Monthly briefing: 14 key developments in the region

21 November 2022

By MEED staff

Lukewarm Cop27 ends

UAE and US sign $100bn energy programme

BlackRock looks to invest in projects with PIF

Riyadh signs construction deals during Seoul visit

Middle East outpaces global economic growth

Riyadh Grade A office occupancy hits 98 per cent

Dubai developer plans world's tallest residential building

Saudi Arabia launches national automaker

Alba reaches Block 4 financial close

Partners award contracts for $8.5bn US chemicals project

Investors launch Sohar industrial projects

Aramco and IBM plan Riyadh innovation hub


Egypt climate conference ends with agreement on payout

Negotiators from nearly 200 countries at the 2022 UN climate summit Cop27, which took place in Egypt on 6-18 November, have agreed to set up a loss and damage fund aimed at helping vulnerable countries to cope with climate disasters. They also agreed that global greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut nearly in half by 2030. 

The agreement also reaffirmed the goal of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. However, a deal to phase out the use of fossil fuels, and not just coal, could not be agreed upon after a number of nations, including China and Saudi Arabia, blocked the proposal. Read more

The Middle East was thrust firmly onto the global stage on 20 November when football’s 2022 World Cup kicked off in Qatar  

Region pitches to be global sporting hub


Opec and non-Opec partners cut 2 million b/d of production

Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest crude oil exporter, has started to cut its exports as Opec+ begins to reduce its overall target production by 2 million barrels a day (b/d).  

Saudi Arabia had cut its crude oil exports by more than 400,000 b/d by the third week of November, while exports from Opec could be on course to drop by 1 million b/d.  

In October, Opec+ announced it would slash its collective target by 2 million b/d from November. Although the actual reduction is expected to be about 1.1 million b/d, it is still the biggest cut since the record reduction announced in April 2020, when oil demand plunged at the start of the pandemic. 


UAE and US sign $100bn clean energy partnership

The UAE and the US have signed a partnership that aims to catalyse $100bn in financing and other support, in addition to deploying 100GW of clean energy in the US, UAE and emerging economies around the world by 2035. They also reaffirmed their commitment to climate action, in line with their 2050 net-zero goals. 

The two countries plan to stimulate private and public sector support in four areas: clean energy innovation, financing, deployment and supply chains; carbon and methane management; advanced reactors; and industrial and transport decarbonisation. Read more


PIF and BlackRock agree to explore infrastructure projects 

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) has signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding with US asset manager BlackRock to jointly explore infrastructure projects in the Middle East, with a majority of the investment activity focused on Saudi Arabia.

The target projects are in several sectors, including energy, power, utilities, water, environment, transportation, telecommunications and social infrastructure. 

BlackRock will look to build a dedicated infrastructure investment team in Riyadh to cover the Middle East region.

In a statement, the PIF said that the aim is to leverage positive Saudi and regional market dynamics to deliver sustainable long-term returns.

The sovereign wealth fund added that the two entities plan to work together to attract regional and international investors to participate in investment projects, and boost foreign direct investment into Saudi Arabia. 

This will add value to the Saudi economy and the wider market while facilitating knowledge and skills transfer. Read more


IMF predicts economic growth for the Middle East in 2022

The real GDP of oil exporting countries in the Middle East is projected to grow at 5.2 per cent in 2022, up from 4.5 per cent in 2021, according to the Washington-based IMF. 

Growth is projected to slow to 3.5 per cent in 2023 as Opec+ production wanes, oil prices ease and global demand slows. 

Crude producers are projected to accrue a cumulative oil windfall of about $1tn in 2022−26, which the IMF said oil-exporting countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE could use to continue to invest in projects that support future economic growth. Read more


Deals worth $30bn signed during royal visit to Seoul

Agreements totalling an estimated $30bn were signed during Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud’s visit to Seoul, South Korea on 17 November. 

The biggest deal was a commitment from Saudi Aramco to invest $7bn in building an integrated refinery and petrochemicals complex in South Korea through its local affiliate S-Oil.

