Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states can weather a global economic storm, SALT New York Conference hears

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states can weather a global economic storm, SALT New York Conference hears
Rabia Iqbal moderates a panel consisting of Sufyan Al-Issa from IFC, CEO of Investopia Mohammed Al-Zaabi, Amer Bisat from BlackRock, and managing partner at Global Ventures Noor Sweid. (Supplied)
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Updated 15 September 2022

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states can weather a global economic storm, SALT New York Conference hears

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states can weather a global economic storm, SALT New York Conference hears
  • Thought leadership and networking event organized against backdrop of economic turbulence
  • Speakers say the key to surviving and thriving in the current difficult climate is to diversify

NEW YORK CITY: The Arab Gulf states are well equipped to ride out the global economic storm because they have embraced diversification by stepping away from oil dependency and exploring alternative revenue drivers, according to experts attending this week’s SALT New York fintech conference.

Speaking to Arab News on the sidelines of the event on Monday, Noor Sweid, managing partner at international venture capital firm Global Ventures, said the key to surviving and thriving in the current economic climate is to diversify.

“Diversification is always the key,” said Sweid. “They are diversifying very well in the Gulf. The governments have been for many years trying to diversify away from oil economies, and that is really translating now.”




Rabia Iqbal moderates a panel consisting of Sufyan Al-Issa from IFC, CEO of Investopia Mohammed Al-Zaabi, Amer Bisat from BlackRock, and managing partner at Global Ventures Noor Sweid. (Supplied)

Pointing to the Saudi agritech firm Red Sea Farms, Sweid said the company is flourishing, having launched in Saudi Arabia before expanding globally to address the challenges of energy management, food security, and climate change through vertical farming technology.

“They have managed to find a way to reduce the amount of power required to desalinate the water required for the purposes of vertical farming by about 90 percent,” she said.




The SALT New York conference opened on Monday against a backdrop of economic turbulence. (Supplied)

Established at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Thuwal, Red Sea Farms is working to reduce the carbon and water footprint of the food sector by designing, developing and delivering sustainable agriculture technologies for harsh environments.

Sweid believes the wider Gulf region has huge potential in the domain of tech innovation owing to its “very young demographic across the region working very hard to solve problems using mass technology,” including drone deliveries, digital health, and energy management.




The CEO and chairman of Stirling Infrastructure’s investment board Michael Stirling. (Supplied)

She was not alone in highlighting the benefits of a youthful population. “Saudi Arabia has some really good fundamentals with a young population that has growing income and greater diversity,” Michael Stirling, CEO and chairman of Stirling Infrastructure’s investment board, told Arab News.

“Saudi Arabia is a country that is attracting progressively greater international attention.”

 

 

In 2016, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced Vision 2030 — a wide-ranging social reform and economic diversification agenda — aimed at branching the Kingdom’s economy out into new sectors, from leisure and tourism to financial services.

Six years on, Vision 2030 has inspired a whole generation of young entrepreneurs to explore tech-based solutions, creating high-skill jobs and raising aspirations. By diversifying its economy in this way, the Kingdom has also fortified itself against oil price shocks.

In fact, by comparison with other regions of the world, the Gulf is especially resilient to shocks and is progressing well with several high-profile mega-projects, including Saudi Arabia’s NEOM smart city and the constellation of luxury resorts taking shape on the Red Sea coast.

FASTFACTS

• SALT is a global thought leadership and networking forum encompassing finance, technology and geopolitics.

• SALT’s biannual events and technology solutions connect asset managers and entrepreneurs with owners, investment advisers and policy experts.

Setting aside the more problematic Middle Eastern countries, including his native Lebanon, Amer Bisat, managing director and head of sovereign and emerging markets investments at BlackRock, told a SALT New York session that Saudi Arabia and the UAE almost appear “boring” precisely because they have been so well managed and have been able to ride out the global economic storm.

“Even if these countries’ economies do drop, they are much better equipped to cope with any downturns,” he said.

The SALT New York conference opened on Monday against a backdrop of economic turbulence — a byproduct of the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated lockdowns and supply chain disruptions, not to mention the damage caused by the war in Ukraine.

