The Weekly Circuit
👋 Good Monday morning in the Middle East!
Some of the UAE’s biggest firms are set to meet this week with government-backed artificial intelligence group G42 to explore ways to deploy its new large language model tailored for the Arabic-speaking world.
ADNOC, Etihad Airways, First Abu Dhabi Bank and e&, the UAE telecommunications company, have all partnered with G42 to find commercial applications for Jais, a bilingual LLM built on English and Arabic-language data, The Circuit’s Kelsey Warner reports. The project is a collaboration with Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI) and California AI company Cerebras. Named for the UAE’s highest peak, the makers of Jais say it is the best-performing Arabic-language LLM available.
COVID-19 era policies that opened up borders and a trade agreement with India are two contributors to the UAE’s record-breaking non-oil foreign trade figures for the first half of 2023, Omar Al Busaidy, founder of advisory firm Global Possibilities and former Ministry of Foreign Affairs contractor, told The Circuit.
The country’s non-oil foreign trade hit a record $340 billion in the first half of 2023, up 14% year-over-year. Non-oil exports with its top 10 most important trading partners rose by 22% in the first six months of this year.
Nearly three years after the Abraham Accords were signed at the White House, Israel will inaugurate the official site for its embassy in Bahrain on Monday. Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen was met by his Bahraini counterpart, Abdullatif Al Zayani, when he landed in Manama with a delegation of business leaders on Sunday. Israel’s ambassador to the small Gulf island nation, Eitan Naeh, has been operating out of temporary quarters until now.
In Cyprus on Monday, Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides hosts a get-together with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the premier of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, to align policy on natural gas deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean. The three nations have been talking together since 2016 about the feasibility of building a pipeline or finding other means to export gas to Europe.
Welcome to The Weekly Circuit. 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.👇
Palestinian interns dodge obstacles for tech opportunities
Enas Awwad, a 29-year-old Palestinian software engineer from the West Bank, credits interning at an Israeli startup five years ago with giving her many of the skills she needed to co-found a company in May, Judith Sudilovsky reports for The Circuit.
Peace business: Awwad is chief technology officer at NoledgeLoss Ltd., a developer of business productivity software that is germinating at the Google for Startups campus in Tel Aviv during its early fundraising stage. She is among the breakout stars of the Palestinian Internship Program, or PIP, an effort launched nine years ago by Israeli venture capital investors and technology firms to build peace through business partnerships.
Both sides: “I am the bridge,” Awwad told The Circuit. Dressed modestly in a lavender hijab head covering, she tries to help other young Palestinians enter the clubby and competitive Israeli tech market, which spawns more startups per capita than any other country. “I understand why they do things in certain ways and can explain it to the two sides,” said Awad, who founded the firm with Israeli partner Tal Givati, the CEO.
Global leaders: Created in 2014 by New York-born Yadin Kaufmann, a co-founder of Israel’s Veritas Capital Partners, PIP has placed paid interns at the Israeli branches of global giants ranging from Intel and Cisco to Microsoft and Google. Among the Israeli businesses employing Palestinian interns are VC firms Pitango and OurCrowd, as well as Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Freightos and Redefine Meat.
Gulf vision: Most recently, PIP has set its sights on sending interns to the Gulf, where companies in the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are scraping for programmers and the Palestinians are attractive hires because of their strong technical skills and their native Arabic. Israeli companies have been setting up offices in the Gulf and forming joint ventures since the 2020 Abraham Accords.
Talent trove: “The regional tech ecosystem is always looking for talent, and there is great Palestinian talent,” said Tally Zingher, a PIP board member and CEO of Dawsat, a weight-loss and wellness company for which Arab women are the target audience. One of the program’s interns worked at Dawsat’s Abu Dhabi office. Another was brought to Dubai by Gulf Red Med, an agency promoting investment between Arab and Israeli businesses.
Why is Abu Dhabi’s Pure Health buying up U.K. hospitals?
The UAE’s biggest health-care network, Pure Health, has made two big-ticket acquisitions since forming last year, looking outside the region to the U.S. and U.K. for growth, while forging a research relationship with Israel, The Circuit’s Kelsey Warner reports.
Big deals: Last week, Pure Health bought one of the U.K.’s largest independent hospital operators in a $1.2 billion deal. Circle Health Group operates 53 private hospitals and marks Pure Health’s entrance into the British market.
Buy America: The news came three months after a deal was finalized for a minority stake in U.S.-based Ardent Health Services. The $490 million equity investment made Pure Health the only UAE-based health-care provider to ever directly acquire assets in U.S. hospitals and clinics.
