The Weekly Circuit
👋 Good Monday morning in the Middle East!
The week opens with Bahrain playing host to Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who brought a business delegation in tow. Herzog landed in the small island state on Sunday, where he met with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Foreign Minister Abdul Latef Al Zayani and the Bahrain Economic Development Board. The visit was preceded on Friday by a series of anti-Israel protests in the capital city of Manama. In newspaper columns for the Times of Israel and Bahrain’s Al Ayam, Herzog wrote that he hoped the two countries would form more business partnerships and sign a free-trade agreement, as Israel did in May with the United Arab Emirates.
Herzog was scheduled to take a short flight to the UAE on Monday for meetings with President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Herzog was invited to attend the Abu Dhabi Space Debate, an international forum on space exploration policy in which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will also participate. Joining the presidential delegation to the Gulf are representatives from the Israel Innovation Authority, the Israel Export Institute and Start-Up Nation Central.
In Rabat, Morocco, a three-day conference gets underway on Monday addressing how to increase educational and cultural exchanges between Israel and the Arab countries with which it has organized ties.The conference is part of the N7 Initiative from the Washington-based Atlantic Council and the Jeffrey M. Talpins Foundation.
Attendees include education ministry officials from across the region, university administrators, academics and NGOs involved in coexistence, interfaith and people-to-people work. The conference will serve as something akin to a startup accelerator, where attendees will meet to generate and refine ideas that can make positive changes in the lives of citizens of each country, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports. At the end of the three days, the goal is for stakeholders from each country — Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates — to walk away with specific policy proposals that they can continue to hone together. (Sudan’s military government is not part of the group.)
The initiative aims to create “a community of countries and a network of experts committed to ensuring that the maximum number of people are positively impacted by the trend of normalization,” said former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, who oversees the program with William Wechsler, director of the Atlantic Council’s Middle East programs and its Rafik Hariri Center. “Education, which shapes every person’s life and the opportunities they encounter, and coexistence, the approach that allows people to overcome differences to learn with and from each other, is the perfect place to start,” Shapiro said.
In this week’s newsletter, we follow the Tel Aviv adventures of Ahmed Bin Sulayem, CEO of the Dubai Multi-Commodities Centre, who is wooing Israelis to set up businesses in the Emirati free-trade zone. We also take you to the Golan Heights, where travelers are exploring a new luxury hotel in an area that has been the scene of wars and political conflicts that have shaped the modern Middle East.
Welcome to The Weekly Circuit, where we cover the Middle East through a business and cultural lens. Read on for the stories, deals and players at the top of the news. Please send comments and story tips to [email protected].
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Dubai’s Ahmed Bin Sulayem reaches out to Tel Aviv
Ahmed Bin Sulayem, who runs diamond, gold and coffee exchanges in Dubai, has a hard time sitting still.
Courting business owners at a seminar in Tel Aviv last week, the 44-year-old CEO of the mammoth Dubai Multi-Commodities Centre, repeatedly left his chair up front to take phone calls, visit the espresso bar, snap pictures, send WhatsApp messages, view YouTube videos, play e-games and work the lobby. He conveys the enthusiasm and frenetic air of a man who spends a great deal of time taste-testing the products at the global coffee center he established among the 22,000 businesses that operate at the DMCC, Dubai’s largest free-trade zone, Linda Gradstein reports for The Circuit.
Trading & surfing: Decades before the Abraham Accords normalized diplomatic ties between the United Arab Emirates and Israel in 2020, Bin Sulayem regularly slipped into Tel Aviv to meet with traders at the Israel Diamond Exchange, discuss investments in tech startups and surf on the Mediterranean beaches. Now he’s coaxing many of the friends he’s made to set up shop in Dubai and sell to neighboring Arab countries that were previously off limits to Israelis.
Bouncing ideas: “Israel’s just an amazing market to bounce ideas back and forth and connect with,” Bin Sulayem told The Circuit in an interview after leading the DMCC’s three-hour “Made for Trade Live” road show on Nov. 29 at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. “There are so many opportunities that have been uncovered.”
Road show: The DMCC, a city within a city made up of 87 office and residential towers with 100,000 people and a large artificial lake, has been promoting its services at similar events in 15 international cities this year, including New York, Miami, London and Paris, as well as in Barcelona, Spain, and Bogota, Colombia.
Roasting coffee: Besides being home to the Dubai Diamond Exchange, the Dubai Gold and Commodities Exchange and the DMCC Coffee Centre, Bin Sulayem has sought to make the free-trade zone a home for cryptocurrency and e-gaming businesses. The coffee operation, which has facilities for roasting, storage and exporting the commodity around the world, also features a school for baristas. Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange, established a regional office at DMCC, and Bin Sulayem says he’s friendly with CEO Changpeng “CZ” Zhao, who has been living in the zone amid the crash of FTX, its biggest rival.
