The Weekly Circuit
👋 Good Monday morning in the Middle East!
Saudi Aramco, the world’s most valuable energy company, is likely to decide in the coming weeks whether to hold a new sale of its stock. When it first went public in 2019, the Saudi national oil company generated almost $30 billion, the biggest IPO in history. Bloomberg reports that the kingdom is now working with several advisers to study the feasibility and timing of a secondary offering on the Riyadh stock market.
Star power in soccer, pop culture and restaurants is strengthening the Gulf’s draw as a business haven. While the UAE has long been hospitable to expatriates, the Wall Street Journal reports that Saudi Arabia, which has budgeted $1 trillion over the next decade to attract tourists, and Qatar, which hosted soccer’s FIFA World Cup last year, are coming on strong. The Gulf states are “becoming a magnet for global wealth, attracting European bankers, American hedge-fund managers and Israeli tech founders to countries with zero income taxes and a swelling food, sports and arts scene,” the Journal said.
A UAE cabinet minister called for assembling a global coalition to regulate artificial intelligence, comparing it to monitoring nuclear proliferation. “We need to have the same level of rigor, the same level of oversight on AI,” Omar Al Olama, minister of state for AI, digital economy and remote work applications, said on Friday at The National’s Connectivity Forum in Abu Dhabi.
Business and government leaders from Israel, India, the UAE and U.S. are trying to spur cooperation within the budding regional group known as the “I2U2 Initiative.” At a lunch meeting in the seaside Israeli tech hub of Herzliya on Sunday, the U.S. Embassy’s deputy chief of mission in Israel, Stephanie Hallett, encouraged company executives at the Ritz-Carlton hotel to mix and make deals, The Circuit’s Jonathan Ferziger reports. “To see the depth of expertise in this room, the connections that already exist between the four countries that we’re talking about… it’s exactly what we want to happen in the long term,” she said.
The meeting, which focused on energy and water scarcity, brought out the CEOs of several Israeli companies including Steve Elbaz of Watergen, Rami Reshef of GenCell, Yaron Bar-Tal of Fluence, David Mayer of Phinergy and Josef Abramowitz of Gigawatt Global. The Indian embassy’s deputy chief of mission, Rajiv Bodwade, said the I2U2 group presents a “perfect opportunity for all four countries to pool resources” and strengthen their technology startups. Business councils from the four countries organized the event.
Gulf corporate finance, oil production and AI will be among the issues topping the agenda this week at the Qatar Economic Forum. The three-day conference, sponsored by the Qatari government and organized by Bloomberg LP, will bring together leaders from government, business, academia and the arts, including: Mansoor Ebrahim Al-Mahmoud, the Qatari minister of state for energy affairs and CEO of Qatar Energy; Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed bin Abdullah Al-Jadaan; Hungarian President Victor Orbán; Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund; and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Also speaking at the Qatar forum will be TikTok CEO Shou Chew, Boeing CEO David Calhoun, Standard Chartered Group CEO Bill Winters, Goldman Sachs sustainability chief Dina Powell McCormick, Thiel Capital Managing Director Jack Selby, PwC Global Chairman Bob Moritz, Commercial Bank of Kuwait CEO Elham Mafouz, New York University economist Nouriel Roubini, and artist Jeff Koons. The conference, which starts Tuesday, will be introduced by Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor and founder of the financial information company.
Cybersecurity and the Abraham Accords will be the subject of a panel discussion in Washington, D.C., this week at the Atlantic Council. Speakers including U.S. Department of Homeland Security Under Secretary Robert Silvers will focus on how cybersecurity cooperation can strengthen trust and security among the Abraham Accords signatories – Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan and the U.S. The program, which will be webcast, is being organized by the N7 Initiative, a joint project of the council and the Jeffrey M. Talpins Foundation.
Saudi Arabia’s Rayyanah Barnawi became the first Arab woman in space yesterday when she lifted off with fellow astronaut Ali AlQarni for a mission aboard the International Space Station. Waiting for them in the orbiting space lab were UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, as well as crew members from the U.S. and Canada.
Space enthusiasts who aren’t ready to endure the rigors of NASA training may soon find a place in Dubai to indulge their fantasies. Canadian entrepreneur Michael Henderson announced last week he plans to build a $5 billion hotel called Moon that features a 900-foot replica of the orbiting body.The 4,000-room resort will have a “lunar colony” designed to give guests the sensation of actually walking on the moon.
