The Weekly Circuit
👋 Good Monday morning in the Middle East!
The United Arab Emirates is moving closer to taxing companies for the first time, but not individuals. That’s the takeaway from UAE Minister of the Economy Abdullah bin Touq Al Marri’s interview last week with Bloomberg Television. Details of the planned 9% corporate tax will be released later this year. As for personal income taxes, Al Marri said that’s “not on the table at the moment.”
The UAE’s strengthening economy was reflected in the first-quarter earnings at two of its largest banks that beat analyst estimates. Dubai’s government-owned Emirates NBD Bank said first-quarter net income more than doubled from the same period last year to 6 billion dirhams ($1.6 billion), exceeding analysts’ expectations of 4.84 billion dirhams. At First Abu Dhabi Bank, net income was 3.93 billion dirhams, beating the 3.21 billion dirhams analysts had expected.
Ethmar International Holding, a UAE investment company that has interests ranging from real estate and energy to health care and sports, holds its initial public offering today on the Abu Dhabi Stock Exchange. The company, which is chaired by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, son of UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, said it planned to raise AED 700 million ($191 million).
The UAE’s growing space program had some highs and lows over the past week. Astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi became the first Arab to walk in space, completing a 6 ½ -hour excursion from the International Space Station. Outside the earth’s orbit, a small lunar vehicle built by the UAE and called the Rashid Rover was lost when the Japanese spacecraft in which it was carried, the Hakuto-R Mission 1, apparently crashed during a landing attempt on the moon.
In Los Angeles today, the Milken Institute Global Conference gets underway at the Beverly Hilton for debate over some of the world’s most pressing issues, from finance and health care to energy and technology. The event, which runs through Wednesday, features an onstage chat today with Saudi Minister of Economy and Planning Faisal Alibrahim as part of a session on “rewiring the world economy.”
Among the 900 speakers slated to appear at the conference are Peng Zhao, CEO of Citadel Securities; Jane Fraser, CEO of Citigroup; Darren Woods, CEO of ExxonMobil; Pablo Di Si, CEO of Volkswagen Group of America; Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund; and David Malpass, president of the World Bank. The conference will wrap up with a performance by Motown legend Diana Ross.
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].
Spread the word! Invite your friends to sign up.👇
Saudi Arabia beats targets in alternative energy, tourism, jobs for women
Saudi Arabia’s efforts to jumpstart its alternative energy and tourism industries while bringing more women into the labor market are running ahead of targets, though the kingdom still faces challenges to its aspirations for becoming a global financial center, The Circuit’s Jonathan Ferziger reports. Citing the annual report on Vision 2030, the blueprint that was presented seven years ago to guide a dramatic revamping of Saudi society, officials said the improved benchmarks were due to world-leading economic growth in 2022. That growth came from increased oil revenue and bolstered the kingdom’s investment funds.
Unprecedented rate: “Despite the global economic hardships, the country’s economy is growing at an unprecedented rate, and its GDP has risen to a higher-than-expected level,” Mohammed AlQahtani, CEO of government-owned Saudi Arabia Holding Co. said in a LinkedIn post. He said the government is “on track to surpass its Vision 2030 objectives.” Among the markers outlined in Vision 2030, the annual report said that Saudi Arabia’s 25% share of non-oil exports in non-oil GDP beat its target by 6.3%.
Working women: Tourism revenue grew by 121% last year over 2021 as the country drew 16.5 million foreign visitors. Saudi Arabia introduced an online tourist visa in 2019, making it easier to enter the kingdom. The report said 909,000 direct jobs were created in the tourism sector, exceeding the 2022 target of 617,000. The participation of women in the labor market doubled from 2016 and reached 34.5% last year, beating the Vision 2030 target for 2022 of 22.8%.
Deserves more: Writing in the report, the prince, who was appointed prime minister last year by his father, King Salman, said the numbers were promising but must improve. “Our country deserves more than what has been achieved,” he wrote. Saudi Arabia led the G20 group of the world’s largest economies last year with 8.7% growth in GDP, followed by India at 6.7%.
