The Weekly Circuit: UAE completes nuclear plant + Gulf amps up tourism

👋 Hello from the Middle East!

This week, we’re watching the $4 billion merger of Emirati space tech companies, Mubadala’s natural gas discovery off the coast of Indonesia, the high costs for cargo ships trying to avoid threats in the Red Sea and the proliferation of billionaire family offices in Abu Dhabi. But first, a look at the UAE’s nuclear energy strategy.

The UAE is on a path toward generating 25% of its electricity needs through nuclear power. State-owned Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) announced completion of Unit 4 at its Barakah nuclear plant on Tuesday, which will be followed by a testing phase before the facility comes on line early next year.

Barakah is a centerpiece of the UAE’s energy sustainability campaign, which has committed to a goal of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The nuclear plant’s four units are expected to produce one-quarter of the nation’s power requirements for the next 60 years.

UAE regulatory officials have sought to allay safety concerns about such broad use of nuclear power, asserting that Barakah would be able to withstand natural disasters such as the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that devastated Turkey and Syria in February. The plant sits on the UAE’s Gulf coast just east of the Saudi border.

When it comes to the push for Gulf economies to diversify from oil, tourism plays a central role. Despite geopolitical tension, international air travel across the Middle East and North Africa is up 11%, according to new data from online travel booking site Wego. In the coming year, Saudi Arabia’s mega-project Neom will welcome its first tourists, one of Dubai’s most hotly anticipated hotels is set to open and a unified tourism visa is expected to encourage Gulf residents to explore what’s in their own backyard. 

Neom enters the scene just as Dubai puts the finishing touches on a trio of hotels that put it on the tourism map nearly three decades ago. Next to the wave-shaped Jumeirah Beach Hotel that opened in 1997 and the sailboat-inspired Burj Al Arab two years later, the third and final Jumeirah waterfront property will welcome guests in the second half of 2024. Keeping to the maritime theme, Marsa Al Arab takes inspiration from an avant-garde super-yacht. Meanwhile, the upcoming Gulf Cooperation Council unified visa, which mimics the European Union’s Schengen Zone, should turbo-charge regional travel. The visa is expected to be rolled out as soon as next year.

A grim picture for deal activity is emerging as investors prepare to close the books in 2023. While the Middle East has found itself at the center of geopolitical uncertainty in recent months, the region has largely mirrored global trends, London-based GlobalData said in a new report. Mergers and acquisitions, private equity and venture funding in the Middle East and Africa plunged 26% year-on-year between January and November 2023 while globally, the dip was slightly smaller at 24%.

In a push to emerge from the global downturn and the impact of the Gaza war, Jerusalem-based OurCrowd announced the first close of its $50 million Israel Resilience Fund. The new fund has made commitments to invest in eight startups affected by the conflict, including Blue Tree, which has developed proprietary technology to reduce sugar in natural beverages and whose employees were recently evacuated from its facility near the Lebanon border. Also receiving money is Edgybees, whose satellite mapping technology is being used by the Israel Defense Forces.

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].

Note to readers: We will be taking off next week and resume publishing on Wednesday, Jan. 3. Happy New Year!


UAE takes leap in space tech with Yahsat-Bayanat merger

Landscape on Earth viewed from a satellite. GETTY IMAGES

Abu Dhabi is consolidating two of its biggest space technology companies to create a new entity focused on artificial intelligence and satellite communications that’s worth about $4 billion, The Circuit’s Kelsey Warner reports

Creating synergy: The two ADX-listed companies – Al Yah Satellite Communications Co., better known as Yahsat, and Bayanat – said in statements to the stock exchange on Tuesday that their boards of directors voted to recommend their merger to shareholders.

Immense potential: “This potential could put the merger at the cutting edge of satellite operations and geospatial solutions globally and will make it a force to be reckoned with,” said Anna Hazlett, founder of UAE-based space strategy and investment firm AzurX, told The Circuit.

Long term strategy: In 2022, the UAE, the second largest economy in the Arab world, said it planned to invest more than $820 million in the private space sector, building on $408 million already poured into the nascent field over the preceding eight years as economic diversification efforts gather pace across the region. 

Click here to read the full story.

ADQ: The Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund is forming a $2 billion joint investment platform with Azerbaijan Investment Holding to finance deals in the areas of pharmaceuticals, agriculture, tech, and infrastructure. Mastercard is partnering with ADQ’s $200 million Future Ventures fund to promote fintech startups in the UAE and wider MENA region.

