The Weekly Circuit
👋 Good Monday morning in the Middle East!
Sultan Al Jaber, a UAE cabinet minister and CEO of the state-owned oil company Adnoc, is trying to head off any criticism of his appointment as president of the next U.N. climate summit, COP28. Interviewed by The Guardian, Al Jaber said he will bring a “business mindset” to the conference when it opens on Nov. 30 in Abu Dhabi. COP28 will focus on ways that the private sector can limit greenhouse gas emissions, he said, setting clear tasks and targets for businesses and governments. “We need a major course correction and a massive effort to reignite progress,” Al Jaber, whose jobs include minister of industry and advanced technology and chairman of Masdar, the state-owned renewable energy company, told the paper.
Some environmental activists have attacked the choice of Al Jaber to preside over COP28 given Adnoc’s prominence in the fossil fuel industry. The appointment was defended, however, by John Kerry, the White House special envoy for climate, who said in an interview with the Financial Times that Al Jaber’s connection to the industry and his role in the UAE government will make the conference more effective. Oil and gas companies must “come to the table and be part of the solution and not part of the problem,” Kerry said.
Top venture capital firms, including Tiger Global, Andreessen Horowitz and IVP, are trying to strengthen ties with sovereign wealth funds in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar as money dries up in the U.S. and Europe, according to the FT. The newspaper follows up on an appearance at the Saudi-backed Future Investment Initiative Priority conference in Miami Beach in which investors Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, along with Adam Neumann, founder of WeWork and Flow, said they were impressed with the kingdom’s enthusiasm for startups. Ibrahim Ajami, head of ventures at Mubadala Capital, said the current trend is a reversal of the situation six years ago when the Abu Dhabi-owned fund’s managers had to go to San Francisco to hunt for investments. “The tech correction has humbled the industry,” Ajami said.
Many of the VCs headed for Riyadh are seeking money from Sanabil Investments, an arm of Saudi Arabia’s $620 billion Public Investment Fund. On Sunday, the kingdom increased Sanabil’s resources dramatically by transferring a 4% stake in the national oil company, Saudi Aramco, to the investment company. The stake was valued at approximately $78 billion.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struck back at Moody’s Investors Service for downgrading its outlook on Israel’s economy from “positive” to “stable.” The Israeli leader and his finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, issued a statement suggesting the credit agency misunderstood the government’s proposed judicial reforms and the protests against it. “The fear raised by the Moody’s analysts concerning the controversy among the public and its effect on Israel’s political and economic stability is natural for anyone who is not familiar with the resilience of Israeli society,” the statement read.
Moody’s adjusted its assessment on Friday while leaving Israel’s credit rating unchanged at A1, its fifth-highest grade. “The manner in which the government has attempted to implement a wide-ranging reform without seeking broad consensus points to a weakening of institutional strength and policy predictability,” Moody’s explained. The credit agency said Israel’s outlook could return to positive “if the current turmoil were to be resolved in a manner that does not deepen the social tensions between the various demographic groups and secures Israel’s strong growth potential.”
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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Back Together: Bahrain and Qatar agreed to restore ties that were broken off in 2017 when Bahrain joined a blockade of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt that lasted for 3 ½ years.
Rising High: Kuwait plans to build the world’s second-tallest structure, the Burj Mubarak tower, which will stand 1,001 meters (3,284 feet) with 234 floors when completed in 2048.
Lunar Mission: A small rover vehicle built by the UAE will be deployed to explore the lunar surface when the multinational Hakuto-R mission lands on the moon next week.
Latin Edge: Abu Dhabi’s Edge Group, a consortium of government-owned security companies, plans to open a South American regional office in Brazil.
Sinai Flights: Air Cairo, a low-cost Egyptian carrier, will start direct flights between the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh and Dubai as it tries to boost tourism from the Gulf.
Light Trips: Tel Aviv’s light-rail system will start service at the end of May, following a string of construction delays and cost overruns that nearly doubled the project’s cost.
