The Weekly Circuit
👋 Good Monday morning in the Middle East!
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is taking a lead role in Arab-Israeli peacemaking. MBS grabbed headlines last week during the annual gathering of the United Nations General Assembly by acknowledging that he’s in U.S.-mediated talks to normalize relations with Israel. Clinching the deal would involve allowing Saudi Arabia to set up a civilian nuclear program, establishing a formal U.S.-Saudi mutual defense pact and providing unspecified help to the Palestinians. The crown prince predicted other Arab countries would join the peace plan and said it would be an economic boon for the region.
President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately confirmed the plan’s objectives and said negotiations are underway. The 38-year-old crown prince said in an interview with Fox News that normalization is getting closer “every day” and would make Israel a “player in the Middle East.” Netanyahu responded that to succeed, the talks need to be wrapped up within “the next few months.”
MBS, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, also stepped out as its chief marketing officer, using parts of the hour-long Fox interview to tout Neom, Saudi Arabia’s $500 billion city. Strolling with anchor Bret Baier on the artificial Red Sea island of Sindalah, the prince outlined his vision for turning the country into a magnet for business, tourism and sports. The plans include luxury hotels, golf resorts, outdoor ski slopes, coral diving and luring more of international soccer’s biggest stars to play in Saudi Arabia. The sports industry, which has historically contributed minimally to the Saudi economy, now accounts for 1% of GDP and is growing, he said.
A handshake with Biden two weeks ago at the G20 summit in New Delhi effectively endorsed MBS’ return as a public figure after the U.S. leader previously said while campaigning for president in 2019 that he should be treated as a “pariah” because of the killing of a dissident. Thousands of foreign business executives, investors and government officials are due to attend the Future Investment Initiative conference MBS will host next month in Riyadh – an annual meeting known as “Davos in the Desert.”
Besides the U.N. gathering, both Netanyahu and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan zeroed in on Elon Musk, owner of Tesla, SpaceX and X Corp. The Israeli leader flew out to Musk’s electric car factory in Fremont, Calif., for a public discussion about artificial intelligence and asked the world’s wealthiest person to invest in Israel. Erdoğan, during a meeting in New York, sought to persuade Musk to open a Tesla factory in Turkey. And the Wall Street Journal reports that Saudi Arabia is in early negotiations with Tesla to build a factory in the kingdom, but Musk denied the report.
Among the headliners this week at the Future Hospitality Summit on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island is Mohamed Alabbar, founder of Emaar Properties and builder of Dubai’s 162-story Burj Khalifa skyscraper. The three-day conference, which opens on Monday, will bring out hotel and restaurant executives from across the region to discuss growth strategies and how the industry is rebounding from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Welcome to The Weekly Circuit. Read on for the stories, deals and players at the top of the news across the MENA business landscape. Please send comments and story tips to [email protected].
DOWN TO EARTH
‘Follow the money,’ COP28 climate chief Al Jaber writes before ringing NYSE bell
Sultan Al Jaber, the Emirati oil executive and president-designate of this year’s COP28 environmental conference, called for a major overhaul of climate finance to bridge an anticipated $2.4 trillion investment gap by 2030 as he came to New York for the United Nations General Assembly, The Circuit’s Kelsey Warner reports.
Change needed: “Without major reform of the current financial system… we will not have the ability to invest in the resources and infrastructure that help developing countries – especially small island developing states and economies across the Global South – to cope with flooding, droughts, heatwaves, storms, and other climate shocks,” Al Jaber wrote in an op-ed for Fortune.
Busy leader: “If you want to understand the state of the world’s climate efforts, follow the money,” wrote Al Jaber, who will lead the two-week U.N. conference when it opens in Dubai on Nov. 30. He is also CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and chairman of Masdar, a consolidated renewable energy subsidiary under ADNOC, Mubadala and TAQA.
Mega-fund: Al Jaber’s full-throated support for climate finance reform comes as the United Arab Emirates is reportedly mulling a multibillion-dollar fund largely pulled from its sovereign wealth fund coffers for clean energy investments that it would roll out at COP28, Politico reported last month.
Bloomberg partnership: The Fortune piece was published hours before Al Jaber rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday, becoming the first head of the U.N. climate conference to do so. Following the market opening, he and the city’s former mayor, Michael Bloomberg, announced a separate initiative within the Dubai conference, the COP28 Local Climate Action Summit. Bloomberg was appointed in 2021 as the U.N.’s special envoy on climate ambition and solutions.
New York University to offer MBA at Abu Dhabi campus
New York University is opening an outpost in the Middle East for its Stern School of Business with a new one-year MBA program at its campus in Abu Dhabi, The Circuit’s Kelsey Warner reports.
