‘Very exciting’ project to be unveiled during Putin visit to Saudi Arabia

‘Very exciting’ project to be unveiled during Putin visit to Saudi Arabia
Russian President Vladimir Putin told industry leaders at the Energy Week International Forum in Moscow that Russia based its relationships with energy partners worldwide on ‘commerce, not political reasoning.’ (Reuters)
Updated 14 October 2019

‘Very exciting’ project to be unveiled during Putin visit to Saudi Arabia

‘Very exciting’ project to be unveiled during Putin visit to Saudi Arabia
  • Multimillion-dollar deals expected in oil, agriculture and tourism, Russian investment chief tells Arab News

MOSCOW: Russia and Saudi Arabia are planning to clinch a raft of business and investment deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars during the forthcoming state visit by President Putin to the Kingdom, according to one of the leaders of the Russian business scene.

Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, told Arab News that there would be new business deals in the oil industry, agriculture, tourism and petrochemicals.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Russia Energy Week summit in Moscow, he said: “We are going to be signing more than 10 new investment agreements between Russia and Saudi Arabia.

“One example is a joint investment with Saudi Aramco in Novomet, a Russian pumps manufacturer, one of the leaders of the industry, supplying pumps to Saudi Aramco, which will be investing with RDIF in this company,” he said.

Russian business leader Kirill Dmitriev is upbeat about new business deals 
being signed during President Putin’s visit to Saudi Arabia. (AFP)

There was one big project which he said was “very exciting” that would be announced during the visit, but he declined to identify this. RDIF is already a partner with the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund in multibillion-dollar projects in Russia, Dmitriev said.

“We’ve made investments with our Saudi partners of more than $2.7 billion, from the Saudi side. It is already producing good returns and now we expect the fund to begin investing in Saudi projects — in tourism, petrochemicals and other areas.”

Agriculture could be the big beneficiary following a change in Saudi Arabia’s import regime. “Saudi Arabia recently announced it was removing bans on Russian agricultural products, wheat specifically, and we will be signing a big agreement with the Saudi Agricultural Investment and Livestock Company (Salic) during the visit,” he said.


The Russia Saudi Investment Fund was set up in 2017 and has total committed capital of $6 billion.

RDIF has invested alongside Saudi institutions in a range of infrastructure and energy projects in Russia via the Russia Saudi Investment Fund, which was set up in 2017 and has total committed capital of $6 billion.

Dmitriev said that the recent attacks on Saudi Aramco oil facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais had given the Kingdom the opportunity to demonstrate “tremendous resilience” as it hurried to repair the physical and economic damage to its oil industry.

“It has completely recovered from this oil shock and now we see that everything was fixed very quickly and very orderly, and I think lots of people are very impressed by this,” he said.

He added that the strength of the business relationship between Russia and Saudi Arabia was a testament to the success of the visit of King Salman to Moscow in 2017, and reflected the close relationship between President Putin and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Saudi Grintafy football scout platform helps clubs to discover the next Messi

Saudi Grintafy football scout platform helps clubs to discover the next Messi
Updated 14 May 2021

Saudi Grintafy football scout platform helps clubs to discover the next Messi

Saudi Grintafy football scout platform helps clubs to discover the next Messi
  • Platform allows players to build their profiles
  • Saudi tech startups boom as sector attracts wave of cash

