The Weekly Circuit
👋 Good Monday morning in the Middle East!
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Olena Zelenska, the first lady of Ukraine, top the roster of leaders in politics, business, culture and sports heading to the United Arab Emirates this week to mark International Women’s Day on Wednesday. Also appearing at the Forbes 30/50 Summit in Abu Dhabi will be Nobel Peace laureate Malala Yousafzai; Ms. magazine founder Gloria Steinem; tennis legend Billie Jean King; Judith Richter, founder and CEO of Medinol; and Saudi Arabia’s Princess Lamia bint Majid Al Saud, secretary general of Alwaleed Philanthropies. In Dubai, some 2,000 participants are registered for the two-day Women’s Empowerment Convention that starts on Tuesday.
The UAE is rolling out its new “Investopia Marketplace,” a campaign to build stronger ties with venture capitalists, institutional investors, sovereign wealth funds, family offices and banks around the world. The program, introduced last week by Economy Minister Abdulla bin Touq Al Marri at the Investopia x SALT conference in Abu Dhabi, is targeted to promote partnerships with the UAE in fields that include renewable energy, health care, transportation, logistics, agricultural and financial technology. “We want to open the world for businesses to think about what kind of trade they want to do, both in products and services,” Al Marri told the conference.
Israel remains divided over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s parliamentary push to pass legislation that would weaken judicial review of government actions. Opposition activists are planning a second “Day of Disruption” on Thursday after last week blocking roads, picketing government ministers’ homes and staging demonstrations across the country. Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire publisher and former presidential candidate, weighed in on the conflict in a New York Times opinion piece, advising Netanyahu to reach a compromise. “A broad swath of business leaders and investors have spoken out against the government’s proposal, publicly and privately. And in a disturbing sign, some people have already begun pulling money out of the country and re-evaluating their plans for future growth there,” Bloomberg wrote. “As the owner of a global company, I don’t blame them.”
In Formula One racing, Max Verstappen opened the season with a decisive win on Sunday in the Bahrain Grand Prix. The Dutch driver, who clinched his second world championship in 2022 and set a record for winning the most races in a season, cruised to victory on the Bahrain International Circuit this week for his first time.
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UAE spreads its wings at investment summit in Abu Dhabi
As the United Arab Emirates builds a national museum whose soaring architecture suggests a falcon in flight, this tiny oil-rich nation is spreading its wings, seeking to double GDP, negotiate more than two dozen foreign trade agreements and take a lead role in slowing climate change, The Circuit’s Jonathan Ferziger reports from Abu Dhabi. The UAE’s top financial stewards trumpeted that message at the Investopia x SALT conference last week, where Khaldoon Al Mubarak, managing director of the $232 billion Mubadala sovereign wealth fund, cited government plans to double gross domestic product over the next eight years to 3 trillion dirhams ($817 billion).
Door opener: “We are well on our way to supercharging economic growth,” Al Mubarak told an audience of some 2,000 investors at the plush Hilton Yas Island resort near Abu Dhabi’s Formula One racetrack. “We continually work together to strengthen our world position as a destination of choice for entrepreneurs, innovators and investors.” The invitation-only meeting, aimed at promoting the UAE to money managers from around the world through its Investopia platform, was co-sponsored by SkyBridge Capital, an alternative investments firm co-founded by Anthony Scaramucci, who is best known for his brief tenure as White House spokesman during the Trump administration. In financial circles, Scaramucci has cultivated a role as a door opener for investors seeking business partners in the Gulf. His SALT investment conferences regularly take place in New York and Las Vegas.
What’s next?: “What I love about this country is they’re always saying to themselves: What’s next?” Scaramucci said in opening remarks while sitting onstage with UAE Economy Minister Abdulla bin Touq Al Marri. “I think it’s a place where international investors are very comfortable.” Scaramucci also gave a shout-out to Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, who blasted off on Thursday for a six-month mission aboard the International Space Station. The UAE is enjoying a bout of space fever over its orbiting native son. Along the Yas Island waterfront, conference participants strolling in the warm nighttime air snapped photos of each other posing under the arms of 14-foot astronaut statues placed along the cafe-lined promenade.