Sector growth: The new program joins France’s INSEAD and Boston-based Hult as top-tier business schools with a presence in the United Arab Emirates. The program targets early-career professionals to develop a pipeline of talent in the UAE and wider region amid public and private sector growth in energy, finance, technology, aviation and hospitality.
One-year program: “The introduction of this full-time MBA to the MENA region is groundbreaking for students who want to earn an MBA from one of the world’s leading business schools in just one year and build a career in a region that is seeing exponential growth,” said Raghu Sundaram, dean of the NYU business school, in a statement.
Twin cities: “Stern at NYUAD,” as the program is named, will open its doors in January 2025. Spring and fall modules will be hosted in Abu Dhabi and a summer session will be held in New York City.
First dean: Robert Salomon, a professor of management at Stern since 2005 who focuses on globalization, will be the program’s inaugural dean.
ON THE METER
Drone air-taxis conduct test flights over Jerusalem
Perched on seven whirring propellers, the sleek black-and-white cockpit lifted vertically toward the sky and circled above the hills and valleys of the pine-filled Jerusalem Forest. Two years from now, the remote-controlled aircraft could be ferrying passengers to Tel Aviv, Ben Gurion International Airport and suburbs teeming with tech startups as drone air-taxi service is introduced to Israel, Linda Gradstein reports for The Circuit.
Taxi fleets: Among the objectives is to whisk travelers above the traffic jams that snarl Israel’s highways, and ultimately cut down the number of vehicles on the road. In a combined effort by industry, government and regulatory authorities, Israel is conducting test flights to determine how it can safely unleash fleets of drones with fare-paying passengers into its Mediterranean skies. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Singapore are among a number of ambitious nations vying to be first with a pilotless air-taxi system operating at a competitive cost.
Target 2025: “We have built a concept of operation to reduce traffic around the world,” Yoely Or, CEO of Cando Drones, said during a recent demonstration for reporters of the aircraft’s capabilities on the grounds of Jerusalem’s Hadassah-Ein Kerem Hospital. Or said he expects the drone taxis to operate commercially by 2025 with more than 100 aircraft making short hops between Israeli metropolitan areas.
Command-and-control: At the hospital, the helicopter-like EVTOL drone – electric vertical takeoff and landing – sat on a helipad waiting for its test flight. Inside are two comfortable-looking seats for passengers, although not much room for cargo. A drone pilot operates the aircraft sitting in a screen-filled command-and-control room in an office building miles away. As it took off, the drone’s lights turned green and it lifted silently to an altitude barely visible to a naked eye. After a 15-minute flight, it returned and descended directly onto the helipad.
National project: The taxi demonstration was part of Israel’s National Drone Initiative, which is holding flight tests and demonstrations in locations around Israel. The initiative is a partnership between government entities led by the Transportation Ministry, the Israel Innovation Authority, Ayalon Highways Ltd., and the Civil Aviation Authority of Israel (CAAI). The goal of the initiative is to support and promote drone flight through technology, regulation and infrastructure.
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🏎️ Venture Driven: Saudi Arabia transformed a former parking structure into The Garage, one of the Middle East’s largest startup districts by square footage, located in the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology in Riyadh.
💰 All that Glitters: The UAE bought more gold from Russia last year than any other country as Western nations imposed sanctions on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.
⛑️Disaster Relief: The IMF will grant Morocco a $1.3 billion loan to help it recover from the Sept. 8 earthquake and protect itself against climate-related disasters.
🌡️ Heat Stroke: The dangers to migrant workers in the Gulf who work in blazing summer temperatures that reach 120 degrees “are on the frontlines of climate change,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
🥊 Bouncing Back: Qatar’s close ties with the Biden administration are helping its economy shake off damage from a boycott by its Gulf neighbors that ended in 2021.
🇪🇬 Pyramid Scheme: Adnoc Distribution, the UAE’s largest fuel and convenience retailer, opened its first three service stations in Cairo and has plans for another six in Egypt by the end of 2023 as part of an international expansion.
🚁 Heli Helper: A new construction method using helicopters instead of heavy equipment was successfully tested in Saudi Arabia’s Neom to help construct the mega-city’s renewable power grid.
🌴 Hot Property: Dubai property buyers began lining up at 3 a.m. last Wednesday to secure a Nakheel-developed villa on the under-development Palm Jebel Ali.
🛒 Gone Shopping: Palo Alto Networks is in advanced talks to acquire Israel’s Talon Cyber Security in a deal estimated to be worth $600 million, Calcalist reports.
☀️ Renewed Resources: UAE renewables firm Masdar is planning to raise as much as $1 billion through its second offering of green bonds.
💵 Secure Purchase: Crowdstrike, the Austin, Texas-based cybersecurity giant, acquired Israel’s Bionic, a four-year-old startup, for $350 million.