Lead investor: ADQ, Pure Health’s largest shareholder, is one of the Middle East’s largest holding companies with a broad portfolio of large Abu Dhabi firms. As one of several sovereign wealth funds in the capital emirate it also has a unique mandate: to be the lead investor driving the UAE’s economic transformation from petrostate to a knowledge-based economy.
Broad portfolio: Chaired by Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the country’s national security adviser and brother to the president of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, ADQ’s portfolio includes holdings in agriculture, energy, financial services, health care and life sciences. ADQ merged its health-care subsidiaries with Alpha Dhabi’s Pure Health Medical Supplies in January 2022.
Longevity hub: Pure Health, which had branded itself as a research and clinical hub focused on longevity, was the main provider of the nation’s massive COVID-19 testing effort at the time. ADQ’s agreement consolidated the public health provider SEHA, major health insurer Daman and stem cell research center ADSCC into one group, creating a footprint of more than 25 hospitals, more than 100 clinics and more than 160 laboratories in the UAE.
Click here to read the full story.
👴 Youthful Ambition: Longevity is Saudi Arabia’s next investment target. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has allocated more than $1 billion a year to Hevolution Foundation, a fund to invest in aging research, The Wall Street Journal reports.
✈️ Wheels Up: Following six years of delays, Abu Dhabi’s new Midfield terminal will open in November, vastly increasing the airport’s passenger and cargo capacity and providing a new home to flag carrier Etihad Airways.
🛎️ On a Roll: Nobu Hospitality will enter Egypt with two new luxury hotels, a restaurant and residences. The Florida-based hotel brand — headed by actor Robert De Niro, Israeli-American film producer Meir Teper and chef Nobu Matsuhisa — will partner with Egyptian real estate developer Sodic, which is owned by Abu Dhabi’s Aldar Properties and ADQ.
🍟 Golden Arches: Private equity firm Trustar is in preliminary talks with Abu Dhabi and Singapore’s sovereign wealth funds Mubadala and GIC respectively, among others, for anchor investments in a continuation fund for McDonald’s China, Reuters reports.
🗲 Missile Zapper: Rafael Advanced Defense Systems says its new laser defense system will be operational in 2024 and give Israel fuller protection against missiles in 2025.
🌏 Trade Spur: Japan and Israel are reportedly making substantial progress toward a free-trade agreement that may bring down car prices in competition with China and South Korea.
🌵 Home Hub: PIF-owned Riyadh Air will focus its “super aggressive” expansion plans on direct flights to and from Saudi Arabia rather than compete with Doha and Dubai’s major connecting hubs, the airline’s CEO, Tony Douglas, said.
💰 Surging Assets: The London arm of Kuwait Investment Authority, which manages the country’s sovereign wealth fund, has $250 billion of assets under management, up from $27 billion in 2003, KIA Chairman Saad Al-Barrak said.
Steely Reserve: Saudi Arabia’s PIF is set to create a new national steel giant with the acquisition of the metals unit of chemicals maker Saudi Basic Industries Corp., or Sabic, for $3.3 billion.
Charged Up: Saudi Arabian fund Energy Capital Group has invested at an undisclosed value in Pure Lithium, a U.S.-based firm specializing in lithium metal batteries.
Local Liquidity: Aliph Capital, an Abu Dhabi alternative investment manager founded by Huda Al-Lawati, raised “a strong commitment” from a PIF-backed fund as it targets $250 million for Aliph Fund I to invest in Gulf small and medium-sized businesses.
Gas Hunt: BP, the London-based energy giant, plans to invest $3.5 billion over the next three years for exploration and development of Egypt’s natural gas resources.
Eyes on the Prize: Jared Kushner’s Gulf-funded Affinity Partners is among several firms seeking to acquire a stake of about 25% in Israel’s Phoenix Insurance Agencies.
Taking Stock: Saudi Arabia’s Ades International Holding, a drilling company, reportedly plans to go public in Riyadh in a deal that could be the kingdom’s largest IPO this year, expected to raise about $1 billion.
Fighting Chance: In its first foray into mixed martial arts, SRJ Sports Investments — a vehicle of Saudi Arabia’s PIF — will invest $100 million in the U.S. Professional Fighters League, with plans to create a regional tournament, the Financial Times reports.
More Runway: Standard Chartered will sell its aviation leasing business to a unit of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund for /$3.6 billion as part of efforts to boost returns.
Intelligence Rival: AI21 Labs, an Israeli competitor to OpenAI, closed a $155 million funding round that values the six-year-old startup at $1.4 billion.
Checking Out: U.S. real estate firm The Witkoff Group and Mubadala almost broke even, selling London’s Park Lane Hotel to the Qatar Investment Authority for a reported $623 million.
Cold Front: Tabreed, a Dubai cooling company majority owned by Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala, has been selected as the preferred bidder for a long-term district cooling concession in India worth up to $9.8 million.
