Thirteen companies including Abu Dhabi-based Etisalat and Turkey's Turkcell have expressed interest in buying Dubai Holding's 35 percent stake in Tunisie Telecom, a government official said on Wednesday.
The Tunisian government said last week that Dubai Holding, which owns the stake through its unit Emirates International Telecommunications (EIT), was considering selling out of the former monopoly Tunisie Telecom.
EIT, which paid $2.25 billion for the 35 percent holding in 2006, has hired Credit Suisse to advise on a sale, banking sources told Reuters on Tuesday.
"There are 13 companies which expressed interest in buying a 35 percent stake, including six known international companies," Ahmed ben Hussien, an official in the Ministry of Communications told Reuters.
"Turkcell and Turk Telekom, Korea Telecom, Etisalat and two others from China," he said without giving more details.
Etisalat chief executive Ahmad Julfar declined to comment.
Etisalat is the largest Gulf telecom operator by market value and is the sole remaining bidder for Vivendi's 53 percent stake in Maroc Telecom.
A Turkcell source said on Tuesday the company was in the process of evaluating the opportunity, while Turk Telekom declined to comment.
Since an uprising that toppled former Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, EIT has complained to the government about strikes and workers' demands for higher pay.
In February 2011, a month after Ben Ali's ousting, Tunisie Telecom cancelled plans to list on the Tunis and Paris stock exchanges after consultations with trade unions. Workers had threatened industrial action if there were job losses.
Tunisia has a population of 10.5 million people and a mobile market penetration of 95 percent. Tunisie Telecom has more than 4 million mobile and 1 million fixed-line subscribers.
Dubai Holding, the conglomerate owned by the ruler of Dubai, is among the group of companies badly hit by the financial crisis. Many of its units have had to restructure debts. But the emirate's economy is recovering thanks to a rebound in tourism, services and the property market.
Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.