The virtual economy in particular has experienced a monumental drop, with cryptocurrencies plummeting in value and investors losing millions on a market that offers no tangible goods.




Managing director and head of sovereign and emerging markets investments at BlackRock Amer Bisat. (Supplied)

Analysts say most of the factors behind this drop are “macro,” which means they relate to the economy as a whole rather than any flaws in the crypto market. Record-high inflation, rising interest rates, and a loss of confidence have all contributed to the crypto crash.

 

 

In his opening remarks to the conference, Anthony Scaramucci, founder and managing partner of investment management company SkyBridge, reflected on the difficult business environment investors have had to contend with since the pandemic, but said he is nonetheless continuing to invest.

“I am already seeing my investment improve in value,” Scaramucci later told Arab News on the sidelines. “I think we all have to recognize that we are going through a cyclical bear (down) market.” Nevertheless, he acknowledged “we have got things that we really haven’t seen since the 1970s.”




The founder and managing partner of investment management company SkyBridge Anthony Scaramucci. (Supplied)

Part of the problem is inflation, fueled by a drop in supply, labor shortages, and demands for higher salaries to help workers cope with rising prices. Asked when he expects the global economy to rebound, Scaramucci told Arab News: “I think this time next year we will see a very aggressive recovery.”

 

 

Despite the downturn in the market, there was nevertheless an upbeat mood on the opening day of the conference. Addressing attendees by video link, Sam Bankman-Fried, CEO of FTX, one of the world’s largest crypto-trading platforms, said he remains optimistic about digital assets because “more regulatory clarity is coming.”

He said this will help “unlock the asset class” for a number of institutions that want to get involved in the sector.




Sam Bankman-Fried, CEO of FTX, addresses attendees by video link. (Supplied)

Frank Chaparro, editor-at-large at The Block, a website dedicated to cryptocurrency news, said he believes crypto’s “winter has thawed and that spring is upon us.”

“We don’t know how long this winter is going to last,” he told Arab News, but insisted people should not focus on the present value of cryptocurrencies and should instead acknowledge the signs of hope on the horizon.

“It’s hopeful because it is a unique dynamic space,” he said. “So if anything this is a great time to build because we are not getting distracted by price and we can focus on doing the work.

“We have to think about what we have just got out of. We have got out of a massive price decline. We saw liquidity sucked out of the system, we saw leverage sucked out of the system. This was a dramatic collapse.”




Editor-at-large at The Block, a website dedicated to cryptocurrency news, Frank Chaparro. (Supplied)

Referring to the collapse of the Terra (LUNA) crypto token in May this year, which wiped billions of dollars off the market, Chaparro said: “LUNA was a dramatic collapse, the likes of which we have never really seen — a coin going from $50 billion market cap to zero effectively.”

Although people should not expect a “v-shaped rebound,” Chaparro said “patience is warranted.

“Optimism, just as in life, is always important.”

SALT is a global thought leadership and networking forum encompassing finance, technology and geopolitics. Its biannual events and technology solutions connect leading asset managers and entrepreneurs with top asset owners, investment advisors and policy experts.

Founded in 2009 by SkyBridge, SALT brings together 2,000 of the world’s foremost investors and thinkers for three days of high-level collaboration and networking.




The UAE’s Minister of Economy Abdulla bin Touq Al-Marri. (Supplied)

During a conference session on Monday, it was announced that Abu Dhabi will host Investopia, one of the biggest financial events in the MENA region, in March next year.

The announcement was made during a session in which Abdulla bin Touq Al-Marri, the UAE’s minister of economy, and Mohamed Al-Shorafa, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development, set out how the country had refocused its economy away from oil and gas by embracing industries like fintech.

Al-Marri said the UAE had introduced some of the world’s first regulations for cryptocurrency as part of its road map to modernizing its economy.




The chairman of the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development Mohamed Al-Shorafa. (Supplied)

“Last year we announced our vision for the next 50 years. We are a country of visions, and our leaders are visionaries,” said Al-Marri.

The country has enacted a slew of new laws, including the decriminalization of bouncing cheques and the 100-percent-ownership law, which allows onshore control of companies by non-Emiratis, to create a more favorable business environment for foreign investors.

Al-Marri said the UAE’s aim is to develop the economy from a regional player to being truly global.