Lakers fan: Bin Sulayem, who sports a trim beard and was dressed in an emerald green shirt under a sports jacket at the Tel Aviv event, cultivated an affection for the Los Angeles Lakers as a student at California State University in San Bernardino. Once he came back to the UAE, he went to work for his father, Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, chairman of DP World, the fifth-largest ports operator in the world, who put him in charge of the fledgling DMCC project at age 23. Shortly afterward, he came to Israel to meet with leaders of the Israel Diamond Exchange and left with the expectation that a peace treaty was two years away. He was off by more than 20 years, but now relishes the ability to visit the country openly.
No taxes: “Visiting Tel Aviv changed my life,” Bin Sulayem told the more than 200 Israelis whom he welcomed to the DMCC seminar. As a free trade zone, there are no income taxes for any of the businesses in the DMCC, he said. Even more important for Israelis, the companies in the DMCC remain wholly owned by the original owners, but are registered as Emirati companies and can therefore do business throughout the Gulf, including in Saudi Arabia, where they would otherwise be barred.
BED & BREAKFAST
How a luxury Golan Heights hotel is preserving history, layer by layer
It’s not often in Israel that you wake up to the sight of more than a dozen gleaming Ferraris, but then again, there aren’t too many places far enough from the country’s bustling center to warrant a serious road trip for the Italian power rides – or exclusive enough to draw in the owners of such luxury. That’s why, on a recent weekday morning, the Ferrari Owners Club of Israel roared onto the grounds of the Pereh Hotel – the year-and-a-half-old luxury resort that sits quietly tucked away on the majestic Golan Heights – and parked their colorful cars for a rich and pampering breakfast in the hotel’s sweet-tasting Rouge restaurant, The Circuit’s Ruth Marks Eglash reports.
Wild tranquility: With sweeping views of the Galilee, the Pereh Mountain Resort sits on an expansive plot of Israel’s most northern plateau. Far from the country’s obvious tourist spots in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, Pereh, which literally means wild in Hebrew, captures the raw and thorny beauty of the Golan Heights, while at the same time offering a tranquility that puts visitors immediately at one with nature. It also captures a unique slice of history for Israel in particular and the broader region in general, with the hotel’s owner and an array of local designers working hard to preserve the past, while at the same time carefully adding a new layer of comfort and opulence. In fact, sometimes it is hard to imagine, among the serenity and luxury, that this was once the scene of brutal conflict, wars and a geopolitical, colonial agreement that ultimately shaped the current Middle East.
Colonial history: Pereh stands along the old Haifa-Damascus Road at the site of what is known as the Upper or French Customs House. It was here in 1916 that the British and French diplomats, Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot, signed a secret treaty at the end of World War I carving up the former Ottoman Empire to create the borders of the countries we know today: Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and what was British Mandated Palestine, now Jordan, Israel and the West Bank. At the heart of the sprawling property, inside a ragged building that remains largely untouched, is a rudimentary museum paying homage to this game-changing agreement and to the creation of the hotel that now sits here.
Eucalyptus trees: It was also what pushed Glaser to purchase this parcel of land in 2014. According to legend, Cohen had succeeded in convincing the Syrian army to plant eucalyptus trees at army bases across the Golan, which was then in Syrian hands; he said it would keep the soldiers shielded from the sun. However, it is believed that knowing the location of these trees is what assisted the Israel Defense Forces in identifying Syrian military targets, allowing it to capture the area during the 1967 Six-Day War. Israel formally annexed the Golan Heights in 1981, a move still not accepted by most of the world, although the U.S., under former President Donald Trump, recognized Israel’s sovereignty there in a contentious 2019 declaration.
Recycled materials: A short stay at Pereh is a uniquely pleasurable experience. From the moment of arrival at the grand metal gates to the well-shaded and welcoming courtyard, replete with a fire pit and seating area, the resort is refreshing and inspiring. Each room combines locally found, natural materials – think recycled wood, iron and stone – in its design. Discarded Syrian army beds have been reimagined into lounging chairs, and the moody basalt rock found scattered across the Golan has been reused for flooring, walling and other detailed decoration. Also decorating the hotel’s walls are local and international artworks, many incorporating organic materials and themes.
Read the full story here.
The ‘Beast’ returns: Saudi Arabia’s giant desert rave grows bigger than ever
Hundreds of thousands of Saudis rushed to a giant rave this past weekend in a desert site on the outskirts of Riyadh to hear some of the world’s biggest rap and hip-hop stars. Dressed in a range of styles from hoodies and combat boots to traditional Bedouin robes, they danced together to blaring rap and trance music in an event that would have been unthinkable six years ago in the conservative Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Rebecca Anne Proctor reports for The Circuit.
Kingdom rocks: It was the third edition of Soundstorm, a gigantic music festival produced by MDL Beast, a government-approved Saudi entertainment company. Last year saw more than 730,000 people attend over four days, and this year organizers expect that number to increase over the festival’s three-day duration, making it the biggest music festival in the Middle East and arguably in the world.
