The Weekly Circuit
👋 Hello from the Middle East!
This week, we’ve left the snow-lined streets of Davos and are taking a look at some of the prominent Middle East figures who made the trek to the World Economic Forum. Also simmering this week is continued concern about shipping risks on the Red Sea and curiosity about Kuwait’s new government cabinet. But first, who hasn’t RSVP’d yet for the World Government Summit next month in Dubai?
Artificial intelligence — and the chips that power the technology — are set to take center stage at the World Government Summit next month in Dubai. Slated to attend the annual gathering of presidents, prime ministers and business executives are OpenAI CEO Sam Altman; Jensen Huang, president of Nvidia Corp., and Yann LeCun, chief AI scientist at Meta.
Altman is no stranger to the region – he is reportedly in conversations with Abu Dhabi-backed AI firm G42 amid efforts to raise billions of dollars to build a network of chip fabrication facilities. News of Altman’s negotiations come as the production of chips crucial to running AI applications is on track to fall short of growing demand. Meanwhile, California-headquartered Nvidia has faced export restrictions of its chips under U.S. regulations.
The names of the 300 presidents and prime ministers attending the summit will be announced in the coming weeks, Mohammad Al Gergawi, Minister of Cabinet Affairs and chairman of the World Government Summit, said at a media briefing on Tuesday. Last year, Al Gergawi memorably interviewed Elon Musk at WGS. The fresh Twitter boss at the time promised to bring on a new CEO – which he did, hiring Linda Yaccarino a few months later. This year is shaping up to be another timely forum on the intersection of government and technology.
In Davos, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, CEO of Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala sovereign wealth fund, said the enormous amount of energy needed by data centers engaged in artificial intelligence work presents a “very important opportunity” for investors. He said filling the energy needs for generative AI “can only work effectively in a globalization perspective, with countries working together, corporations and investors like ourselves working together and being efficient.”
Ray Dalio, the billionaire founder of Bridgewater Associates, told a session in Davos of the Youth Majis at the Mohammed bin Salman Foundation, known as MISK, that the climate finance industry must recognize the need for investors to see a profit. “You have to understand who has the money. You have to be practical,” Dalio said. “Profit is a great motivator. If you inject those practicalities into it, I think you’re going to make a lot of progress.”
Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority, seeing revenues plunge as Yemen’s Houthi militia attacks ships in the Red Sea, said it will expand repair, maintenance and navigation services to help freight companies meet their schedules. The 154-year-old waterway, which connects the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, is a vital source of foreign currency for the debt-ridden Egyptian economy.
Bill Ackman, founder of New York-based Pershing Square Capital Management, and his Israeli-American wife Neri Oxman, have agreed to buy a 4.9% stake in the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange for about $17 million. The hedge fund billionaire was among the most vocal alumni who criticized former Harvard President Claudine Gay for not doing enough to fight antisemitism on campus, eventually leading to her resignation.
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].
Q&A with Khalfan Belhoul, the investor and future fanatic shaping Dubai
Khalfan Belhoul leads the Dubai government agency tasked with shaping the future. Even he acknowledges he gets the question “what the heck does that mean?” quite a lot.
Tech Training: The CEO of the Dubai Future Foundation leads a team of foresight practitioners, researchers and analysts to identify strategic sectors for investment in the medium and long term. The foundation’s remit includes future forecasting, regulation recommendations, technology training and events, a $300 million venture fund and fund of funds and, of course, the Museum of the Future – one of the biggest tourist attractions in Dubai.
Flying Taxis: The Circuit’s Kelsey Warner caught up with Belhoul at the UAE pavilion along the Promenade in Davos to talk about the AI hype, what he got out of the WEF meeting – and when we can expect flying taxis in Dubai.
Saudi-backed Ma’aden’s CEO Bob Wilt on the gold mine lying beneath the kingdom
Saudi Arabia is sitting on a gold mine. Also phosphate, bauxite, copper, zinc and nickel. Analysts have called the estimated value of its mineral resources – last put at $2.5 trillion – one of the most significant potential contributors to its economic transformation ambitions.
TAKING HELM: The Circuit spoke with Bob Wilt, who moved from California to Saudi Arabia two years ago to take up the helm of one of the world’s fastest growing mining operations, interviewing him on the Davos sidelines. Wilt calls minerals and mining “the third pillar of the Saudi economy.”