RIYADH: A Saudi startup aims to help the world’s biggest football clubs make talent scouting more efficient.
The history of football is full of tales of chance sightings by a scout that has led to many a glittering career in the game.
At the same time, across amateur and weekend leagues the world over, there are many talented footballers who are never seen by a scout and never have a professional career.
Saudi startup Grintafy aims to help make that process more efficient by helping footballers build their profile in the game through the ratings of fellow players which can in turn be showcased to potential scouts and clubs.
It is one of several new Saudi technology startups that has started to make international waves as the sector attracts a wave of venture capital.
West Ham United last week become an official club partner for the fledgling platform which will see Grintafy have a presence across the club’s growing global digital channels as well as becoming the presenting partner of all academy match highlights.
The agreement allows coaching and technical staff at West Ham full access to view Grintafy user profiles and stats.
Selected players will then be chosen and invited to an official tryout in England.
The relationship will also see West Ham United Academy coaches deliver coaching programs in the Middle East.
“At West Ham United, we pride ourselves on our ability and capacity to nurture talent. We are excited to work in partnership with Grintafy to create experiences for aspiring players,” said Nathan Thompson, commercial director at West Ham United.
Grintafy will also be holding regular regional and national open tryouts to find the best of the best. Players chosen will have the once in a lifetime opportunity to travel to England and train like a West Ham academy player.
“Grintafy was started so that every young footballer has an opportunity to make their dream come true, regardless of their economic status or access to resources,” said Grintafy CEO Majdi Al-Lulu. “This partnership ensures that we are bringing international opportunities to the Kingdom and keeping our focus on the 2030 vision. West Ham has a rich history and pedigree for developing talent and giving youth a platform to shine. This perfectly aligns with our key values.”

Huge Titanic replica to open in China

Huge Titanic replica to open in China
Updated 14 May 2021

Huge Titanic replica to open in China

Huge Titanic replica to open in China
  • Six-year construction was longer than original Titanic build
  • Site features a replica of Southampton Port seen in James Cameron’s 1997 disaster epic

SUINING: The Titanic is being brought back from the deep, more than a century after its ill-fated maiden voyage, at a landlocked Chinese theme park where tourists can soon splash out for a night on a fullscale replica.
The project’s main backer was inspired to recreate the world’s most infamous cruise liner by the 1997 box office hit of the same name — once the world’s top-grossing film and wildly popular in China.
The original luxury vessel, the largest of its time and branded “unsinkable” by its owners, has become a byword for hubris ever since it plunged into the depths of the Atlantic in 1912 after striking an iceberg, leaving more than 1,500 people dead.
Investor Su Shaojun says he was motivated to finance the audacious, 260-meter-long (850-foot-long) duplicate to keep memories of the Titanic alive.
“I hope this ship will be here in 100 or 200 years,” Su said.
“We are building a museum for the Titanic.”
It has taken six years — longer than the construction of the original Titanic — plus 23,000 tons of steel, more than a hundred workers and a hefty one billion yuan ($153.5 million) price tag.
Everything from the dining room to the luxury cabins and even the door handles are styled on the original Titanic.
It forms the centerpiece of a Sichuan province theme park more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) from the sea.
The site features a replica of Southampton Port seen in James Cameron’s 1997 disaster epic, where Leonardo DiCaprio’s fictional character Jack swings on board after winning his ticket in a bet.
Tour buses play the film’s theme tune, Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” on repeat.
It costs up to 2,000 yuan (around $150) to spend one night on the ship for the “five-star cruise service,” Su says, adding that with a functioning steam engine guests will feel that they are really at sea.
He was so excited by the challenge that he sold his energy industry assets, including a stake in several hydropower projects, to invest in the Titanic.
But even before opening, the replica has drawn plenty of controversy.
Online users have questioned whether the famous ship would attract tourists given the disaster that struck its real-life inspiration.
Others feared it would join other ambitious Chinese building projects that turned into white elephants — including a 2008 replica of the USS Enterprise, an American aircraft carrier, which cost over $18 million and was abandoned shortly after it opened.
But Su hopes as many as five million annual visitors will come to see his Titanic.
“This tourist volume should guarantee the return of our investment,” he added.
Project manager Xu Junnian said he felt it was important to preserve the vessel’s memory.
“The greatest significance of building this ship is to carry forward and inherit the great spirit of Titanic,” he said.
Aside from the enduring appeal of the Hollywood blockbuster, the Titanic has stolen headlines in China in recent weeks with the release of a new documentary called “The Six.”
The film tells the story of a group of Chinese travelers on board when the ship sinks, of whom six survived.
But the developers are hoping to rope in some bigger names to help draw visitors.
“We’d like to invite Jack, Rose and James Cameron to the inauguration ceremony,” Su said.