Public Investment Fund: The PIF-backed Jada Fund of Funds Company will invest $50 million with Dubai-based Illiad Partners to fund tech startups in Saudi Arabia and across the region. PIF-backed AviLease reached a deal with China’s SDH Wings International to equip 20 aircraft with new technology, signing a preliminary agreement at the China-Saudi Investment Conference in Beijing this month.

Mumtakalat: Shareholders of U.K. luxury automaker McLaren Group approved a full recapitalization of the firm, paving the way for Mumtakalat, Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund, to take full control.

Qatar Investment Authority: Qatar Sports Investments, a subsidiary of the national sovereign wealth fund, sold a minority equity stake in the Paris Saint-Germain soccer team to U.S. private equity platform Arctos Partners, global law firm DLA Piper said in a statement. The Associated Press reported this month that the company had agreed to sell a 12.5% minority stake, with an estimated value of between $4.32 billion and $4.57 billion.

Mubadala: Mubadala Energy said it made a “significant” natural gas discovery off the coast of South Andaman, Indonesia. The Abu Dhabi fund also signed a preliminary agreement with South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Co. to explore potential opportunities together in mobility and energy technology. Mubadala, meanwhile, is among the bidders to buy a stake worth about $700 million in Indian logistics company IndoSpace Core from a Canadian pension fund, the Financial Express reports. The fund is also working with the emirate of Abu Dhabi on its Beach Accessibility Project, which installs elevators and guided tracks that enable handicapped people to enter the water safely and enjoy the seashore.

Abu Dhabi Investment Authority: CYVN Holdings, an investment fund controlled by ADIA, has invested $2.2 billion in Nio, making it the first Middle East investor to take a stake in a Chinese electric vehicle maker and becoming Nio’s largest shareholder.

🚢 Africa Detour: Maersk and other global lines are diverting cargo ships around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope to avoid the risk of attacks in the Red Sea, raising costs while adding as much as two weeks on shipping routes.

🛫 Sky Security: Accenture,the world’s largest tech consulting firm, signed an agreement with Riyadh Air to set up the new Saudi carrier’s digital operations and cybersecurity.

🇨🇳 LNG for China: Abu Dhabi’s state oil company ADNOC signed a 15-year deal with China’s ENN to deliver 1 million metric tons a year of liquefied natural gas.

💰 Daily Davos: The growth of billionaire family offices is turning Abu Dhabi into a “daily Davos” as asset managers travel to the UAE to hunt for cash from sources beyond the region’s sovereign wealth funds, Bloomberg reports.

Charged Up: French energy management company Schneider Electric will build a battery energy storage system (BESS) plant in Abu Dhabi with the UAE’s clean energy company, Volts.

Managing Wealth: Singapore-based Farro Ventures will open an office in Dubai to expand its wealth management business in the Middle East.

Return Flight: Lufthansa will resume flights to Israel starting Jan. 8 after canceling them in the wake of the Gaza war. Lufthansa-owned Swiss and Austrian Airlines will also fly again to Israel.

Growth Pattern: The UAE is projected to double its GDP to 4.8% in 2024, buoyed by high oil revenues along with growth in non-fossil fuel industries, according to a report.

New Media: Saudi Arabia has set a target for the media sector to contribute $13 billion to the kingdom’s economy by 2030.

🏥 Healthy Start: Shares of Pure Health rose as much as 75% on Wednesday as the UAE healthcare group began trading on the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange after an IPO that raised nearly $1 billion.

⚡Positive Decarbonization: BlackRock, the world’s biggest asset manager, will invest up to $400 million in Positive Zero, a UAE-based decarbonization company, through an infrastructure fund it set up.

🔬 Drug Discovery: U.S. biopharma firm Gilead Sciences signed an agreement to buy Israeli drug discovery startup Compugen in a deal potentially worth $848 million.

💺 Africa Hub: Ryanair will invest $1.4 billion to build up operations in Morocco, spurred in part by the country’s selection to co-host the 2030 soccer World Cup.

🚜 Fertilizer Buyout:ADNOC, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., will buy the $3.6 billion stake in nitrogen fertilizer maker Fertiglobe owned by its Dutch partner, OCI Global.

🇫🇮 Finnish Contract: Kuwait’s aviation authority signed a $22 million deal with Finland’s Vaisala Oyj, to perform work on the surface observation system and meteorological system at Kuwait International Airport.

