The Weekly Circuit
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More than 1,300 companies from 65 countries are converging on the United Arab Emirates this week for the biggest conference of military contractors in the Middle East. The biennial International Defense Exhibition, or IDEX, will fill the floors of Abu Dhabi’s vast ADNEC center with displays showcasing armored vehicles, laser-guided missile launchers and a variety of drone aircraft. Alongside the mammoth arms bazaar at the same site will be the more specialized NAVDEX conference, which focuses on marine warfare and attracts naval procurement officers from around the globe.
The twin conferences will be a coming-out party of sorts for the UAE’s Edge Group, a conglomerate of 25 Emirati defense companies that was established barely three years ago and is one of the show’s main sponsors. The Abu Dhabi-based business plans to exhibit some 100 different technologies connected to its products, ranging from smart weapons and autonomous drones to electronic warfare systems and secure communications. IDEX will also play host to more than 50 Israeli companies, including Israel Aerospace Industries, Elbit Systems and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, which will be showing off its widely anticipated Iron Beam high-energy laser weapon.
Before the shows were getting started in Abu Dhabi, the CEO of Boeing Defense, Space & Security, Theodore Colbert, stopped in Israel on Sunday for a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two discussed “existing and developing cooperation with Israeli industry as well as future security deals with the State of Israel,” according to an Israeli government press release. Later in the day, Netanyahu addressed an audience of American Jewish leaders about his determination to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia, which was a holdout to the 2020 Abraham Accords. The prime minister said he is especially eager to develop an infrastructure project he introduced five years ago that would connect Israel’s Haifa port to the Arabian Peninsula by railway and oil pipelines running across Jordan.
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Is the investment world ready for an Abraham Accords Stock Index
More than two years after the White House signing of the Abraham Accords in September 2020, stock index maker Steven Schoenfeld thinks it’s time to give retail and institutional investors an opportunity to profit from the broad business potential unlocked by the agreements, Robert Lakin reports for The Circuit. “When you look at the combined equities markets of the Accords countries or even those countries that are part of [last year’s] Negev Summit, we could create a representative index of maybe 250 different stocks of companies that are benefiting directly or indirectly from the diplomatic outcomes,” he said.
Gauging investment: Schoenfeld is the CEO of MarketVector Indexes GmbH, which is based in New York and Frankfurt, Germany. He joined the firm in 2020 after it acquired his own company, BlueStar Indexes, which had created a roster of investment gauges built on tech and emerging markets stocks, along with indexes of Israeli stocks and bonds. The 60-year-old New Yorker has been thinking for several years about ways to create a broader gauge that builds on a theme across the Middle East. The Abraham Accords, in which the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan agreed to normalize relations with Israel, made his hunches more realistic, as did the Negev Summit, in which Egypt also participated.
Offshore gas: “Beginning in 2013 or 2014, years before the Abraham Accords, we prototyped what we call the “Mideast Peace and Development Index” that would include those countries that had diplomatic or economic relations with Israel,” Schoenfeld said in an interview. “The idea was not for the index to be some sort of political statement, but more a reflection of the impact, or benefit to companies of trade between the countries, including a small number of Palestinian and Jordanian companies.” Schoenfeld, who earlier in his life was a Fulbright scholar researching the Asian derivatives markets, acknowledged that the idea of an Abraham Accords index was more aspirational, but pointed to a present-day regional opportunity, namely investing in gas and oil developments off the coasts of Israel, Egypt and Lebanon.
Airline stocks: “We’ve already prototyped an index that potentially could represent Eastern Mediterranean energy development,” Schoenfeld said. “Imagine an index with the companies – that is, the stocks – involved in the offshore development, which would be players big and small, the likes of Chevron, Total, Delek and Energean.” Among other prominent companies in the region, Schoenfeld said, “all of the airlines – El Al, Emirates, Etihad – have been big beneficiaries of the Accords, and would be obvious constituents in an index.”