DJ Khaled: Several stages featured top global and Saudi music stars showing off their very best beats, amid pulsating light shows and acrobatic performers. They included Bruno Mars, Marshmello and Post Malone, performing at the festival for the first time, and returning DJs such as David Guetta, Carl Cox and DJ Snake. Rap was introduced into the mix this year, with acts including Fat Joe, Future, Rick Ross, Busta Rhymes and T.I., who joined DJ Khaled, making a first appearance in the Middle East, onstage for “DJ Khaled & Friends.”
Thriving underground: A strong showing of Saudi DJs, particularly female ones, like DJ Cosmicat, Danah, Biirdperson, Dorar, Solskin and Dorar, played alongside their male Saudi counterparts, Dish Dash and Vinylmode, demonstrating the country’s homegrown talent and its strong electronic music scene, which until a few years ago had been a long-thriving underground scene. “It’s an unveiling,” said Ahmed Alammary, chief creative officer at MDL Beast and a DJ, who goes by the name of Baloo.
Respect & Reset: After complaints of harassment in the festival’s first two years, MDL Beast launched a “Respect & Reset” campaign that included signs warning against harassment and a designated tent to help those claiming that they were abused. Security was beefed up to nearly 4,000 personnel on-site, with 300 CCTV cameras monitoring all areas at all times.
IPO Boom: The Middle East is generating a record number of IPOs this year, 45 companies raising $17.6 billion since the beginning of 2022, more than 60% ahead of last year. The UAE leads the region, followed by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Israel and Egypt.
Bidding Up: The Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain soccer team may be valued at more than $4 billion as three bidders vie for a minority stake of up to 15% in the French club.
Crypto Gloom: Cryptocurrency firms in Dubai are feeling the pain from the collapse of FTX, shutting down or announcing layoffs after the city-state promoted itself as a center for the emerging industry.
Moving Closer: Senior executives of UVeye, an Israeli maker of drive-through vehicle inspection technology, are moving to the U.S. to be closer to customers.
Big Spenders: Dubai generates more spending by international visitors than any other city in the world, topping Doha and London in a tourism council survey,
Final Landing: U.S. jet engine maker Pratt & Whitney will close its Blades Technology Industry plant in Israel and lay off 900 employees, blaming the move on losses.
Crude Sale: Luberef, Saudi Aramco’s refining unit, could raise $1.3 billion when the world’s biggest oil producer puts 30% of the company’s shares up for sale in an IPO.
Native Ads: Yahoo will buy a 25% stake in Israel’s Taboola and establish a 30-year exclusive partnership in technology that helps it manage so-called native advertising that often look like news items.
No Alternative: Israel is shuttering the experimental Bubble and TikTak ride-sharing services that provided an alternative to taxis in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Generating Buzz: Israel’s BeeHero, which developed a precision pollination platform to increase crop yields, completed a $42 million funding round, led by Convent Capital.
Green Steel: Oman’s Jindal Shadeed Group plans to build a $3 billion factory to produce “green steel” for high-strength automotive products using renewable energy.
On the Circuit
Mohammed Alabbar, founder of Dubai’s Emaar Properties, plans to build the largest marina for super yachts in the Mediterranean, located in the Albanian city of Durres.
Bezalel Smotrich, the designated finance minister in Israel’s incoming government coalition, agreed to a rotation agreement that will have Aryeh Deri, head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, taking over the cabinet post after two years.
Niall Byrne was hired as chief financial officers for the Qatar Investment Authority, the Gulf state’s $450 billion sovereign wealth fund. Byrne previously worked for JPMorgan.
Ahead on the Circuit
Dec. 5-6, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: World Fintech Show. Conference brings together investors, policymakers, entrepreneurs to discuss technology used by the financial services industry. Intercontinental Riyadh Hotel.
Dec. 7, Tel Aviv: Israel Crypto Conference. Digital currency managers debate whether the industry has entered “crypto winter,” battling fraud. ZOA House.
Dec. 8, Dubai: The Future of E-Commerce Business. Industry leaders discuss strategies for electronic commerce with the introduction of Web 3.0. Dubai CommerCity.
Startup Library: The National Library of Israel and the Rothschild Family Foundation awarded $50,000 each to three startup companies that developed technology to expand digital use of the library’s historical and cultural content. The winners were The Time Machine in the general business track, ASAT (As Simple as That) in the startup track and Billions of Words in the student track. The companies will be able to share an additional $3 million as they progress in developing their products.
Giza Guys: Dior Men chose the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt as the backdrop for its Celestial autumn 2023 menswear collection. The Dec. 3 show featured 75 models walking the LED-illuminated runway to the thumping beat of techno music. Dior’s design director, Kim Jones, said the show was inspired by a “fascination with the ancient world” and “how the past shapes the future or an idea of the future from the past.”