The Weekly Circuit
👋 Hello from the Middle East!
With the U.N. global climate summit just four weeks away, some 70 government ministers from around the world, including U.S. Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry, convened in Abu Dhabi this week for final discussions ahead of the annual gathering.
The president-designate for the COP28 conference, Sultan Al Jaber, who is also head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. and its renewables arm, said on Monday that he understands countries have strong views on whether or not to include fossil fuels in the summit’s negotiated pact. Burning coal, oil and gas is a main contributor to climate change, but so far a timeline for reduction has been left out of all U.N. climate agreements, which have been negotiated annually for nearly three decades.
The energy executive has previously called the drawdown of oil and gas “inevitable” and this morning asked for compromise at the upcoming meeting: “I need you to work together to come forward with solutions that can achieve alignment, common ground and consensus between all parties,” Al Jaber told the Pre-COP28 Meeting.
A tripling of renewable energy by 2030 is expected to be the marquee target set at the upcoming COP28. The Group of 20 nations, including China, the U.S. and India, agreed in September to pursue the aim. But leaders, particularly in Europe, argue that will not be enough and must be paired with a phase-out of fossil fuels – a sticking point for oil and gas-reliant economies. “You cannot just have the renewables goal and then call the COP a success,” European Union Climate Policy Chief Wopke Hoekstra told an event in Brussels on Friday.
The preparatory talks are the last formal meeting before COP28 and are seen as a crucial opportunity to outline keeping the 1.5ºC threshold within reach and resolving how a loss and damage fund will be financed. Also on the agenda: the “global stocktake” at COP28, an assessment of where countries stand in meeting the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Welcome to The Weekly Circuit. Read on for the stories, deals and players driving the news across the MENA business landscape. Please send comments and story tips to [email protected].
Aramco CEO calls for ‘international standards’ on AI
The head of Saudi Aramco called for an international set of rules to govern artificial intelligence and protect businesses from security breaches. CEO Amin Nasser told a packed hall today at the Global Cybersecurity Forum in Riyadh he believes in “international standards that can keep pace with the rapid development of AI,” The Circuit’s Kelsey Warner reports.
Ramping up: The stakes are high. Aramco was the victim of one of the biggest cyber attacks in the internet era in 2012 that threatened to shut off 10% of global oil supply. On Wednesday, Aramco’s venture capital arm, Wa’ed Ventures, invested in SpiderSilk, a UAE startup that offers AI-powered cybersecurity services. The $500 million fund led the $9 million round and signed a collaborative agreement as the state-oil business – and world’s No. 3 most valuable company – pushes to ramp up its cybersecurity offerings.
Decisive week: The Riyadh forum is being held against a backdrop of massive global interest in how the development of artificial intelligence will be governed and the direction of AI regulation starting to take shape. Technology leaders are reacting to an executive order from the Biden administration earlier this week, one of the farthest-reaching policies on the use of artificial intelligence ever set out. In a decisive week for the future of online safety, the forum in Riyadh is the Arab world’s part of the conversation.
BUY NOW, PAY LATER
Gulf locks in its own fintech unicorn with Tabby payment platform
Bucking a global trend of valuation corrections, the Gulf has its first fintech unicorn with Tabby. The Saudi “buy now, pay later” (BNPL) startup has been valued at $1.5 billion after raising $200 million in a series D funding round as it prepares to go public on the kingdom’s stock exchange, The Circuit’s Kelsey Warner reports.
Raising funds: U.S.-based Wellington Management led the round, with participation from Hong Kong’s Blue Pool Capital and existing investors Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Capital, Saudi Arabia’s STV Ventures, PayPal Ventures and Hong Kong’s Arbor Ventures.
IPO-Ready: Tabby, founded in Dubai in 2019, relocated to the Saudi capital of Riyadh in September as part of plans to list on the Tadawul stock market. The company manages over $6 billion in annual transaction volume and has 10 million users across Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait. The platform works with over 30,000 brands, including 10 of the largest retail groups in the MENA region as well as Amazon, H&M and SHEIN.