Riyals, euros or dollars: Women money changers at heart of Djibouti’s street economy

Riyals, euros or dollars: Women money changers at heart of Djibouti’s street economy
Updated 14 May 2021

Riyals, euros or dollars: Women money changers at heart of Djibouti’s street economy

Riyals, euros or dollars: Women money changers at heart of Djibouti’s street economy
  • The informal sector drives around two-thirds of economic activity in Djibouti

DJIBOUTI: They are a familiar sight on the busy streets of Djibouti: women clutching handbags bulging with dollars, euros, riyals and rupees, the money changers keeping the informal economy ticking over.
Perched on plastic chairs, feet propped on wooden steps, these “sarifley” as they are locally known are vital to the global cast of migrants, traders and soldiers passing through this tiny nation at the crossroads of Africa and Arabia.
Trading in money offers a safe, reliable way especially for women to feed their families, in a conservative country where they lag men in education and literacy.
“I have it all. Euros, English pounds, Turkish lira, dollars, Indian rupees, anything,” said Medina, who offered just her first name, flashing a purse she estimated held the equivalent of one million Djiboutian francs ($5,600/€4,700) in multiple currencies.
Customers and traders alike say that economic life would suffer a lot more friction without the money changers.
Camped at Rimbaud Square, overlooked by a grand mosque in the heart of Djibouti city, Medina and three other sarifley scan the bustling crowds for customers.
Before long a young man from Yemen, the war-torn country across the Bab-el-Mandeb strait from Djibouti, approaches in a flowing white tunic and turban, wanting to change Saudi riyals.
Medina exchanged a few words with the foreigner, tapped some calculations into her phone, then counted out a wad of crumpled Djiboutian francs retrieved from the depths of her bag.
“We bring Saudi riyals with us (to Djibouti) because our currency, with the war, keeps fluctuating all the time,” said the Yemeni, slipping away into the crowd as a police car crawled by.
Refugees from Yemen, migrants en route to the Gulf, foreign troops stationed in naval bases, Ethiopian truck drivers — Djibouti is a melting pot of cultures, and currencies, on the Horn of Africa.
“We also deal with Djibouti businessmen going abroad for their work, as well as foreigners and tourists,” said Noura Hassan, another sarifley in the capital.
When her husband died a decade ago, the mother-of-three started out with just her savings in francs, before acquiring more currencies.
Every day, Hassan refers to a printout from the local bank to gauge exchange rates and determines what to offer customers for the major currencies.
“It is a good job, and I am proud of it,” said the money changer, wearing a blue veil and black abaya, the traditional floor-length tunic worn by Muslim women.
In PK12, a busy neighborhood where many Ethiopians live, Ahmed jumped out of his tuk-tuk to change some Ethiopian birr on the roadside.
“The difference might be 10 or 20 francs, it’s not much,” said the rickshaw driver about the street rates compared to those officially on offer.
But those exchange offices are far away — whereas the sarifley are on every corner and marketplace.
“Without them, I would say that trade in PK12 would not be possible,” said Faiza, who sells khat, the popular narcotic plant that is a daily staple in Djibouti and other parts of the Horn.
“They make sure to feed their families ... We help each other like that,” the 25-year-old trader said.
The informal sector drives around two-thirds of economic activity in Djibouti, said researcher Abdoulkader Houssein Mohamed from the Djibouti Center for Studies and Research (CERD).
Of those engaged in the sector, three-quarters are women, he added.
Safety might be a concern, but in a country of just under one million inhabitants, even the capital feels like a village, the sarifley said — a reassurance when your line of work requires carrying bundles of cash on the streets.
Zahra, one sarifley in the city, said of thieves: “They don’t come near us. They are afraid.”
She also wasn’t too concerned about being scammed by a forger or unscrupulous seller trying to palm off counterfeit cash.
“Even if I was asleep and you handed me a forgery, I would know... Counterfeit cash, I’ll know. The real thing, I know. That’s my job isn’t it?“

Musk tweets, doge leaps and bitcoin retreats

Musk tweets, doge leaps and bitcoin retreats
Updated 14 May 2021

Musk tweets, doge leaps and bitcoin retreats

Musk tweets, doge leaps and bitcoin retreats
  • Markets have gyrated to Musk tweets for months since his interest in dogecoin sparked a hundred-fold rally