🔒 Access Guardian: Okta, the San Francisco-based access management firm, signed a deal to acquire Israeli cybersecurity startup Spera for over $100 million.

💻  Clearer Cloud: ScaleOps, an Israeli startup that optimizes cloud network operations, raised $21.5 million in two funding rounds led by Lightspeed, NFX, and Glilot Capital. 

Sheikh Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah was sworn in before parliament on Wednesday as the 17th Emir of Kuwait. He succeeds his brother, Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, who died on Saturday. HIs death brought many of the region’s leaders to visit and pay respects. Among them were Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, Jordanian King Abdullah II, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi won a third six-year term in office, according to official results that showed him with 89.6% of the vote and his closest competitor with 4.5%. 

Crown Prince of Dubai Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed went on a demo ride of the Chevrolet Cruise autonomous vehicle as the emirate prepares to launch a self-driving ride-hail service.

UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed issued a decree establishing the UAE Accountability Authority, which will determine matters of financial control, auditing, integrity and transparency in the country.

Saudi Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah announced the designation of 2024 as the “Year of the Camel” to celebrate the unique cultural value that the beasts of burden represent in the lives of the people of the Arabian Peninsula.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo built a mosque in Abu Dhabi that was officially inaugurated on Tuesday in his name. Construction follows the opening last year of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, named after the late Emirati leader, in the Indonesian city of Solo.

Saudi Central Bank Governor Ayman Al-Sayari launched a program called Makken alongside Capital Market Authority Chairman Mohammed El-Kuwaiz to support 150 emerging fintech companies in the kingdom over the next three years.

Waleed Al Alawi will step down as CEO of Bahrain-based Gulf Air, effective July 31. The airline said a successor has not yet been named.

Czech billionaire Radovan Vitek has set up two special purpose vehicles in Abu Dhabi, joining a tide of investors registering companies in the UAE capital, Bloomberg reports.

🎨 Inexpressible Art: Desert X AlUla, a six-week international open-air art exhibition, will open Feb. 9 for its third year. The event in the ancient Saudi city of AlUla, will feature contemporary artworks by Saudi and international artists set amid the desert landscape. This year’s theme is “In the Presence of Absence,” with artists invited to explore ideas of the unseen and the inexpressible.

🎼 Island Song: Five-time Grammy winner Mariah Carey will sing under the stars in Abu Dhabi next month, kicking off the Saadiyat Nights festival, a three-month series of open-air musical events. Also lined up to perform in January on the island where the domed Louvre Museum sits are Iranian singer GooGoosh and Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli.

👺 Arabian Arias: Saudi Arabia will build its first opera house in Riyadh’s historic Diriyah district, hiring Norwegian architectural firm Snohetta to construct the 2,000-seat hall.

Dec. 26-27, Manama, Bahrain: International Conference on Sustainable Intelligent Manufacturing. Investors, executives and policymakers gather to address developments in robotics and other aspects of smart manufacturing. Ibis Seef Hotel.

Jan. 13-14, Abu Dhabi, UAE: Mubadala SailGP. F50 racing boats go head-to-head at the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Sail Grand Prix, presented by the Abu Dhabi Sports Council. Mina Zayed Port.

Jan. 15-19, Davos-Klosters, Switzerland: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting. The annual meeting aims to drive public-private cooperation and this year will focus on exploring opportunities enabled by new technologies. 

Jan. 16-18, Dubai, UAE: Intersec: Security conference bringing together government and vendors focused on domestic, cyber, commercial, fire and rescue. Dubai World Trade Center and Commercial Security, Safety & Health, and Fire & Rescue. Dubai World Trade Centre.

Jan. 22-24, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Real Estate Future Forum. A gathering of government officials, developers and investors exploring development opportunities in the kingdom. Four Seasons Hotel. 

Jan. 22-25, Abu Dhabi, UAE: UMEX. The only conference in the Middle East dedicated to drones, robotics and autonomous systems. Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Center.

Jan. 24, Kuwait City, Kuwait. Kuwait Innovation Forum. Startup founders, investors, policymakers meet for annual conference. Arraya Ballroom.

Jan. 25, Dubai, UAE: Casino Countdown. First Middle East conference to focus solely on the gaming industry, sponsored by Arabian Business. Atlantis The Royal Hotel.

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 Center.

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 Center. 

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