Tough challenge: Middle East risk manager Ghanem Nuseibeh said it was impressive that the Saudis exceeded the “very ambitious” goals set in Vision 2030, while noting the “low bar” from which tourism and the status of women started when the document was written. “The challenge moving forward will become more difficult,” Nuseibeh, founder of London-based Cornerstone Global Associates, told The Circuit. “This is because moving forward would require upgrading the infrastructure … and convincing foreigners and expatriates to move to Saudi, which is also not going to be easy or cheap.”
PEACE IN PITA
Chef Eyal Shani brings Tel Aviv vibe to Dubai Marina
Eyal Shani, an evangelist for introducing Israeli cuisine to an international audience, says he feels liberated in Dubai. “I can bring tomatoes and cucumbers from Lebanon, I can bring yogurt from Damascus, beautiful fruits and vegetables from Iran, cheeses from Iraq, and amazing fish from the Gulf – all the treasures of the East and West,” Shani, who opened a branch of his expanding North Miznon restaurant franchise in Dubai’s yacht-packed Marina district in December, said in an interview with Linda Gradstein for The Circuit.
Breaking barriers: In Jerusalem, where Shani, 64, was born, the produce markets are still limited by political barriers with several of Israel’s neighbors. But in the United Arab Emirates, which normalized relations with Israel in 2020 under the Abraham Accords, the entire Middle East is accessible to his constant hunt for fresh and inspiring ingredients. That has enabled the chef to create unconventional seafood dishes such as octopus shishlik, grouper shawarma and an item he calls “Journey into the Head of a Lokus,” which features a fish known in the U.S. as Dusky grouper bass.
Cauliflower massage: Among the many vegetable dishes on the menu are beetroot carpaccio, served with white horseradish snow and sour cream on the side; sabich 2.0, described as an eggplant steak on a “storm of tomato and tahini with a spicy boiled egg”; and “whole animal artichoke.” The menu changes daily and sometimes includes the dish he became famous for in Israel, a full head of roasted cauliflower massaged with olive oil.
First time: The Dubai restaurant, which has an open kitchen so diners can see the chefs at work, is located in the Doubletree by Hilton-Jumeirah Beach hotel. It is Shani’s first in an Arab country, although his empire of nearly 50 locations includes various iterations in New York, London, Paris, Singapore, Vienna and Melbourne, Australia. In Israel, where Shani is a celebrity judge on the television show “Master Chef,” his Miznon chain became popular in Tel Aviv by serving unique dishes in freshly baked pita and paper bags. The North Miznon brand is more upscale.
Star chefs: Among other Israeli chefs who have opened restaurants around the world are Yotam Ottolenghi, Assaf Granit and Meir Adoni. Dubai has nine restaurants with Michelin stars and the list of superstar chefs who have branches in the city include London’s Gordon Ramsay, Hong Kong’s Alvin Leung and Pierre Gagnaire from Paris.
Deal Shopping: Abu Dhabi’s $320 billion Mubadala sovereign wealth fund is examining potential investments in renewable energy, gas and property, in the U.S., Australia and India. The fund’s Mubadala Health unit recently announced an agreement with Oracle to run its electronic health records system.
Big River: Egypt plans to build the world’s biggest artificial river, costing $5.3 billion, to carry desalinated water and expand the country’s supply of arable land.
Electric Drones: Abu Dhabi-based Monarch Group signed a deal with China’s EHang Holdings to build sustainable electric-powered drones and passenger aircraft. Meanwhile, China’s SF Express’ first flight landed at Abu Dhabi International Airport as part of an agreement with Etihad Cargo and Kerry Logistics.
Tesla Taxis: Dubai’s Arabia Taxi, the emirate’s largest cab company, ordered a fleet of 269 Tesla Model 3 sedans as part of an effort to reduce its carbon footprint.
Vegan Kebabs: Abu Dhabi-based Switch Foods opened a plant-based meat factory and said kebabs, burger patties and all other products will be certified halal and vegan.
Travel Mag: Saudi Research and Media Group is launching a travel magazine called List focused on tourism in Saudi Arabia and the region, along with arts, food and shopping.
Yacht Docks: Four Seasons Hotels plans to build an island resort as part of Saudi Arabia’s Neom project, featuring 225 rooms, 52 villas, and private yacht docks.
Casino Island: Wynn Resorts said its $3.9 billion casino hotel project in the UAE off the coast of the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah will be called the Wynn Al Marjan Island.