Come together: Calling attention to agreements signed over the past year with Israel, India and Indonesia that helped increase foreign trade to a record $599 billion last year, Al Marri said the UAE is negotiating similar pacts, known as comprehensive economic partnership agreements, or CEPAS, with 23 other countries. The latest was signed with Turkey on Friday. Al Marri also expressed hope for progress in addressing global warming when his country hosts the COP28 U.N. climate conference later this year. “We might have conflicts in other areas, but we all come together on this topic.”
FTX rebound: For Scaramucci, the conference was part of his effort to rebound from the loss he took when the cryptocurrency exchange FTX collapsed in November. Founder Sam Bankman-Fried, who bought a 30% stake in SkyBridge two months earlier, was arrested at his headquarters in the Bahamas on Dec. 12 and charged in the U.S. with eight federal counts of fraud and money laundering, to which he pleaded innocent. Scaramucci, who brought Bankman-Fried to the New York SALT conference in a much-covered appearance last September, said he was duped by the cryptocurrency trader despite conducting extensive due diligence examination of the business. The former White House official is now producing a podcast titled “Tales from the Crypto” about the FTX debacle. “If I can save one person from going through what SkyBridge had to go through as a result of what Sam did, then it will be beneficial,” Scaramucci told The Circuit in an interview on the sidelines of the conference.
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Catalyst seeks to balance uncertainty with Israel’s economic strength
Catalyst Investments, a Tel Aviv firm that manages $450 million in assets, is trying to strike a balance in the face of market jitters fueled by economists’ warnings that new government proposals pose a risk to Israel’s future stability, Yaakov Lappin reports for The Circuit. On one hand, senior partner Lisya Bahar Manoah said, investors new to Israel’s market for technology startups are “taking a wait-and-see approach.” They’re cautiously gauging the impact of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign to overhaul the court system, she said, which has sparked mass street protests and prompted some investors to move their cash overseas.
Weathering crisis: On the other hand, Catalyst’s management team – which includes founding partners Edouard Cukierman and Yair Shamir, a former Israeli cabinet minister and ex-chairman of Israel Aerospace Industries – has weathered previous crises and is telling clients for now that their money is safe. “The current situation is very challenging, but I believe that Israel’s high-tech industry is strong and stable, and has overcome many challenges in the past, so hopefully, we’ll get through this one as well,” Manoah told The Circuit. “When it comes to our current investors, although they have expressed concerns, they do not intend to withdraw their investments from our fund.” Israeli cybersecurity startup Wiz, which raised $300 million in February in a private funding round that valued the company at $10 billion, alarmed Israeli investors when CEO Assaf Rappaport said last week that the money would be retained in U.S. banks because of economic concerns caused by the proposed judiciary changes.
Tech investor: Originally from Istanbul, Manoah moved to Austria at 17 to study mechanical engineering, earning a master of science degree from Vienna University of Technology, before moving to Israel in 2011. She has 15 years of experience in private equity and global companies, with a focus on raising capital, mergers and acquisitions, and post-merger integration. Manoah invests in a variety of tech companies active in the fields of mobility, advertising, finance, agriculture and cybersecurity. Catalyst, a multi-fund firm, has developed ties in the Gulf and has been talking to investors there on behalf of some Israeli food-safety companies, Manoah said. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cukierman helped organize an online Israel-UAE investment conference addressing agriculture technology and food security. “We could see how many participants entered the conference that day – it made an impact,” said Manoah. “We are beginning to be highly involved in the Gulf region.”
Managing uncertainty: Among the companies in Catalyst’s investment portfolio is Addionics, which creates batteries of high-energy density for use by electric vehicles and other systems. The company recently unveiled its first prototype and opened new offices in Tel Aviv. Manoah noted that Addionics’ performance, as well as many other companies in which Catalyst invests, has been affected by Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine and its impact on the global supply chain. “It’s how one manages that impact that is important,” she said. “What is very important at the growth stage of investment is how one goes forward over the coming two-year period. Not only do we follow the investment and make sure the company has a [cash] runway, but also, we look at how they can best manage uncertainty.” Some Israeli companies have managed their fundraising skillfully and have enough cash for the next two years, she said, adding that others make good candidates for mergers and acquisitions.