SINGAPORE: Bitcoin was pinned near its lowest in more than two months on Friday and headed for its worst week since February, while dogecoin leapt by a fifth as tweets from Tesla boss Elon Musk sent the two cryptocurrencies on a wild ride.
Markets have gyrated to Musk tweets for months since his interest in dogecoin sparked a hundred-fold rally in the previously ignored token’s value this year, while Tesla’s $1.5 billion bitcoin purchase helped it break past $50,000 in February.
Yet in an equally surprising U-turn he dented the world’s biggest cryptocurrency this week after announcing Tesla stopped accepting bitcoin in payment owing to environmental concerns, making investors uneasy about Musk’s influence on crypto prices.
Bitcoin is down nearly 15 percent this week at $49,804.
Dogecoin is down about a third since last Friday, having tumbled after Musk referred to it as a “hustle” on Saturday Night Live. It then jumped 20 percent after his latest comments that he was involved in work to improve its efficiency.
“Working with Doge devs to improve system transaction efficiency. Potentially promising,” Musk said on Twitter, vaulting dogecoin from about $0.43 to $0.52 on the Binance exchange.
It was unclear if Musk was referring to efficiency in terms of energy use, ease of use or suitability as a currency, said Mark Humphery-Jenner, an associate professor of finance at the University of New South Wales business school in Sydney.
Dogecoin consumes 0.12 kilowatt hours of electricity per transaction compared with 707 for bitcoin, according to data center provider TRG, but it is near impossible to use it to buy anything.
Almost worthless in late 2020, dogecoin is the latest darling of a frenzy gripping crypto markets that began last year as institutional investors announced big bitcoin purchases.
It has surged to become the fourth-largest cryptocurrency by market cap, according to CoinMarketCap.com. Second-biggest cryptocurrency ether has also soared more than 400 percent this year. It last sat at $3,865, steady for the week so far.
The huge moves have begun to attract regulatory scrutiny, and a Bloomberg report on Thursday which said major exchange Binance was under Justice Department investigation in the US added to some of the price pressure on cryptos this week.
Musk’s tweets and the market’s response may also invite attention, said Edward Moya, an analyst at brokarage OANDA.
“Tesla is drawing tremendous scrutiny for Musk’s cheerleading of Bitcoin,” he said. “If Tesla unveils a bet on dogecoin, regulators may have their eyes on Musk.”
Others, however, say the market might be more comparable to an old fashioned bubble.
“Dogecoin remains a lesson in greater fool theory,” said David Kimberley, analyst at investing app Freetrade, which posits that buying overpriced assets can be profitable, so long as there is a “greater fool” to buy them at ever higher prices.
“It’s being pumped by people that want to get rich quick (and Elon Musk),” he said.

Egypt’s road building drive eases jams but leaves some unhappy

Egypt’s road building drive eases jams but leaves some unhappy
Updated 14 May 2021

Egypt’s road building drive eases jams but leaves some unhappy

Egypt’s road building drive eases jams but leaves some unhappy
  • Infrastructure push aims to galvanize economy
  • Experts say structural economic problems remain