The new plant will have capacity to produce 3.2 million tonnes a year of petrochemicals.

Five South Korean companies – Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco), Korea Southern Power Company, Korea National Oil Corporation, Posco Holdings and Samsung C&T Corporation – have also signed agreements with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund to build and operate a green hydrogen and green ammonia production facility in Saudi Arabia. Read more


Riyadh Grade A office occupancy hits 98 per cent

Occupancy levels for prime office space in Riyadh have risen by four percentage points to 98 per cent according to a report by property consultancy Knight Frank. 

Average lease rates for prime office space have increased by 18 per cent over the past 12 months to about SR1,775 ($473) a square foot. The company said there is unprecedented demand for Grade A office space. 

“As the kingdom’s economic transformation plan unfolds, business activity is rising at an extraordinary pace. Seventy firms have now committed to relocating their regional headquarters to Riyadh, including Aldeham Education Group and French rolling stock manufacturer Alstom,” Knight Frank said. Read more


Dubai developer plans world’s tallest residential building

Local real estate developer Binghatti and jewellery brand Jacob & Co have announced plans to build the world’s tallest residential structure in Dubai’s Business Bay district.

Known as Burj Binghatti Jacob & Co Residences, the tower will comprise more than 100 storeys and will offer two- and three-bedroom apartments. Amenities in the building will include an infinity pool, a spa and a gymnasium.

Companies recently moved onsite in Business Bay to work on a 116-storey tower for Binghatti. The contractor is Granada Europe Construction. The consultant is Silver Stone Engineering Consultants. Read more


Saudi Arabia launches electric vehicle manufacturer

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman al-Saud has announced the launch of Ceer, the first Saudi electric vehicle brand. Ceer is the first Saudi automotive brand to produce electric vehicles in Saudi Arabia.

The company is a joint venture of Saudi sovereign wealth entity the Public Investment Fund and Taiwan-based Hon Hai Precision Industry Company, which trades as Foxconn internationally.

Foxconn will license component technology from BMW for use in the vehicle development process, with the first vehicles – sedans and sports utility vehicles – expected to be available in 2025.

Foxconn will develop the electrical architecture of the vehicles, which will feature infotainment, connectivity and autonomous driving technologies.

Ceer is expected to attract over $150m in foreign direct investment and create up to 30,000 direct and indirect jobs. Read more

Further reading

Alba agrees Block 4 financing

Aluminium Bahrain (Alba) has reached financial close on the 681MW combined-cycle gas turbine plant that comprises Block 4 of the smelter’s Power Station 5. China Export & Credit Insurance Corporation (Sinosure) will provide a $225m facility.

Contracts awarded for US plant

QatarEnergy and Chevron Phillips Chemical Company have reached final investment decision on the Golden Triangle Polymers Plant, an $8.5bn integrated polymers facility in the US. The plant will include the biggest ethylene cracker in the world with a capacity of 2.1 million tonnes a year.

Investors launch Sohar projects

Investors have launched two non-oil industrial projects in Sohar Freezone in Oman. The sultanate’s first petroleum coke calcining facility will be built at a total investment of about $155.9m, while a titanium dioxide production facility will be established at a cost of $112m.

Aramco plans innovation hub

Saudi Aramco and US technology company IBM plan to establish an innovation hub in Riyadh. The hub will support tech-driven economic growth in Saudi Arabia with the help of emerging technologies in hybrid cloud, artificial intelligence and quantum computing.
MEED Editorial
Related Articles
  • Sports Boulevard to seek partner for iconic buildings

    6 June 2023


    Register for MEED’s guest programme 

    Saudi Arabia’s Sports Boulevard Foundation plans to collaborate with contractors for the iconic buildings that are part of the world’s longest park stretching across the centre of Riyadh.

    “There are still many infrastructure and iconic building projects in the design stage, and we will be seeking great construction partners to join us on a collaborative basis on this great journey,” said Tony Aikenhead, chief development officer of the Sports Boulevard Foundation, at MEED’s Saudi Giga Projects conference in Riyadh on 5 June.