ONE OF A KIND
What’s so unusual about a Holocaust exhibition in Dubai
As a child, Ahmed Obaid Al Mansoori was always passionate about history and antiquities, especially those showcasing the myriad of ancient civilizations that make up the Middle East. That might be why he appeared nonplussed when discussing the contents of his Crossroads of Civilizations Museum in Dubai, United Arab Emirates – the only museum in the Arab world with a permanent exhibition of Holocaust and Jewish history on display, The Circuit’s Ruth Marks Eglash reports.
Jews and Islam: “When I opened the museum in 2014, I did not know that it was one of the only museums in the Arab or Islamic world that had Jewish content,” Al Mansoori told The Circuit in an interview. “There have been Jewish populations in different countries across the region for centuries and I thought surely other countries have something similar, but then I discovered mine was the first permanent gallery about the Holocaust in the region, outside of Israel.” When the exhibition opened in June 2021, he said, “I really didn’t know that I was doing something unusual or different.”
Eclectic collection: Al Mansoori was in Israel last week, his fourth trip to the country since the signing of the historic Abraham Accords in September 2020, to meet with friends he has made since Israel and the United Arab Emirates normalized diplomatic relations and to view some of the Jewish state’s ancient treasures. Those diplomatic agreements, which also included Bahrain and later Morocco and Sudan, have served to bolster Al Mansoori’s eclectic collections and inspire his own museum, which today draws many Israeli tourists curious to see how their history, culture and religion is depicted in the Gulf nation. “The Jewish religion is part of the Middle East,” Al Mansoori said, outlining how a mix of the UAE’s traditional values, its unique location in the Gulf, as well as a leadership that encourages tolerance and coexistence, has allowed the country and its citizens to embrace all cultures and religions, in contrast to the tumultuous region that surrounds it.
Peaceful encounters: Located in the Sheikh Hasher Al Maktoum House, Al Mansoori’s museum has also been growing and developing rapidly in recent years. Started as a private family collection more than 30 years ago, the rare manuscripts, prints, books, maps and other items were originally held in glass cabinets in Al Mansoori’s own home until an event he held caught the eye of the director of the architectural heritage department in the Dubai municipality, who urged him to open the collection to the public. Today, the collection is spread across three museums – the Crossroads of Civilizations Museum, the Rare Books Manuscripts & Prints Museum and The Armory Museum – and, according to Al Mansoori, each highlights the peaceful meeting of different civilizations that passed through the region and traded or exchanged gifts along the way.
Passion-based: “The museum was not created with professional creators, it is based on my passion,” Al Mansoori said. “I’m a collector and when you are a collector, you buy whatever is important for yourself; it has to be linked to your passion.” Al Mansoori talks with enthusiasm about many of the items in his collection: a letter he obtained in 2014 penned by the founder of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl in 1897; and an ancient Torah scroll, originally from Czechoslovakia and rescued during Holocaust, that was donated last year to Al Mansoori’s collection by the Memorial Scrolls Trust, a London-based foundation. But it is a copper-bound prayer book containing prayers in three Semitic languages – Arabic, Aramaic and Hebrew – and a curtain from the Kaaba, the Great Mosque in Mecca, Islam’s holiest site, that Al Mansoori says are closest to his heart. “When you talk about prayers, you are going very deep, deeper than coexistence, you are talking about harmony,” observed Al Mansoori of the prayer book, which he said belonged to a rabbi that once said healing prayers for Muslims during the time of the Prophet Mohammad.
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Gulf Clash: Competition for foreign investment and clashes over the Yemen war are increasing friction between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Logistics King: The Saudi Ports Authority linked its Dammam port to service with India and Iraq as it seeks to become the world’s leading shipping logistics destination.
Arabian Strip: Wynn Resorts is moving ahead with plans to develop a Las Vegas-style gaming resort on Marjan Island off the coast of the UAE emirate Ras al Khaimah, which would be called the Arabian Strip or the Marjan Strip.
Expat Lifestyle: The UAE topped Singapore, Australia and six other countries rated by HSBC as offering the best work environment for expats in terms of lifestyle, earnings and family stability.