Medical Tourists: Dubai medical tourism increased 39% in 2022, with 674,000 visitors spending $270 million on dermatology, dentistry, gynecology and other medical fields.
Solar Stake: Abu Dhabi’s Masdar renewable energy firm bought a 50% stake in California’s Big Beau project, which is building a solar plant and battery storage facility.
Finnish Shield: Finland plans to buy Israel’s David’s Sling air-defense system in a $345 million deal that requires approval from the U.S.
Post-Oil Economy: Foreign investment in Saudi Arabia grew 2% in 2022 to SR2.4 trillion ($640 billion), reflecting efforts to diversify the economy from oil.
Super App: UAE telecom company e& bought a majority stake in Careem Super App from Uber Technologies and will invest $400 million in the company.
Bank Retreat: Egypt’s EFG Hermes financial services company closed its doors in Oman as part of a strategy that also includes shutdowns in Jordan and Pakistan.
AI Builders: Israel’s Constru, which uses AI to make building more efficient, is seeking a buyer, claiming funds have dried up because of perceptions of government instability.
On the Circuit
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva traveled to Abu Dhabi on the way back from visiting China and met with UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Joseph Bae and Scott Nuttall, co-CEOs of investment firm KKR & Co., told the Wall Street Journal “they are so close that their families regularly vacation together, traveling to places like Israel and Mexico.”
Eyal Ofer, whose real estate and shipping interests are worth an estimated $18.9 billion, was named Israel’s richest person in the Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest people.
Ori Levin will step down after four years as CEO Israel Discount Bank, the country’s third-largest lender, and will join Tidhar Real Estate as CEO.
Ahead on the Circuit
April 26-27, Dubai, UAE: FiNEXT Awards and Conference 2023. A platform for global investors, financial institutions and fintech companies to interact. Le Meridien Dubai Hotel and Conference Centre.
May 2-3, Tel Aviv, Israel: Agritech Israel. Introducing innovative farming technologies for growing food and meeting the challenges of climate change, water shortages and desertification. Expo TLV.
May 3, Tel Aviv, Israel: GoForIsrael Investment Conference. Connecting global investors and technology companies. Co-hosted by Cukierman & Co and Catalyst Investment. Tel Aviv Hilton.
May 10-11, Abu Dhabi, UAE: UAE Climate Tech. Government-sponsored conference bringing together business leaders and policymakers in preparation for U.N.’s COP28 climate summit in November. Abu Dhabi Energy Centre.
May 11, Dubai, UAE: Annual Private Wealth Middle East Forum. Conference connecting family offices, high-net-worth wealth managers and investors. Shangri-La Hotel.
May 15-16, Abu Dhabi, UAE: Mobility Live Middle East 2023. Conference brings together investors, corporate executives, policymakers to discuss the future of transportation. Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center.
May 23-25, Doha, Qatar: Qatar Economic Forum. Qatari financial leaders, international investors and corporate executives meet to discuss global financial challenges in conference co-sponsored with Bloomberg.
May 29-31, Tokyo: Israel-Japan Innovation and Technology Conference. Israel Discount Bank and the Calcalist newspaper hold a three-day conference pairing Israeli and Japanese investors and business executives. Toranomon Hills Forum.
Losing a Storyteller: Meir Shalev, the Israeli novelist, newspaper columnist and writer of children’s books, died at 74 from cancer. Shalev, whose work was translated into some 20 languages, was the author of Hebrew bestsellers A Pigeon and a Boy, The Blue Mountain and Esau. In a message after Shalev’s death, Israeli President Isaac Herzog said the country “has lost one of its greatest storytellers. He made us love the Hebrew language, the Hebrew Bible, and ourselves, the Jewish people.”
Qatar Live: Al Jazeera English plans to shut its broadcast news center in London and centralize live programming at its headquarters in Qatar. The move will eliminate dozens of jobs in London, but Al Jazeera said it will offer overseas staff the option of relocating to Qatar.
Play-Doh Parks: Saudi Entertainment Ventures obtained a license from Hasbro to open a chain of Play-Doh children’s theme parks, inspired by the toy modeling compound.