Elder Pal: Israel’s Intuition Robotics raised $25 million to refine its AI-powered ElliQ companion for the elderly that aims to ease loneliness and promote social interaction.
On the Circuit
Mallory Stewart, U.S assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification and compliance, will travel to Israel and Turkey this week to discuss security issues related to arms control and AI.
Mohamed Al-Fayed, the Egyptian billionaire and former owner of Harrods, whose son Dodi was killed in a 1997 car crash alongside Diana, Princess of Wales, died at age 94.
Mohamed Alabbar, founder of Emaar Properties, said a redesign is underway of Dubai Creek Tower, which was meant to be 100 meters taller than the Burj Khalifa, in a wide-ranging interview with state news agency Wam, where he also said there are no plans to IPO e-commerce platform Noon.
Beny Steinmetz, an Israeli mining billionaire, was detained in Cyprus on a European arrest warrant in connection with allegations of illegally securing land rights in Romania. Steinmetz issued a statement saying he expects to be vindicated.
Robert Kupstas, co-founder of UAE agtech unicorn Pure Harvest Smart Farms, is stepping down as CEO of Ocean Harvest, a sister company specialized in land-based salmon farming, and named Jawad Jamil to join as co-founder and CEO.
Omar Al Olama, UAE minister of state for artificial intelligence, digital economy and remote work, was named to a 10-person steering committee on AI governance by the World Economic Forum.
Nicolas Calvet, founder of Khalifa University’s solar research platform in Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City, is departing his post after a decade at the university.
Ahead on the Circuit
Sept. 4-8, Abu Dhabi, UAE: ADIHEX – Abu Dhabi International Hunting and Equestrian Exhibition. The largest show in the MENA region dedicated to hunting weapons, falconry and equestrian sports. Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.
Sept. 5-6, Tel Aviv, Israel: Agro-Mashov Conference 2023. Growers, buyers, retailers, wholesalers, importers gather for annual Israeli agricultural conference. Expo Tel Aviv.
Sept. 6-8, Dubai, UAE: ICBM Expo. A gathering of crypto, blockchain and metaverse developers, investors and companies hosted by Dubai Future Foundation and Smart Dubai. Festival Arena.
Sept. 11-13, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Saudi Water Expo. Investors and leaders from industry and government discuss prudent use of the region’s water resources. Riyadh International Convention and Exhibition Centre.
Sept. 13-14, Dubai, UAE: Global Vertical Farming Show. Vertical farming companies from around the world meet with technology firms, policymakers and investors. Movenpick Grand Al Bustan Hotel.
Sept. 13-14, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: IDC Saudi Arabia CIO Summit. Chief information officers explore new digital trends in business. Fairmont Riyadh Hotel.
Sept. 14-15, Abu Dhabi, UAE: Super Angels Summit 2023. Angel investors meet with startup founders at annual conference. Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.
Sept. 19, Dubai, UAE: Middle East Investment Conference. Asset owners, managers, investors discuss latest trends in regional market. Ritz Carlton, DIFC.
Sept. 20-24, Dubai, UAE: Gitex Shopper. Electronics fair with product launches, presentations by major world brands. Dubai World Trade Centre.
Sept. 28-30, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: Melody Festival. Three days of music honoring Saudi Arabia’s vibrant musical heritage and the artists who have shaped it. Jeddah Superdome.
Oct. 2-5, Abu Dhabi, UAE: ADIPEC 2023: Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition & Conference brings oil industry together to discuss trends and strategy. Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.
Curtain Call: Oman’s Royal Opera House Muscat unveiled its new season with a broad lineup including folk and classical music, opera and dance. Twenty-eight productions and concerts are on the calendar with artists from the Middle East, Europe and North Africa. Some of the big names include popular Lebanese singers Majida El Roumi and Ragheb Alama, as well as large productions of classics like “The Barber of Seville,” “La Boheme” and “Swan Lake.”
Attic Treasures: Cairo’s ninth-century Ben Ezra Synagogue was reopened last week with a walkaround by Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly after a yearslong restoration project. The synagogue once housed the famed “Cairo Geniza,” a treasure trove for scholars of books and documents from 1,000 years of Jewish life in the city that was hidden in the building’s attic.
Iranian Judoka: A new movie co-directed by Iranian and Israeli filmmakers was shot secretly in Eastern Europe to prevent the possibility that Tehran might interfere. In a script inspired by actual events, the film, “Tatami,” focuses on the world judo championship where an Iranian champion is ordered to fake an injury to avoid stepping on the mat with an Israeli competitor. The taut thriller, made by French-Iranian director Zar Amir Ebrahimi and Israel’s Guy Nattiv, had its world premiere this past weekend at the Venice Film Festival.