Future Flights: Flydubai airline is starting scheduled flights from its UAE hub to the futuristic city of Neom that is being built on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast.
Cheaper Options: An Israeli court ruling means that employees working at tech companies will be taxed 15% on their stock options, reduced from 25%.
Lubricating Business: Saudi Aramco acquired the global products business of U.S. lubricants maker Valvoline for $2.7 billion, leaving the retail business with the Lexington, Ky.-based company.
Cloud Security: Hewlett Packard bought Israel’s Axis Security, which protects computerized information stored in the cloud, for an estimated $500 million.
MENA Boost: Startup funding in the Middle East and North Africa, excluding the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel, jumped 37% to $468 billion in 2022.
Seeing 3D: Israel’s Hexa, which makes 3D visualization software, raised $205 million in a financing round with investments from Point72 Ventures, Samurai Incubate, Sarona Partners, and HTC.
Creative Meat: Plurinova, a unit of Tnuva, Israel’s biggest food manufacturer, has built a facility with startup company Pluristem to produce cultured meat on an industrial scale.
Japanese Film: Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, increased its stake in Japanese film and animation company Toei to 6%.
Flexible Desks: Israel’s Gable, which designs flexible workspaces, raised $16 million in a financing round led by SemperVirens and Foundation Capital.
On the Circuit
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is on a regional tour this week, visiting Jordan, Israel and Egypt amid concern about new threats from Iran against America’s allies.
Emmanuel Benzaquen, co-founder of Israel’s Checkmarx, stepped down as CEO of the cybersecurity company that sold for nearly $1.2 billion to a U.S. private equity firm in 2020. He will be succeeded by Sandeep Johri.
Jordan’s Princess Iman and her fiance Jameel Thermiotis will be married on March 12, the Royal Palace announced. The groom works in finance in New York.
Ahead on the Circuit
March 7-10, Abu Dhabi, UAE: Forbes 30/50 Summit. Women’s business conference featuring Hillary Rodham Clinton, Nobel Peace laureate Malala Yousafzai. Louvre Abu Dhabi and other locations.
March 7-8, Dubai, UAE: Women’s Empowerment Convention. More than 2,000 expected for conference connecting female leaders across the world. Dubai Opera and Armani Hotel.
March 7-10, Dubai, UAE: Crypto Expo Dubai 2023. Investors, executives speak on opportunities and challenges facing cryptocurrency industry. Festival Arena.
March 13-16, Manama, Bahrain: Connect2Innovate Conference. Israeli and Bahraini government ministers, business executives, investors meet to discuss cooperative ventures in technology, climate research and other fields.
March 15-16, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Financial Sector Conference 2023. Hosted by Financial Sector Development Program for business decision makers and senior executives. King Abdulaziz International Conference Center.
March 20-21, Dubai, UAE: World Blockchain Summit. Technology leaders, executives, investors meet to discuss latest trends in blockchain industry. Atlantis The Palm Dubai.
March 22 or 23: Expected beginning of holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast each day and many offices shorten work hours.
Teeing Off: The challenge presented by upstart LIV Golf is having an impact on the PGA Tour, which plans to adopt some of the innovations employed by its Saudi-backed rival. According to the Wall Street Journal, the PGA is introducing a “Designated Event Model” to highlight certain tournaments. Those events will include smaller fields of only 70-80 players and no cut to reduce the field after 36 holes, according to a memo reviewed by the Journal. “Imitation is the greatest form of flattery,” LIV Golf, which is supported by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, tweeted. “Congratulations PGA Tour. Welcome to the future.”
Rocking the Mideast: Guns N’ Roses, the iconic ’80s California rock band, kicks off its 2023 world tour with a Middle East swing that will take lead singer Axl Rose, Slash on guitar and Steven Adler on drums to both the UAE and Israel. The tour begins June 1 with a performance at the Etihad Arena on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island, the first time the band has played the UAE since 2018. On June 5, Guns N’ Roses returns to Tel Aviv for an outdoor performance in Hayarkon Park, 30 years after their first concert in Israel. The band then travels to Madrid, Rome, Paris and other European cities, before heading to North America and winding down for a final Oct. 16 concert in Vancouver, Canada.