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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DOCTORS & DEALS
Stem cells, medical research pave path to Abraham Accords cooperation
A senior stem cell researcher from the United Arab Emirates and a Moroccan pharmaceutical company took part in Israel’s largest biomedical conference last week, highlighting how the Abraham Accords have led to cooperation in the medical technology field, Melanie Lidman reports for The Circuit. Dr. Fatima Al Kaabi, executive director of the Abu Dhabi Bone Marrow Transplant Program at the Abu Dhabi Stem Cells Center, and Marwan Abdulaziz Janahi, executive director of the Dubai Science Park, addressed the BioMed Israel conference.
Just do it: The May 16-18 gathering in Tel Aviv brought together thousands of medical industry leaders from 45 different countries. Morocco was represented by Laprophan, a pharmaceutical company based in Casablanca. “There was this period of getting to know each other, which I think we’re now almost over with, and now everyone is saying OK, let’s just do things together,” Janahi told The Circuit.
Quick scan: “I was on one of the first missions to come,” Al Kaabi said. “It was during COVID and the streets were empty, but the energy was beautiful.” She recalled meeting with a number of Israeli medical startups on her first trip, one of which, Seegnal, she is now using at the ADSCC. The company does a quick and immediate scan of a patient’s medical chart to ensure that any medicine that a doctor wants to prescribe will not have dangerous interactions with other medications a patient is taking and is safe based on the patient’s known medical history.
Drug interactions: “This program helps people to see the drug interaction, reduce cost, reduce toxicity and reduce side effects,” said Al Kaabi, a hematologist whose personal area of expertise is blood cancers that are resistant to treatment. “Now we are using it on a wider scale of population, so it grew from a very small kind of project to a project that is actually helping people to have a better outcome.”
Pandemic legacy: The Abraham Accords were signed in September 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, so health was an immediate and pressing field for cooperation, with multiple memorandums of understanding between Israel and the UAE agreed upon soon afterwards. One of the first collaborations was between Abu Dhabi’s G42 Healthcare and Israel’s NanoScent to develop, distribute and manufacture a test that detects COVID-19 from exhaled air.
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Chicago billionaire Sam Zell, 81, had a close relationship with the UAE’s royal family
Sam Zell, the blunt-talking, motorcycle-riding Chicago tycoon who sold his real estate business for $39 billion and invested disastrously in newspapers, died last week at 81. Zell made his fortune buying and selling distressed properties, delighted at being known as “the grave dancer.” His 2007 acquisition for $8.2 billion of the Tribune Co. collapsed a year later when the media giant that owned the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times filed for bankruptcy, The Circuit’s Jonathan Ferziger reports.
Love of risk: Born to an Orthodox Jewish family that fled Poland months before he was born, Zell was a firm supporter of Israel and also developed a close relationship with the royal family in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. In a 2007 profile for The New Yorker, writer Connie Bruck described how Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, now president of the United Arab Emirates and known as MBZ, was intrigued by the Chicago investor’s love of risk.
Let’s cruise: During a visit to the palace, Bruck wrote, “Zell described annual motorcycle trips that he takes with an eclectic group of friends he calls “Zell’s Angels,” to Italy, Switzerland, Corsica, Sardinia — wherever the scenery is breathtaking and the roads vertiginous. “I understand that you ride motorcycles,” he told the Sheikh. “I’d love to go for a ride with you.”
“‘How about tomorrow night?’ the Sheikh replied.”
“At eleven o’clock the next evening, the men, wearing jeans and helmets, mounted a pair of motorcycles and raced along Abu Dhabi’s tree-lined boulevards,” Bruck wrote.
Let’s invest: Zell returned to Abu Dhabi many times after that trip, Bruck wrote. “We’ve invited the ruling family to be investors in our portfolio of companies, and they’ve invited us to explore homebuilding with them in Abu Dhabi and neighboring countries,” she quotes Gary Garrabrant as saying. Garrabrant was CEO of Equity International, a private-equity company owned by Zell that invested in real estate-related businesses outside the United States. “They are taken with Sam because, I think, he speaks candidly to them and doesn’t necessarily affirm their view,” Garrabrant told Bruck.
UAE buys stake: Just three weeks ago, Abu Dhabi-based Pure Health, the UAE’s largest health care group, completed its agreement to invest $500 million in Ardent Health Services, the fourth-largest privately held acute care hospital operator in the U.S., which is owned by Zell’s Equity Group Investments.
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By the Book: Islamic banking grew by 8% in the UAE last year, outpacing conventional banks, which grew by 3%, according to a report by Fitch Ratings.
Cairo Boost: Senior Egyptian officials say foreign investors will receive priority in a reform package aimed at boosting private sector participation in the economy.
First Class: The UAE’s Etihad Rail will create a luxury train service with Italy’s Arsenale Hospitality company that will travel throughout the country and showcase its sites.
Friend to Al: UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed’s close U.S. relationship shouldn’t preclude strong ties with Russia and China, aides tell the Wall Street Journal.