CAIRO: At weekends, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi is often driven out to a road construction site in Cairo where he is pictured surveying stretches of recently poured asphalt and being briefed by workers.
The highways and bridges he inspects are the most visible part of a big infrastructure push meant to galvanize Egypt’s economy after decades of rapid population growth and unplanned building.
Led by the government and the military, it includes several new cities and one million low-cost homes and has helped pull Egypt through the economic shock of the pandemic and remain in growth last year.
But there is a cost. Some of those displaced by new roads are unhappy at losing their homes, others at seeing their neighborhoods suddenly transformed. Analysts question how much difference the infrastructure boom can make while structural economic problems persist.
One area of intense activity is eastern Cairo, where new roads and bridges scythe through the urban sprawl toward a futuristic capital under construction in the desert and due to open this year.
In the Ezbet el-Hagana neighborhood, drilling machines and diggers are laying out an intersection that cuts through cheap, informal housing, of which hundreds of units have been demolished to make way for the road.
When El-Sisi visited in February, he met ministers in front of unpainted brick housing blocks and discussed how half Egypt’s population of 100 million lived in similar conditions. Afterwards, El-Sisi announced it would be renamed “Hope City.”
But residents of Ezbet el-Hagana, many of whom moved from rural areas and built apartments and livelihoods, say they worry about the uncertainty.
Ali Abdelrehim, a 52-year-old father of four, said his house was not at immediate risk but others might suffer if authorities carry out the president’s suggestion to widen the area’s narrow streets.
“These changes worry people,” he said, adding that business at his carpentry shop has slowed to a trickle as people stop work on homes that risk demolition.
Hosni Ali, a 34-year-old selling tomatoes from a donkey cart, said a storage room he rented was demolished because of the new roadworks. “Everyone here is scared ... everything is on hold,” he said.
Across eastern Cairo and beyond, long-delayed road projects are racing ahead. As much as 1.1 trillion Egypt pounds ($70 billion) will be spent on transport in the decade to 2024, one third of that on roads and bridges, the transport minister has said.
Officials present the road building as part of efforts to develop informal areas across Egypt, connecting them to transport networks and basic services. They say those displaced will be compensated or resettled.
Some of those moved from Ezbet el-Hagana have been allocated furnished housing in Ahlina, a new district on Cairo’s outskirts with a youth center and playgrounds, and residents say conditions are good. But they have to pay rent and some have lost access to work.
“The problem is money, and life is expensive,” said 75-year-old pensioner Sabri Abdo, whose son is a motor rickshaw driver. “Before this I lived in my own property and didn’t pay rent. No one knows my son here, so things aren’t working for him like they were over there.”
The east Cairo governor’s office, which oversees the area, was not available for comment.
The road building surge – social media posts dub Egypt “the republic of roads and bridges” – has triggered disquiet for other reasons.
Bridge and road building near the pyramids, around Cairo’s “cities of the dead” where people live among old family tombs, and in the genteel neighborhood of Heliopolis, has alarmed conservationists.
Commuting in and out of Heliopolis has become quicker but the character of the neighborhood had changed for residents, said Choucri Asmar, head of volunteer group Heliopolis Heritage Foundation.
“They cannot walk in the street anymore, they can’t cross the street anymore, they cannot see trees from their balconies every afternoon with the birds,” he said.
Asked for a response to complaints about the road and bridge program on TV earlier this year, El-Sisi said no sector – including health, education, agriculture and manufacturing – was neglected.
“We need to do this so we can make people’s lives easier, so we can reduce the amount of lost time, people’s stress and the fuel being used causing more pollution,” he said.
A World Bank study in 2014 estimated the costs of congestion in greater Cairo at 3.6 percent of Egypt’s gross domestic product, far higher than some other big cities – though it warned that building more roads and bridges would not solve the problem.
While tens of billions of dollars are being spent on roads in eastern Cairo, the new capital in the desert and a summer capital on the north coast at El Alamein, roads elsewhere are often under-maintained, mass transit limited and public services patchy.
Like other motorists, Hesham Abu Aya, a 51-year-old taxi driver with three daughters, said new roads had eased the traffic crisis but he had to pay 7,500 Egyptian pounds ($480) to fix his car after hitting a pothole.
“If I want the state to spend on something other than bridges and roads, it would be health care,” he said.
Egypt suffers from lack of research and development and barriers to private sector expansion, said Yezid Sayigh, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center. “Behind all the investment in real estate or in infrastructure, there’s very little investment in the rest of the productive economy.”
Those with a record in the sector tend to get contracts from military and other state agencies directing the infrastructure drive and can secure financing from banks, said Shams Eldin Yousef, Chairman of Al-Shams Contracting Company and a board member of Egypt’s construction federation.
His company has picked up business through the road projects but he wonders how long the boom will last.
“If a wheel that is moving at this speed and on this scale stops, it will be a problem,” he said.