    Iconic destinations planned for the development include the Sands Sports Park, Amphitheatres, the Centre for Cinematic Arts, the Arts District, the Discovery Park, Wadi Ajyasen and the Global Sports Tower.

    The large-scale project aims to turn the cityscape of central Riyadh, which today is dominated by major highways, into a recreational area.

    “It is truly a transformational project, which will become the world’s longest park at over 135 kilometres in length and will help to deliver on the objectives of Vision 2030. Sports Boulevard runs across Riyadh from east to west. That’s where the complexity comes in because it’s right through the centre of Riyadh along the service corridor,” said Aikenhead.

    The project will be spread across different districts within the park. “The Boulevard will be split into street districts to maximise the unique features and attractions the city offers,” he said. “Each district will deliver a different destination and a different array of opportunities for residents and visitors alike.

    “We are making good early progress in the delivery of these districts. Construction has already begun in the Wadi Hanifa district on the site of the bridge, the arts district and the promenade. We have also started work on the Prince Turki and King Abdulaziz underpasses,” said Aikenhead.
    Colin Foreman
  • Kuwait cancels oil financing tender

    6 June 2023

    Kuwait’s national oil company Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC) has cancelled its tender for a consultant to study financing options for the country’s state-owned oil and gas companies.

    In a statement published by KPC’s Higher Purchase Committee it said that the companies that purchased tender documents are eligible for a refund.

    The invitation to bid on the tender was issued on 18 December 2022.

    KPC did not give a reason for the cancellation of the tender.

    Kuwait has been looking to increase efficiency and restructure its state-owed oil and gas companies for several years.

    In 2020, a contract for a study to look into the restructuring was won by UK-based Strategy&, a subsidiary of the financial services company PwC.

    The plan was expected to cut costs and merge many of the state-controlled companies in the country’s oil, gas and petrochemicals sector.

    At the time, KPC said that the mergers would slash the number of large state-controlled companies in the sector from eight to four.

    In 2020, local reports said the Supreme Petroleum Council (SPC) and KPC had already approved plans to restructure the oil sector.

    It is thought that the restructuring could have significant benefits for KPC in the long term.

    A similar restructuring by Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) helped to open the door for increased foreign investment in the UAE’s energy sector.

    After a sweeping restructuring, in December 2017 Adnoc listed 10 per cent of Adnoc Distribution, the largest operator of retail fuel service stations and convenience stores in the UAE. This raised $851m, making it the largest initial public offering in Abu Dhabi in a decade.

    In May 2022, KPC said that it was considering selling shares in its downstream subsidiary Kuwait National Petroleum Company (KNPC), with the Higher Purchase Committee tendering a contract for a feasibility study regarding the potential “partial divestment of shares in KNPC”.

    At the time, the announcement about the potential share sale from the Higher Purchase Committee surprised many within Kuwait’s oil and gas sector.

    Despite Kuwait publicly discussing the restructuring of its oil and gas sector for several years, very little concrete progress has been made towards making the planned mergers.
    Wil Crisp
  • Region positions itself for sustainable future

    6 June 2023

    Colin Foreman

    At the end of November, the region will host the UN’s climate change conference for the second time in two years. Cop28 in the UAE, like Egypt’s Cop27 last year, will bring world leaders together to discuss energy transition and the fight against climate change.

    Arresting climate change will arguably be humankind’s greatest challenge over the coming decades. To succeed, people from all over the world will need to work with each other, which is why events like Cop28 that bring countries together are so important – despite the criticism they can attract. 

    At the project level, cooperation will also become an increasingly important trend.

    This year there are clear signs that governments are jointly working on projects that will contribute to the fight against climate change. 

    Some of the best examples are in the transmission and distribution sector. In recent months, significant steps have been taken across a range of interconnection projects to link countries’ electricity grids. 

    Efficiency is the main driver for these projects. Particularly for GCC nations, the capacity to obtain large-scale solar energy affordably, combined with the marked differences in peak energy demands between the colder and hotter months, frequently leads to considerable surplus capacity.

    Smoothing out these peaks and troughs as part of a larger regional or international grid also means less power generation is required and reduced carbon emissions.

