.A.E. is a small but significant market for Apple, since while there are just 17 million cellular subscribers in the region, 61 percent of them are using smartphones. In the fourth quarter of 2014, the iPhone 5s was the region's most popular phone.
Dubai in particular is an important city, with extreme wealth in some quarters and a number of foreign tourists and expats. Rumors of a Dubai Apple Store first emerged in May, pointing to a space in the Mall of the Emirates measuring a gigantic 50,000 square feet. It was also claimed that the store would open this month, however.