 


Egyptian parliament looking to activate law for organ, cornea transplantation

Egyptian parliament looking to activate law for organ, cornea transplantation
Updated 26 November 2022

Egyptian parliament looking to activate law for organ, cornea transplantation

Egyptian parliament looking to activate law for organ, cornea transplantation
  • The parliament has not taken a decision yet despite its discussion over the past few days
  • MP Makram Radwan sparked controversy in parliament when he submitted a request for a briefing on the amendment to the Human Organ Transplant Law

CAIRO: A debate has been underway within the Egyptian parliament over amendments to the Human Organ Transplant Law.
The parliament has not taken a decision yet despite its discussion over the past few days.
The amendments focus on the activation of two laws: one issued in 2010 banning organ sales, which has not yet been fully implemented due to the revolution in 2011, and one issued in 1962 regarding the organization of the eye bank.
The Health Affairs Committee in the Egyptian House of Representatives recommended that the Ministry of Health activate the provisions of the Human Organ Transplant Law passed in 2010 in which Article 8 of its executive regulations allows people to request in their wills that their organs be donated following their death.
MP Makram Radwan sparked controversy in parliament when he submitted a request for a briefing on the amendment to the Human Organ Transplant Law.
“Egypt has fallen behind many countries that have implemented the law,” Radwan told Arab News.
“Although we have an organ transplant law, it has not been activated. There can be no organ transfer without prior approval to protect doctors.”
As for the law regarding the eye bank, the matter was raised at the request of Representative Karim Badr Helmy.
Badr told Arab News: “I am not calling for something new. This was within the provisions of the 1962 law regulating eye banks.”
Helmy demanded that all cornea banks be re-operated in hospitals licensed to establish them.
He also proposed that the health minister issue a decision to set procedures for transferring the corneas of the dead to university hospitals and other hospitals of the ministry that are licensed to establish banks to preserve them.
Dr. Khaled Omran, one of the fatwa trustees at the Egyptian Dar Al-Iftaa, told Arab News that organ donation is highly beneficial, helping many patients, and is considered of a form of charity.
Omran said that a donation takes place in accordance with conditions set by the law and approved by Dar Al-Iftaa.
The first is that the patient must be legally, and not just clinically, dead
The second is that the donation must be based on a person’s will documented by doctors.
The third condition is that the donation of organs related to the reproductive system must be prevented in order to avoid any suspicion of mixing lineage.


Egypt turns to religious edicts to protect children from harmful video games

Photo/Shutterstock
Photo/Shutterstock
Updated 26 November 2022

Egypt turns to religious edicts to protect children from harmful video games

Photo/Shutterstock
  • Apps can stimulate minds but also cause addiction, incite violence, Dar Al-Iftaa official says
  • Some games are used by extremist groups like Daesh to exploit young people, he says

CAIRO: One of Egypt’s top Islamic organizations, Dar Al-Iftaa, is trying to raise awareness of the potentially harmful impact of mobile games and apps on young people.

A recent report by the Global Fatwa Index showed that 33 percent of the fatwas on technological affairs issued this year were related to the subject and that many of them stressed the need to protect children from exploitation and violent or other harmful content.

“Video games and modern applications are a double-edged sword,” Sheikh Awaida Othman from Dar Al-Iftaa, the Egyptian government’s principal Islamic legal institution for issuing fatwas, told Arab News.

“Despite their ability to develop minds, they come with many disadvantages, most notably mobile addiction, spreading violence, social isolation, and the incidence of unrest and psychological disorders.

“The latest preemptive fatwas of the Egyptian Dar Al-Iftaa dealt with the issue of buying and selling currencies in video games because it is legally permissible, but with controls that must be taken into account … the game should not become a daily habit that devolves into an addiction that causes health and psychological issues and mental exhaustion.”

Echoing a finding in the fatwa index that suggested some apps could be used for political exploitation, Othman said ultra-right movements in the West relied on video games to recruit and exploit children and adolescents.

He added that in some online games users were able to create secret networks and chat without surveillance, just as members of extremist organizations like Daesh did.

The most prominent of these was Fortnite — one of the world’s most popular fighting games — as it incited violence, he said.