    As the shared challenge of climate change rises up the global agenda, more projects that pool resources, share expertise, and transcend borders and politics will be needed. 

    From regional collaborations on electricity grid interconnections to international climate conferences, the region is positioning itself at the centre of a more collaborative and sustainable future.

    This package includes:

    > Region plans vital big grid connections
    > Soaring data demand drives boom
    > Read the June 2023 MEED Business Review

    Colin Foreman
  • Hospital boost for Jordan construction

    5 June 2023

    This package on Jordan's construction sector also includes:

    Egis selected for Jordan hospital project
    Jordan's largest construction project to move onsite
    Hill wins work on Saudi-backed hospital project in Jordan
    PIF to invest $24bn in six Mena countries


    Jordan’s construction sector will get a major boost this year as the country’s largest project prepares to move onsite over the summer after the first phase of its masterplan has been finalised.

    The $400m hospital project is being developed by the Saudi Jordanian Fund for Medical and Educational Investments Company (SJFMEI) on a build-operate-transfer (BOT) basis.

    For the hospital project, SJFMEI appointed US-based Hill International in partnership with the local sub-consultant Dar al-Omran to provide project construction management services last year. The project team is now preparing to tender construction contracts.

    “We have completed the first phase of the masterplan,” Said Mneimne, senior vice-president of Hill International, told MEED in an interview.

    “This summer, we will appoint a contractor for the enabling works. We will then appoint a contractor for the foundations and the structure,” he added.

    The scale of the project is a challenge for Jordan’s construction sector, and an international engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor may be needed to deliver the project.

    “We have not yet decided what the contracting strategy will be,” Mneimne said. 

    The project involves the construction of a university hospital with 330 beds, 72 outpatient clinics, a children’s hospital, and a medical school with a total capacity of 600 students and a projected annual intake of 100 students.

    The project also includes five medical centres of excellence focused on disciplines such as cardiology, oncology, neurology, gastroenterology and orthopaedics. There will also be four scientific research centres in genomics and precision medicine, stem cells and regenerative medicine, health systems and public health, and bioinformatics.

    The built-up area is estimated at 110,000 square metres. It will be located on the airport road, near the Ghamadan area on the outskirts of Amman.

    A joint venture of Lebanon’s Dar al-Handasah (Shair & Partners) and Perkins & Will was appointed for the engineering design and supervision services.

    SJFMEI is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Saudi Jordanian Investment Fund (SJIF). Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) owns 95 per cent of the fund, while Jordanian banks hold the remaining 5 per cent.

    Ownership of the project will be transferred to the Jordanian government after the end of the investment period.

    The hospital is the largest active standalone project in Jordan, according to regional projects tracker MEED Projects. The second-largest project is the estimated $228m King Hussein Bridge Terminal and Freight Yard project, which is at the prequalification stage.

    Disappointing decade

    Major projects are needed after a disappointing decade for Jordan’s construction sector. 

    Data from MEED Projects shows a fluctuating trend in the value of construction and transport contracts awarded in Jordan over the past 10 years.

    In 2013, the total value stood at $1.429bn. A sharp rise in 2014 to $2.475bn marked the peak of contract awards during the period.

    A steep fall was witnessed in the subsequent years, with the total value plunging to just $662m in 2015, a dramatic decrease of nearly 73 per cent from the previous year. This downward trajectory continued, with the value plummeting further to a record low of $79m in 2020 amid the global economic disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

    A closer look at the data indicates periods of minor recovery, notably in 2017, when contract awards rose to $866m, following a particularly poor performance in 2016 at just $159m.

    Despite these rebounds, the overall trend illustrates a declining construction and transport sector in Jordan, with the years 2021 and 2022 recording values of $32m and $86m, respectively, a stark contrast to the highs of 2013 and 2014.

    The fluctuating values in contract awards reveal the industry’s volatility over the past decade, linked to regional instability, economic downturns and global disruptions including the Covid-19 pandemic.
    Colin Foreman
  • Political deadlock in Lebanon blocks reforms

    5 June 2023


    Lebanon’s political deadlock is likely to continue to weigh on the country’s economy and undermine security over the medium term, according to experts.