Regional opportunities: Until a cross-border index and ETF or other investment vehicle exists, Schoenfeld thinks regional interests could be served for an Israel-focused fund to be listed on the Dubai Financial Market, or for a UAE-oriented fund trading on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. He admits that the phone isn’t ringing off the hook yet with Israeli investors looking for a way to play the new level of regional cooperation. Still, Schoenfeld said, “it’s only a matter of time.”
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A mosque, a church and a synagogue open side-by-side
The white-stoned mosque, church and synagogue anchoring the Abrahamic Family House, a monumental interfaith compound that opened last week in the United Arab Emirates, will serve as a busy forum for promoting religious cooperation in the Middle East, The Circuit’s Jonathan Ferziger reports. The individual structures that make up the new complex, which was designed by the acclaimed Ghanian-British architect, Sir David Adjaye, are linked by a central exhibition space, public garden and conference center that will open to visitors on March 1. The compound was inaugurated last Thursday in a twilight ceremony in the capital city of Abu Dhabi led by members of the UAE’s royal court and leaders of the three faiths.
Sacred cubes: “This will be a great convergence point for the world,” Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, the chief rabbi of the Jewish Community of the Emirates, said in a webcast address from the new synagogue’s podium on Friday. “It’s the kind of place where great religious leaders and great cultural leaders will come to be inspired,” he told members of the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities. Built in the new cultural district on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island across from the dome-covered Emirati branch of the Louvre museum, the prayer compound is visually striking: Its three cube structures are built with identical dimensions of 30 meters in height, width and depth, while distinguished by iconic design elements referring to each religion. Visible in the desert landscape from the island’s main road and lit up at night are giant posts beside each building that carry the symbols of a crescent, a cross and a menorah. Adjaye previously built the award-winning National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
Strengthening tolerance: The UAE president, Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed, hailed the opening in a tweet, declaring the country’s strengthening commitment to religious tolerance. While the UAE is a Muslim nation, its expatriate workers, who make up almost 90% of the population, come from 200 nations and a broad range of faiths. Christian communities have long worshipped at churches in the country, but the synagogue is the first Jewish house of prayer built in the UAE. “As the Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi is inaugurated, we remain committed to harnessing the power of mutual respect, understanding and diversity to achieve shared progress,” the Emirati president wrote on Twitter.
Papal initiative: The multifaith project was an outgrowth of Pope Francis’ 2019 trip to the UAE, where he held a mass for more than 100,000 in Abu Dhabi. It was at that time that the government publicly encouraged development of the country’s small Jewish population. The trip preceded the 2020 Abraham Accords, in which the UAE and Bahrain took the groundbreaking step of normalizing relations with Israel. In the new prayer compound, the church is named for Pope Francis and the synagogue bears the name of Moses Ben Maimon, the 12th-century Spanish Jewish philosopher and doctor who spent much of his life in Morocco and Egypt. He is also known as Maimonides and the Rambam. The mosque is named for Sheikh Ahmed El Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar Mosque and University, who is considered the highest authority in Sunni Islamic law. It was during the pope’s visit that he and Sheikh El Tayeb signed a joint declaration titled, the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.”
No price tag: Costs for building the Abrahamic Family House, which were not disclosed but reached about $500 million by some estimates, were paid by the UAE. The government is also building a Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi, which is scheduled to open in 2024. At last week’s ceremony, representatives of the three faiths who were central to the project expressed hope that the Abrahamic Family House would play an important role in the region. “The Abrahamic Family House is a concrete example for people of different religions, cultures, traditions and beliefs to return to the essential: love of neighbor,” said Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. “This will be a place which promotes dialogue and mutual respect and acts in the service of human fraternity as we walk the paths of peace together.”
Manchester Bid: A member of the Qatari royal family, Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani, is part of a group prepared to bid as much as $6 billion for the English Premier League’s Manchester United soccer club, which would make it the largest sports acquisition ever.
Partners in Trade: Israel and China are close to completing talks on a free trade agreement, which could be signed this year. China is Israel’s largest trade partner.