“ISIS (another name for Daesh) adopts the same terrorist strategy and ideology by exploiting video game platforms to recruit young men and minors, and using hidden channels of communication to ensure anonymity,” Othman said.

Sheikh Sayed Abdulaziz, secretary-general of Egyptian Family House — an initiative started in 2011 that promotes religious coexistence — said that religious institutions, families and educational and media groups needed to work together and heed the warnings about video games.

“The steady and intensive increase in video games and phone applications is difficult to monitor and therefore requires religious institutions to dedicate people to follow up on these developments and issue proactive fatwas regarding them,” he told Arab News.

“The lack of fatwas related to video games directly reaching the youth and children category requires work in parallel with religious bodies, the media, schools and universities.”

He added: “We must also pay attention to following up on new apps and making sure that they are following public morals in order to prevent the spread of material among youths that is religiously or nationally inappropriate.”

 


Egypt slams European Parliament report on human rights situation

Egypt slams European Parliament report on human rights situation
Updated 26 November 2022

Egypt slams European Parliament report on human rights situation

Egypt slams European Parliament report on human rights situation
  • Many Egyptian deputies and politicians voiced their rejection of the European Parliament’s call and asserted that it was blatant interference in Egypt’s affairs

CAIRO: Egyptian MPs and politicians have rejected what they are calling the European Parliament’s “blatant” interference in Egypt’s domestic affairs.

In a statement issued on Friday, the European Parliament called for the immediate and unconditional release of dozens of human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, activists, politicians and social media influencers currently sitting in Egyptian prisons and for the reversal of the excessive use of arbitrary pre-trial detention in Egypt.

The European Parliament also appealed to the member states of the EU “to support the call for the creation of an international mechanism for monitoring and reporting gross violations of human rights in Egypt at the UN Human Rights Council, as well a deep and comprehensive review of the EU’s relations with Egypt in light of the very limited progress in Egypt’s human rights record.”

Many Egyptian deputies and politicians voiced their rejection of the European Parliament’s call and asserted that it was blatant interference in Egypt’s affairs.

Hind Rashad, a member of the House of Representatives, told Arab News: “I strongly reject all lies and attempts to interfere in the affairs of the Egyptian state.”

His comment came as Egypt’s parliament asserted that the EU position reflected only a biased and subjective view of the reality in the country.

Tamer Abdel Qader, also a member of the House of Representatives, told Arab News that the European Parliament’s statement on human rights in Egypt constitutes “blatant interference” in the affairs of “a country that enjoys all sovereign rights.” He also said the statement violates UN charters, “as it included many lies, fallacies and rumors.”

Abdel Qader added: “This old school has had its...policies exposed more than once, and everyone knows what the intentions of the (drafters) of these policies (are) towards the Egyptian state, which recently launched the National Strategy for Human Rights and laid frameworks for its implementation in front of everyone.

“Among the inaccuracies in the statement is that Egypt executes children, bearing in mind that Egyptian laws criminalize the trial or execution of children…Egyptian laws stipulate that they be placed in care homes for their rehabilitation and integration into society.”

Political expert Hazem El-Gendy, deputy head of the Egyptian Wafd Party, told Arab News that the decision of the European Parliament confirmed beyond any doubt that “there is a state of hostility and ambush adopted by some international institutions against Egypt” and that these are “not sufficiently aware of the developments of the situation in Egypt.”

El-Gendy said: “The resolutions say that Egypt has been living under a state of emergency since 2017, despite the announcement by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to cancel it in October 2021 … The declaration of a state of emergency came in light of the war waged by the state and terrorist groups in Sinai.”

Mahmoud Bassiouni, member of the National Council for Human Rights, also told Arab News that the European Parliament’s statement constitutes meddling in Egypt’s domestic affairs and ignores the efforts of the Egyptian state to improve human rights.

He added that the controversial statement relied on a single source of information.