High Growth: Abu Dhabi’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel is building a vertical farm as a model sustainability project to grow healthy food on its grounds that will be served to guests.
Record-Setter: A building plot of sand that measures 24,500 square feet on an island in Dubai’s Jumeirah Bay was sold for $34 million, setting a real estate record in the UAE.
Undersea Power: Abu Dhabi National Energy Company invested $31 million in British start-up Xlinks First, which plans to build the world’s longest high-voltage direct-current undersea power cable between Morocco and the U.K.
Post-Acute Care: Dubai’s Amanat Holdings completed the acquisition of a majority stake in Saudi Arabia’s Sukoon International Holding, creating the largest post-acute care platform serving multiple countries in the Gulf.
AI Memory: Pinecone, an Israeli startup that produces vector databases for AI memory storage, raised $100 million in a Series B funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz.
Planning Ahead: Ankura Consulting started a turnaround and restructuring practice out of its Dubai office, anticipating that more economic uncertainty will increase deal flow.
Power Connection: India plans to link its power grid with Saudi Arabia and the UAE through undersea cables, seeking to make the network more reliable and secure.
FashionTV Tower: Danube Properties is building a 65-story tower branded after FashionTV, including a gym and cafe patterned on the style channel.
Cruising to Bed: Samana Developers is building a residential project in Dubai shaped like a cruise ship that is being pitched as a cheaper alternative to staying in hotels.
Buying Billboards: Abu Dhabi-based Multiply Group plans to acquire a 55% stake in Media 247, an outdoor advertising company, for about $50 million.
On the Circuit
Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed, the UAE’s finance minister, was named first deputy ruler of Dubai. Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed, chairman of the Dubai Media Council, was appointed second deputy ruler. Both are sons of Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum
Abdulfattah Sharaf was appointed chairman of HSBC Middle East after 13 years leading the UAE unit. He will be succeeded by Mohamed Al Marzooqi.
Ariel Katz was named CEO of Israel’s Sisense, which embeds analytics capabilities in websites and other products, replacing Amir Orad, who will become executive chairman.
Ahead on the Circuit
May 1-3, Los Angeles, Milken Institute Global Conference. Investors, corporate executives, government leaders, academics and performers are among the 900 speakers on a broad range of world concerns. Beverly Hilton.
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 8-9, Dubai, UAE: Dubai Fintech Summit. Digital payments, crypto and regulatory authorities are among the issues to be discussed at government-sponsored conference. Madinat Jumeirah.
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. Calcalist newspaper and Israel Discount Bank holds three-day conference pairing Israeli and Japanese investors and business executives. Toranomon Hills Forum.
Hollywood Hopes: Saudi Arabia is reaching out to Hollywood. Executives from the kingdom’s Neom megacity project met with producers last week from movie, television and online studios at a rooftop cocktail reception co-sponsored with the show business newspaper Variety. Wayne Borg, Neom’s managing director of media, entertainment and culture, talked to the crowd about incentives for bringing productions to Saudi Arabia.
Neo-Culture: BRED Abu Dhabi, a five-day celebration of “neo-culture,” brought international rap stars, multimedia artists and customized sneakers to the Yas Island waterfront last week. Produced by Hypebeast, a Hong Kong-based fashion business, the festival featured British-Lebanese DJ Saliah and Americans 2 Chainz, Dave East and Armani White, along with pop-up cafes, gaming spaces and live mural-painting.
On-Demand News: StarzPlay, an on-demand entertainment platform, signed a deal with Sky News Arabia to distribute the news network’s content across the Middle East and North Africa region. As part of the deal, StarzPlay will add Sky News Arabia programming to its online menu of news and entertainment.
Interfaith Dialogue: The UAE’s Mohammed Bin Zayed University of Humanities and New York’s Yeshiva University will hold a conference this week on Islamic-Jewish relations, titled “Interacting Philosophies, Shared Friendships.” The May 3 symposium will take place in Dubai at the Crossroads of Civilization Museum and focus on the medieval Jewish scholar Moses Maimonides, who lived for years in Morocco and Egypt. Participants will travel afterward to Abu Dhabi to visit the newly opened Abrahamic Family House, a UAE-built religious compound that includes a mosque, a synagogue and a church.