🪴 Growth Stage: Abu Dhabi-headquartered Fuze, a digital assets infrastructure provider, raised a $14 million seed round led by Abu Dhabi VC fund Further Ventures.
🖥️ Cloud Protection: Cato Networks, an Israeli cloud security company, raised $238 million from investors including SoftBank, Lightspeed and SingTel Innov8.
🏢 Office Manager: HiBob, an Israeli HR management platform, raised $150 million and its CEO said the company is ready for an IPO when market conditions improve.
🔒 Locked Up: Legit Security, an Israeli cybersecurity startup, raised $40 million in a Series B funding round, led by Palo Alto, Calif.-based private equity firm CRV.
📈 Capital Sell-Off: Egypt plans to sell 10% of the shares in the state company that will administer its new administrative capital, which is under construction east of Cairo.
💊 Healthy Dose: UAE-based Julphar, one of the largest pharmaceutical manufacturers in the MENA region and one of the world’s biggest producers of insulin, is seeking around $272 million to sell Planet Pharmacies, Bloomberg reports.
📈 Target Acquired: The first blank-check company to list in the Middle East, backed by wealth fund ADQ and Chimera Investments, signed a deal with Abu Dhabi-based United Printing & Publishing, a company that prints ID cards.
On the Circuit
Carlos Ghosn, the former CEO of Nissan Motor Corp. who was arrested in Japan on corruption charges in 2018 and escaped to his native Lebanon, is moving ahead with his $1 billion lawsuit against the automaker as preliminary hearings started in Beirut.
Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan, granddaughter of the late UAE President Sheikh Khalifa, launched a new social enterprise called The Climate Tribe on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly and Climate Week in New York City.
Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly addressed the Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, citing the difficulty of obtaining financing as the “bottleneck” issue that stops developing nations from taking action against global warming.
Mohammed Al Kuwaiti, head of the UAE Cybersecurity Council, said the country is anticipating AI’s major influence in the coming decades as he announced a new cybersecurity agenda.
Tom Nides, former U.S. ambassador to Israel who forged a career between Wall Street and Washington, is joining Wells Fargo & Co. as vice chairman to oversee the firm’s public affairs division as it restores its image after years of scandal.
Jassim Al-Sulaiti, Qatar’s minister of transport, laid out the country’s five-year plan for getting self-driving vehicles on the road.
Ibrahim Lamrini, a former Goldman Sachs executive who worked on the Souq-Amazon deal, will join Rothschild & Co. as a senior director for Middle East M&A deals as the boutique bank extends its hiring spree in the region, Bloomberg reports.
Good Sound: Altersoul Music, an electronic music label from Morocco, is calling on DJs and producers across the MENA region and around the world to contribute tracks to a compilation album. Artists like DJ Van, DJ-producer based Touzani and Funkky have contributed so far. Proceeds from “Ya Morocco” will aid victims of the earthquake that struck villages in the High Atlas Mountains and Marrakech earlier this month, including revenue from streaming and digital sales.
Watch Lady: The highest-value painting ever to be brought to the Middle East goes on display in Dubai today. “Femme a la Montre,”, Pablo Picasso’s 1932 portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter, will be on display for two days at Sotheby’s Dubai International Financial Center beginning on Monday, Sept. 25. The work comes from the collection of the late New York philanthropist and art collector Emily Fisher Landau and will go under the hammer, along with 101 other pieces from her collection, in New York on Nov. 8. The painting is expected to fetch $120 million.
Ahead on the Circuit
Sept. 25-27, Abu Dhabi, UAE: Future Hospitality Summit. Investors, managers, government officials discuss prospects for the hotel and restaurant industries. Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island.
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.
Oct. 8-10, Abu Dhabi, UAE: Forbes Middle East Healthcare Summit. Experts and practitioners coming together under the theme “Health For Everyone: Advancing Healthcare.” The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort.
Oct. 9-12, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: MENA Climate Week. Hosted by Saudi Arabia, a convening of regional stakeholders ahead of COP28. The Boulevard Riyadh City.
Oct. 16-20, Dubai, UAE: GITEX. The biggest consumer technology and startup show in the world. Dubai World Trade Center.
Oct. 16-20, Dubai, UAE: AI Everything. Hosted by the UAE’s minister of state for artificial intelligence and held on the sidelines of GITEX. Dubai World Trade Center.
Oct. 16-20, Abu Dhabi, UAE: World Investment Forum. A gathering of global leaders brought together by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development to tackle issues related to sustainable development. ADNEC Abu Dhabi.
Oct. 19, Tel Aviv: Israel Machine Vision Conference. Startups, investors meet to discuss issues including computer vision, medical imaging and artificial intelligence. Expo Tel Aviv.
Oct. 24-26, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Future Investment Initiative. An annual gathering of executives, investors and government officials exploring the future of investment. The Ritz Carlton.