Amnesty International lauds UN probe into Iran human rights violations

Amnesty International lauds UN probe into Iran human rights violations
Updated 26 November 2022

Amnesty International lauds UN probe into Iran human rights violations

Amnesty International lauds UN probe into Iran human rights violations
  • ‘The cries of the people in Iran for justice have finally been heard’
  • The fact-finding mission comes 73 days on from the murder of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini

LONDON: Amnesty International has applauded the establishment of a fact-finding mission to investigate human rights violations in Iran as “long overdue” given the “dire situation” in the country.
Responding to Thursday’s announcement from the UN Human Rights Council that the “landmark” resolution had been passed, Amnesty’s Secretary-General Agnes Callamard said: “The cries of the people in Iran for justice have finally been heard. It not only enhances international scrutiny of the dire situation, but puts in place a process to collect, consolidate and preserve crucial evidence for future prosecutions.
She added: “We hope it marks a fundamental shift in the international community’s approach to tackling the crisis of systematic impunity that has long fueled crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations in Iran.”
The fact-finding mission comes 73 days on from the murder of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini while in the custody of Iran’s notorious morality police.
Amini’s death ignited a tinderbox of pent-up frustrations over falling living standards and discrimination against women and minorities, and has fueled the most widespread protests seen in the country since the 1979 revolution, with no signs of the protesters backing down.
The fact-finding mission is mandated to “collect, consolidate and analyze evidence of such violations and preserve evidence, including in view of cooperation, in any legal proceedings.”
Amnesty said as the resolution was being negotiated, Iranian authorities continued to reject the findings of UN experts and human rights organizations, and have persisted in widespread use of unlawful lethal force and sought the death penalty for protesters.
Iran has faced repeated cycles of protests since 2018, all of which have been met with violent reprisals.
“States must now ensure that the mandate is made operational and sufficiently resourced without delay and call upon the Iranian authorities to cooperate fully with the mission and allow unhindered access to the country,” said Callamard.
“This vote must also serve as a wake-up call for the Iranian authorities to immediately end their all-out militarized attack on demonstrators.”
Callamard said Amnesty has “consistently” documented crimes under international law committed by Iranian authorities against protesters, including unlawful killings, unwarranted use of lethal force, and mass arbitrary arrests and detentions.
It has also recorded enforced disappearances, torture and other ill-treatment, and the sentencing of individuals to lengthy prison terms or death.
Amnesty said: “Iranian authorities have ignored repeated calls by the international community to open criminal investigations into such crimes.
“Instead, they have sought to destroy evidence of crimes while persecuting survivors and victims’ relatives.”


Israeli wounded in Jerusalem bus stop bombings dies

Israeli wounded in Jerusalem bus stop bombings dies
Updated 26 November 2022

Israeli wounded in Jerusalem bus stop bombings dies

Israeli wounded in Jerusalem bus stop bombings dies
  • A 15-year-old Israeli-Canadian was also killed in Wednesday's twin blasts
  • Thirteen others were wounded, medics said, in the first bombings to hit the contested city since 2016

JERUSALEM: An Israeli wounded in rare bombings to hit Jerusalem earlier this week died Saturday, the hospital treating him announced, the latest casualty as violence surges in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek hospital announced the death of Tadesa Teshuma “who was fatally wounded in an attack at the entrance to Jerusalem.”
A 15-year-old Israeli-Canadian was also killed in Wednesday’s twin blasts, which hit bus stops frequented by ultra-Orthodox Jews at the city’s western exit.
Thirteen others were wounded, medics said, in the first bombings to hit the contested city since 2016 according to Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security agency.
A security source told AFP the explosives were detonated remotely and no group has claimed the attacks, which were celebrated by Palestinian militant group Hamas.
The bombings come amid a spike in violence, which has claimed the lives of six Israelis and 14 Palestinians this month across Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.
Israeli security forces remain on high alert and on Saturday police briefly closed a main road in Jerusalem, not far from the site of the bombings, due to a suspicious package. The incident turned out to be a false alarm, police said.
During the second intifada, or uprising, in the early 2000s, Palestinian militants repeatedly planted bombs at urban bus stops, including in Jerusalem.
Much of the recent violence has centered on the West Bank, where more than 125 Palestinians have been killed this year according to an AFP tally.
At least 26 Israelis have also been killed in attacks across Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The dead have included Israeli troops, Palestinian militants and civilians on both sides including multiple children.
Earlier this year, 49 Gazans were killed in a three-day conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in the coastal enclave.