Click here to read the full interview.
Public Investment Fund: Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund sold $5 billion of bonds on Monday in an offering managed by JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc. and Goldman Sachs Group. NEOM, the PIF-backed mega-project in the country’s northwest, has tapped Italian construction giant Webuild for a $4.7 billion project to form a freshwater lake at its Trojena ski resort.
Mubadala: Strata Manufacturing, a maker of aircraft components wholly owned by Mubadala, saw a 40% increase last year compared to 2022 in international shipments to Boeing, Airbus and other international customers.
Abu Dhabi Investment Authority: ADIA and Hong Kong’s New World Development Co. are looking to refinance a $1.2 billion syndicated loan related to the acquisition of three luxury hotels, Bloomberg reports. The three Hong Kong-based hotels associated with the loan include the Renaissance Harbour View Hotel, the Hyatt Regency Hong Kong in Tsim Sha Tsui and the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong.
Qatar Investment Authority: Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon met with the QIA’s Chief of Investments Sheikh Faisal Bin Thani to discuss “attracting Qatari capital to Tajikistan,” particularly in the fields of energy and facilitating agricultural exports to Qatar.
Oman Investment Authority: The sultanate’s sovereign wealth fund launched a $5.2 billion fund last week to encourage investments in the private sector called the “Oman Future Fund” with a mandate to boost tourism, manufacturing, green energy, maritime resources and technology.
💳 On Credit: Fast Company Middle Eastexamines the high rate of borrowing in the Gulf — and the mental health cost among young people carrying personal debt.
🚄 Mideast Express: Planning for an ambitious rail and sea project connecting Europe and Asia through Israel, which was championed by the Biden Administration, is at risk of being shelved because of Middle East turmoil.
🤖 Saudi Expansion: Microsoft and IBM were among several top tech companies that held talks with Saudi officials in Davos about expanding their operations in the kingdom, focusing on artificial intelligence and the digital economy.
🎮 Game On: UAE-based e-sports network True Gamers plans to establish 150 centers in Saudi Arabia, providing players with immersive experiences and competitions.
🛫 Return flights: European budget carrier Ryanair said it will resume Israel flights Feb. 1 after suspending service in October because of the Gaza war.
🌉 Building Bridges: The Libyan government signed contracts with Egyptian companies to build 11 bridges across the North African country.
🎢 ‘Orlando 2.0’: Saudi Arabia’s Qiddiya, an entertainment and tourism megaproject in Riyadh, plans to open its first destinations next year.
⚗️ Chemical Bond: Saudi Arabia’s SABIC group said it will go ahead with a joint venture to build a $6.4 billion petrochemical plant in China with Fujian Fuhua Gulei Petrochemical.
☪️ Sukuk Spread: Qatar International Islamic Bank has set a spread of 120 basis points over U.S. Treasuries for its $500 million senior sustainable Islamic Sukuk bonds maturing in January 2029.
⚡ Power Drive: Oman energy company OQ will invest some $2 billion in the development of gas and power plants in the Musandam governorate, as well as managing offshore gas fields.
💼 Mnuchin Bid: Liberty Capital Partners, a private equity fund led by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, is in talks to buy a 25% stake in Israel’s Phoenix Insurance Agencies.
🛢️Kurdish Oil: The Abu Dhabi National Energy Co., known as Taqa, plans to sell its 47% stake in the Atrush oilfield in Iraq’s Kurdish region to Canada’s General Exploration Partners.
🧪 Drug Buyout: India’s Sun Pharma will pay shareholders about $344 million to take full ownership of Israel’s Taro Pharmaceuticals and delist it from the New York Stock Exchange.
📈 Market Makers: Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul Group, which operates the Riyadh stock exchange, plans to buy a 32.6% stake in Dubai Mercantile Exchange for $28.5 million.
💻 Big Data: Cardumen Capital, an Israeli-European venture capital firm, raised $120 million for an early-stage tech fund that will invest in AI, cybersecurity and big data.
⛽ Commercial Crude: Uganda is in final talks with Dubai investment fund Alpha MBM Investments to build a $4 billion refinery for some of its crude oil, a first for the East African hydrocarbons industry.
🪴 Growth Stage: Dubai-based Crysp Farms, a vertical farming startup, raised $2.25 million in a pre-Series A round led by Gate Capital to fund expansion.
UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed issued a law establishing the Artificial Intelligence and Advanced Technology Council in his capacity as Ruler of Abu Dhabi. Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed, the UAE’s National Security Advisor, will serve as Chairman of the AI council and Crown Prince Khaled bin Mohammed will be Vice-Chairman.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, who is known as the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, set a minimum four-day holiday for both Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha during a cabinet session this week.
Kuwait’s new Prime Minister, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Salem Al-Sabah, has cleaned house and named a new roster of top cabinet members. Emad Al-Ateeqi was appointed Oil Minister, Anwar Al-Mudhaf is the new Finance Minister and Abdullah Al-Yahya will take up the post of Foreign Minister.
Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed rolled out a $293 million scholarship fund to support Emirati students.
On the Circuit
Saudi Minister of Economy and Planning Faisal Alibrahim and World Economic Forum President Børge Brende announced in Davos last week that Saudi Arabia will host a WEF Special Meeting in Riyadh April 28-29 that will focus on global cooperation, growth and energy.
Jamal Al Kishi was named CEO of Deutsche Bank for the Middle East and Africa, replacing Kees Hoving who becomes the bank’s chief country officer for the UAE.
Jane Goodall, the 89-year-old conservationist best known for her work studying chimpanzees, is setting up a regional office for her Roots & Shoots program at Dubai’s Expo City to teach young people how to address environmental challenges.
Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka has been confirmed for the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open next month after accepting a wildcard to play in the WTA 500 tournament.
Actor Anthony Hopkins, a two-time Oscar winner, accepted a lifetime achievement award at Saudi Arabia’s Joy Awards ceremony in Riyadh on Monday night.
💄 Saudi Debut: Vogue Arabia is taking over Jeddah’s Al Balad neighborhood, a UNESCO World Heritage site, from Feb. 8 to 9 for a block party celebrating Saudi culture, food and fashion, open to the public. “Hai Vogue” is the first live event the storied fashion magazine is bringing to the kingdom.
🎭 What’d I Miss?: A touring company of the Broadway musical “Hamilton” is getting rave reviews at the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi and is scheduled to run through Feb. 11.
🎞️ Cairo Cabbie: Qatari artist and director Sophia Al-Maria sold the rights to her independent film Beretta, described as “female-centric Taxi Driver set in Cairo,” to producer Uri Singer and Aimee Peyronnet.
🏆 Awards Season: Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania has become the first Arab woman to receive two Oscar nominations. Her latest film, the docu-fiction hybrid Four Daughters, has been nominated for Best Documentary Feature Film at the 2024 Academy Awards.
👟 Adventure Park: The Saudi Public Investment Fund unveiled its new water sports and adventure tourism resort called “The Rig” inspired by the design of offshore oil platforms.
Ahead on the Circuit
Jan. 25-27, Manama, Bahrain: Health/Wellness Expo 2024. Annual gathering of medical professionals and alternative treatment specialists. Exhibition World Bahrain.
Jan. 29-Feb. 1, Dubai, UAE: Arab Health. The biggest trade show in the region for medical devices and healthcare. Dubai World Trade Centre.
Feb. 3-4, Sharjah, UAE: SEF 2024. Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival holds more than 30 workshops at event aimed at stimulating business development in the emirate. Sharjah Research, Technology and Innovation Park.
Feb. 9-11, Abu Dhabi, UAE: Middle East Comic Con. Nerds unite for the biggest pop culture gathering in the region. Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Center.
Feb. 21-22, Dubai, UAE: Step Conference. The Dubai edition of the leading tech festival for emerging markets. Internet City.
Feb. 22-23, Miami Beach, FL: FII Priority Miami. A summit on disruptive technology and investment trends hosted by the Future Investment Initiative Institute. Faena Hotel Miami Beach.
Feb. 26-29, Doha, Qatar: Web Summit Qatar. A Middle East edition of the technology crowd mega-event, gathering investors, entrepreneurs and business leaders. Doha Exhibition and Convention Centre.
Feb. 28-29, Abu Dhabi, UAE: Investopia. A gathering of investors hosted by SALT and Investopia, an investment platform launched by the UAE Ministry of Economy and backed by Mubadala and the Department of Economic Development. St. Regis Saadiyat.
March 5-6, Doha, Qatar: International LNG Forum. Gathering of industry leaders and key stakeholders to discuss the future of gas in a key export market. InterContinental Doha Beach.