Remaking Downtown: Saudi Arabia plans to redevelop a 19-square kilometer plot of downtown Riyadh through the new Murabba project, whose futuristic landscape will contain 104,000 residential units, 9,000 hotel rooms, a museum, a university and more than 80 entertainment and culture venues.
Gulf Growth: Rafael, the Israeli defense company behind the Iron Dome missile-defense system, opened an office in the United Arab Emirates.
Crude Exporter: Energean has begun exporting hydrocarbon liquids from Israel’s Karish offshore gas field, making Israel a crude oil producer.
Selling Gas: The Abu Dhabi National Oil Co.’s gas processing firm plans to sell 3 billion shares, or about 4% of its value, in an IPO on the Abu Dhabi Stock Exchange.
Going Mobile: Via, an Israeli public transportation startup, raised $110 million in a financing round led by 83North. It will use the funds to expand digital infrastructure.
Island Project: Eagle Hills, a company owned by Emirati builder Mohamed Alabbar, will start construction of a $3.5 billion development on an island off the coast of Abu Dhabi that will include 1,800 beach villas, 1,000 apartments, a hotel and a marina.
Raising Cash: Israel’s Oligo Security raised $28 million over the past nine months with the participation of Lightspeed Venture Partners, Ballistic Ventures, TLV Partners and private investors Shlomo Kramer, Eyal Waldman.
Keeping It Real: Descope, an Israeli startup that authenticates financial transactions, raised $53 million seed funding, in a round led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and GGV Capital.
Optimizing Health: Israel’s MDI Health, which uses AI to automate treating patients with medication, raised $20 million in a financing round led by Intel Capital.
On the Circuit
Cristiano Ronaldo, the former Manchester United soccer star who signed a $480 million contract to play in the Saudi Pro League, has moved with his family into a two-floor luxury suite in Riyadh’s 99-story Kingdom Tower.
Amnon Shashua, founder and CEO of Israel’s Mobileye Global, is among the investors in a $750 million pre-IPO financing round for Chinese electric vehicle maker Zeekr.
Sultan Al Neyadi, an Emirati astronaut, is scheduled to blast off this week as part of a six-person crew for a six-month mission aboard the International Space Station.
Mohammed Sulaiman Al-Jasser, the former Saudi energy and planning minister, was appointed head of the Islamic Development Bank.
Ahead on the Circuit
Feb. 20-24, Abu Dhabi, UAE: IDEX 2023, Middle East’s biggest defense industry conference, which will be presented alongside NAVDEX 2023, featuring naval and maritime security companies. Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.
Feb. 20-24, Dubai, UAE: Gulfood Exhibition. More than 4,000 companies from 120 countries to attend the world’s largest food and beverage industry conference. Dubai World Trade Centre.
Feb. 21, Tel Aviv, Israel: Ecommunity Conference. Highlighting innovations in urban sustainability and environmental technology. Peres Center for Peace and Innovation.
March 2-3, Abu Dhabi, UAE: Investopia x SALT conference. Investor conference sponsored by Skybridge Capital and the UAE government. Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island.
Net Play: It’s racquet season in Qatar with back-to-back events this week: The Qatar ExxonMobil Open is already underway with top-ranked tennis stars including Andy Murray and Roberto Bautista Agut competing for prize money totaling $1.4 million. The tournament, at the Khalifa International Tennis Complex, ends Saturday, to be followed the next day by the Qatar Ooredoo World Padel Championship. The sport, a cross between tennis and squash, has been gaining popularity across South America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Ready to Wear: Dubai will seek to join the ranks of style capitals Paris, Milan and New York with a fashion week of its own. Taking place March 10-15, Dubai Fashion Week is, in fact, a rebranding of Arab Fashion Week in a bid to promote the Emirati city as a world center for design. Among the international couture houses that will be participating are Jean Paul Gaultier, Moschino, Iris Van Herpen, Bouguessa, Amato and Bhype. The week will feature events across the city, including runway shows, pop-up exhibitions and design workshops.