India Branch: The Dubai Multi Commodities Centre will set up an office in Mumbai, India, in partnership with PP Shah and Associates to promote the UAE free zone.
Abra Cadabra: Dubai is testing a self-driving, electric version of the popular “abra” boats that offer cheap rides across Dubai Creek.
Tech Titan: Zohar Zisapel, co-founder with his brother of Israel’s RAD Group, which spawned some of the country’s biggest tech companies, died on Saturday at 74.
Managing Assets: Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala sovereign wealth fund made $29 billion in investments in 2022 and now has $276 billion in assets under management.
Budget Knife: The Israel Innovation Authority, which funds tech startups, will have its budget cut by about 7%, or $27 million, in the government’s proposed spending plan.
Green Gulf: France’s Engie is seeking to start green hydrogen power projects in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman as part of an effort to cut its global emissions.
Nuclear Transition: The UAE is among the U.S. partners pledging to provide Romania with $275 million for a small nuclear reactor to support its transition from fossil fuels.
Clean Energy: Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s renewable power company, nearly doubled its capacity to generate solar, wind and other clean energy over the past two years.
No Wallet: Egypt’s Paymob, which provides cashless transaction services, obtained government certification to operate its business in Saudi Arabia.
Food App: Middle East commerce app Careem launched a new platform called “DineOut” that offers discounts of up to 30% at Dubai restaurants and bars.
Moroccan Roadsters: Morocco’s Neo Motors gave King Mohammed VI a model of the country’s first domestic car, while NamX presented a prototype of its hydrogen vehicle.
Battery Swaps: Ample, a California electric vehicle startup, is bringing back battery swapping, pioneered by Israel’s Better Place before the company went bankrupt.
On the Circuit
Naftali Bennett, the former Israeli prime minister who founded a cybersecurity firm, will join the board of Quantum Source, a quantum computing startup.
Riad Salameh, governor of Lebanon’s central bank, is the subject of an Interpol notice on a French arrest warrant to investigate embezzlement charges, which he denies.
Pritesh Pritel, chief investment officer of Manulife’s Americas Real Estate division, was hired by the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority to lead its real estate unit in the Americas.
Smadar Barber-Tsadik, CEO of First International Bank of Israel, told the board she plans to step down after 16 years in the job.
Nassir Al-Naimi was promoted to president of Saudi Aramco’s crude oil and gas division, and Mohammed Al Qahtani was promoted to president of its refining unit.
Ahead on the Circuit
May 22, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Forbes Middle East Women’s Summit 2023. Top female business, cultural and government leaders gather in the Saudi capital. Riyadh Fairmont Hotel.
May 23-24, Dubai, UAE: Seamless Middle East 2023. Conference explores the future of digital commerce. Dubai World Trade 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.
May 31-June 1, Abu Dhabi, UAE: Make it in the Emirates Forum. Annual manufacturing conference sponsored by the UAE Ministry of Industry and Advanced Technology. Abu Dhabi Energy Centre.
June 17-18, Tel Aviv, Israel: Fintech Junction. Conference brings together investors, bankers, regulators and tech company executives. Hilton Tel Aviv.
Oldest Bible: An 1,100-year-old edition of the Hebrew Bible was sold for $38.1 million last week and donated to the ANU Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv. The price paid at Sotheby’s New York by Alfred Moses, a former U.S. diplomat, made the Codex Sassoon the most valuable manuscript ever sold at auction. Written on parchment, the volume is the oldest and most complete version discovered of the Hebrew Bible.
Soccer Champs: Manchester City, the Abu Dhabi-owned British soccer team, secured the Premier League title for the fifth time in six seasons after Arsenal lost 1-0 on Saturday to Nottingham Forest.
First for LIV: Brooks Koepka won the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., becoming the first player to win a major tournament after leaving the PGA Tour for the Saudi-backed LIV Golf league. Off the course, meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund won a delay in a court order that it provide testimony and documents in an antitrust case between LIV and the PGA. The Saudi sovereign wealth fund is asking a U.S. appeals court to overturn a lower court ruling that requires its governor, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, to testify. U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman granted the temporary delay.
Saudi Studio: “Riverman,” an action-thriller movie about war in Afghanistan directed by Academy Award-winner Terry George, will start shooting in Neom, Saudi Arabia’s $500 billion megacity project being built on the kingdom’s Red Sea coast.
Goodbye, Hollywood: Johnny Depp, the controversial movie star whose latest French movie, “Jeanne Du Barry,” was financed in part by Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea International Film Festival, said he has mixed feelings about being ostracized at home since his defamation trial with ex-wife, Amber Heard. “I don’t have much further need for Hollywood myself,” Depp told reporters last week at the Cannes Film Festival.