    The country currently has an interim government and has been without a president since former President Michel Aoun’s term ended at the end of October last year.

    Progress towards forming a new government is likely to be slow, with the legislature divided over who should replace Aoun as president.

    In March, the Iran-backed Hezbollah group and House Speaker Nabih Berri’s Amal Movement party – which together constitute Lebanon’s Shia base – announced their support for the Christian politician Sleiman Frangieh.

    Hezbollah and its allies have since tried to gather support for Frangieh as president, but strong opposition from the majority of the country’s Christian, Sunni and Druze political blocs has left him short of the 65 votes required to be elected in the 128-member legislature.

    Over recent weeks, members of Lebanon’s parliament that oppose Frangieh have started to rally around the former finance minister Jihad Azour.

    Azour currently serves as the director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

    As the parliament is divided, whether either candidate can obtain a majority vote remains uncertain. According to experts, even if a president is named, it will be extremely difficult for them to form a government.

    Nicholas Blanford, a non-resident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Middle East programmes, says it will likely be some time before a government is formed.

    “Getting a president elected is only the first step,” he said. “Once the new president is in place, there is the tricky task of forming a new government.

    “As we’ve seen over the past 20 years, forming a new government can take months as people bicker and jostle for various lucrative and influential portfolios.”

    Barbara Leaf, the US assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, said on 31 May, during a Senate committee hearing, that the Biden administration was considering sanctions if a new president is not elected soon

    Outside pressure

    Only when a government has been formed will Lebanon be able to start initiating the series of reforms that the international community has demanded to unlock aid, grants and loans to try to put the country on the path to economic recovery.

    As Lebanon’s economic crisis has worsened and the security situation has declined, increasing pressure has been applied from other countries that want to try to restore stability in the region.

    Barbara Leaf, the US assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, said on 31 May, during a Senate committee hearing, that the Biden administration was considering sanctions if a new president is not elected soon.

    Separately, two members of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee called on the administration to impose sanctions on individuals involved in corruption to “make clear to Lebanon’s political class that the status quo is not acceptable”.

    In a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on 30 May, they said: “We also call on the administration to continue pressing for full accountability for the August 2020 Beirut port blast and support independent, international investigatory efforts into egregious fraud and malfeasance by the governor of Lebanon’s central bank.

    They added: “We must not allow Lebanon to be held hostage by those looking to advance their own selfish interests.”

    French crackdown

    French officials have also taken action to try to crack down on perceived corruption by members of Lebanon’s political elite.

    In May, French prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for Lebanon’s central bank governor, Riad Salameh.

    The warrant followed Salameh’s failure to appear before French prosecutors to be questioned on corruption charges.

    In response, Salameh issued a statement saying that the arrest warrant violated the law.

    Salameh has been the target of a series of judicial investigations at home and abroad on allegations that include fraud, money laundering and illicit enrichment.

    European investigators looking into the fortune he has amassed during three decades in the job had scheduled a hearing in Paris for 16 May.

    A key problem is you still have the same cabal of oligarchs in power and it is likely they will still be represented in the next government
    Nicholas Blanford, Atlantic Council’s Middle East programmes

    Breaking the deadlock

    Analysts believe cracking down on corruption among Lebanon’s political elite is key to breaking the country’s political deadlock.

    “A key problem is that you still have the same cabal of oligarchs in power and it is likely that they will still be represented in the next government,” said Blanford. “These oligarchs do not want reform because if they implement a meaningful reform process, they run the risk of losing their positions of power.”

    While the country’s opposing political blocs continue to vie for power and the formation of a new government seemingly remains only possible after at least several months of negotiations, the outlook for Lebanon in the short term looks bleak.

    Meaningful government assistance for Lebanese citizens struggling with declining security and heightened economic pressures remains a distant prospect. High levels of emigration are also likely to continue as the country’s population seeks relief from the hardships at home.
    Wil Crisp