Jostling rivals: BNPL is a kind of short-term financing that lets online shoppers make purchases and pay for them in installments, with companies integrating their payment platform into e-commerce sites, an offering that has taken off in the Middle East with several players popping up: Tamara, Postpay and Cashew are among those jostling for share in the region.
Public Investment Fund: The Saudi fund is open to entering into more joint ventures with foreign companies, like its $500 million investment in a car factory with Hyundai, Abdulmajeed Alhagbani, head of MENA securities investments, told The National. PIF’s NEOM, meanwhile, produced a short video update showing its progress in building The Line urban living space, Trojena ski slopes, Sindalah resort island and other elements of the $500 billion project. And Bloomberg takes a deep dive into how PIF is both a force for modernizing Saudi Arabia and a tool for moderating the kingdom’s international image through investments in sports, tourism and the environment.
Mubadala: Mubadala issued $750 million of environmentally focused “green bonds” in an offering 9 times oversubscribed with high demand from the U.S., Europe and Asia. Meanwhile, the co-heads of Mubadala’s new Capital Solutions unit talked to Public Equity International about evergreen funds, separately managed accounts and a new Abu Dhabi platform for making acquisitions.
Abu Dhabi Investment Authority: ADIA participated in an anchor round by India startup Honasa Consumer, the parent firm of skincare brand Mamaearth, ahead of its dual listing on the National Stock Exchange and the Bombay Stock Exchange. Over three dozen asset managers, including ADIA, Fidelity, Norges Bank, Invesco and Goldman Sachs were issued shares totaling around $92 million.
⛽ Pumped Up: Saudi Arabia recorded its first quarterly growth contraction since the start of 2021 after the kingdom cut oil production to push up prices.
💵 Founders Flocking: Abu Dhabi’s subsidized startup community Hub71 is welcoming a new cohort of 23 startups, with a significant number coming from the U.S.
🏭 Gas Rights: British Petroleum, Azerbaijan’s SOCAR and Italy’s Eni are partners in business groups that won Israeli licenses for offshore gas exploration projects.
🚘 Casablanca Carmaker: French automaker Renault said it will manufacture its new Kardian model car at its factory in Casablanca, Morocco.
✈️ Royal Gateway: Abu Dhabi International Airport, which opens its new Terminal A this week, will be renamed Zayed International Airport.
🏢 On the Brink: WeWork, which has Middle East coworking spaces in the UAE and Israel, plans to file for bankruptcy as early as next week, the Wall Street Journal reports.
🛢️ Leaving Pakistan: Shell Petroleum Co. plans to sell its Pakistani unit to Saudi Arabia’s Wafi Energy by late 2024 after losses led to its decision to exit the country.
🛫 Desert Getaway: Saudi Arabia will build a second airport terminal in its ancient western heritage site of AlUla, boosting capacity to 6 million passengers from 400,000.
🚕 On the Meter: The Dubai Taxi Authority will seek to raise $300 million from an IPO managed by Bank of America, Citigroup and Emirate NBD Capital, Bloomberg reports.
🛣️ Electrified Fleet: Uber is applying part of its $800 million global Green Future initiative to accelerate efforts to electrify its automotive fleet in the UAE.
💻 Cyber Sale: Palo Alto Networks announced it will buy Israel’s Dig Security for an undisclosed price, which Calcalist reported to be $315 million.
🗞️ News Battle: First Abu Dhabi Bank provided the UK’s Barclays family with financing for its $1.2 billion to regain control of London’s Telegraph newspaper, Sky News reports.
🇿🇲 Metal Miner: International Holding Co., Abu Dhabi’s largest publicly traded company, has expressed interest in buying control of Zambia’s Mopani Copper Mines in a deal that could cost more than $1.5 billion, the Financial Times reports.
🌟 Golden Licenses: Samsung and three other companies received so-called golden licenses from the Egyptian government to facilitate some $487 million in investments.
🏡 Prime Real Estate: UAE developer Aldar Properties posted a 48% year-on-year increase in third-quarter net profit, amounting to $245 million, and said it is eyeing Europe for expansion.
💵 Cyber Seeds: Tel Aviv-based SYN Ventures has raised $75 million for seed capital in Israeli cyber startups.
💵 AI Video: Guidde, an Israeli startup that uses AI for producing how-to guides videos, raised $11.6 million in a Series A financing round led by Norwest Venture Partners.
💵 Going Digital: One Zero, an Israeli digital bank, is seeking to raise as much as $100 million in a private placement led by Deutsche Bank, Globes reports.
On the Circuit
Greg Norman, CEO of LIV Golf, told reporters at Trump Doral he has zero concern for the league’s future or his role in it.
Abdulla bin Touq, the UAE’s Minister of Economy, called for boosting cooperation among Middle East countries to build tourism, speaking at the UN World Tourism Organization’s general assembly in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
Tarek Amin, former CEO of Japan’s Rakuten Mobile and Rakuten Symphony, has been tapped as CEO of Aramco Digital, a business set up recently by Saudi oil giant Aramco.
Dana White, CEO of Ultimate Fighting Championship, called Abu Dhabi “one of my favorite places in the world” as he signed an agreement to extend a partnership – including more Fight Nights – with the emirate through 2028.
Adam Neumann, the founder of Flow, who hopes to disrupt the residential real estate industry like he did the office market with WeWork, held a pitch session for startups yesterday at the FII conference in Riyadh.
Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways for 25 years, is stepping down in November, to be succeeded by Badr Mohammed Al Meer, COO of Doha Hamad International Airport.
⚽ Sole Competitor: Saudi Arabia became the single bidder to host soccer’s 2034 World Cup after Australia decided not to submit an application to the FIFA organizing committee. The kingdom’s unopposed bid will accelerate its push into soccer, which is part of its broader expansion into global sports, according to the Financial Times. Saudi clubs spent more than $800mn on transfer fees over the summer to bring big-name players to its domestic league.
🏎️ At the Track: The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is expected to take place as scheduled on Nov. 26 but Formula 1 officials are reportedly closely monitoring the situation in Gaza and Israel. The safety issue of holding races in the Middle East was raised during a meeting of team owners earlier this month in Austin, Texas. The annual event at Yas Marina Circuit is a major date for Abu Dhabi tourism. More than 160,000 visitors attended the F1 season finale last year, with more than 60% traveling from overseas.
🥊 Fight Capital: The growing popularity of championship boxing, professional wrestling and martial arts in the UAE and Saudi Arabia is propelling the two Gulf states into challenging Las Vegas as the world’s fight capital, the Guardian reports.
Ahead on the Circuit
Nov. 2, Dubai, UAE: Fast Company World Changing Ideas Summit. A gathering of government officials, venture capitalists and social entrepreneurs to discuss innovation trends in the Middle East. Dubai Museum of the Future.
Nov. 13-17, Dubai, UAE: Dubai Airshow. One of the largest gatherings of the aviation and aerospace industries in the world featuring live aircraft demonstrations. Dubai World Central.
Nov. 15 & 16, Riyadh, KSA. Misk Global Forum. The biggest youth gathering in the region, hosted by the Mohammed Bin Salman Foundation, this year under the theme “The Big Now” to encourage young people to think ambitiously and act quickly. Bujairi Terrace.
Nov. 17-19, Manama, Bahrain. IISS Manama Dialogue. A unique forum for government ministers and policymakers, as well as the private sector, to debate the Middle East’s most pressing foreign policy, defense and security challenges. The Ritz Carlton.
Nov. 22-26, Abu Dhabi, UAE: Abu Dhabi Art. The fair brings together a number of local and international galleries offering artworks for sale which are shown alongside exhibitions, artist commissions and installations both at the fair and across the emirate. Manarat Al Saadiyat.
Nov. 27-28, Dubai, UAE: Dubai Future Forum. The forum brings together futurists, foresight practitioners and experts from academia and various industries as well as government to anticipate challenges, share foresight and shape the future. Museum of the Future.
Nov. 27-29, Abu Dhabi, UAE: Fortune Global Forum. A gathering of leaders from the world’s biggest multinational companies discussing the dynamic frontiers of global business. Location to be announced.
Nov. 30-Dec. 12, Dubai, UAE: Cop28. United Nations climate change conference. Expo City.