Monthly briefing: 22 key developments in the region28 September 2022
By Indrajit Sen
> Opec+ agrees minor production increase
> King appoints crown prince as Saudi prime minister
> Lebanon parliament approves $1.2bn draft budget
> Iraq court rules against national oil company
> Libya oil production continues to grow
> President approves Egypt's Olympic plans
> Dubai prepares hydrogen strategy
> GCC central banks raise interest rates
> UK and GCC hold ministerial meeting at the UN
Oil producers will raise output by 100,000b/d in October
The Opec+ alliance of oil producers decided in September that it would increase oil production by just 100,000 barrels a day (b/d) in October to support crude prices, which have fluctuated in recent weeks amid fears that a global economic recession will curb demand for oil.
Opec+ members also increased overall oil production by 100,000b/d in September.
The alliance agreed to increase its July and August crude production by about 50 per cent to 648,000b/d, fully restoring the 5.8 million b/d output that the group had cut at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Read more
Deadly protests follow woman’s death in custody
Thirty-five people have been killed in protests in Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody on 16 September.
Protests have been reported in 31 provinces.
The 22-year-old Amini had been detained for breaking headscarf rules and was reportedly beaten with batons.
Officials said she suffered heart failure and Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi has stated that she was not beaten.
President Ebrahim Raisi pledged to crack down on the unrest on 24 September.
The official Islamic Republic News Agency reported on 25 September that there had been large-scale demonstrations to condemn the protests.
21 September: Iranian demonstrators take to the streets of Tehran during a protest for Mahsa Amini, days after she died in police custody. Credit: AFP via Getty Images
Dubai toll operator raises over $1bn from oversubscribed stock listing
Dubai toll operator Salik raised $1.017bn from its initial public offering (IPO) on the Dubai Financial Market, as part of a series of IPOs of state enterprises aimed at boosting the size of the emirate's capital market.
The IPO was more than 49 times oversubscribed across all tranches, with total gross demand at $50.2bn.
The company had set its offering price at AED2 ($0.54) a share, giving it a valuation of more than $4bn.
The emirate's government sold more than 1.867 billion shares in the company, or 24.9 per cent, up from the previously announced 1.5 billion shares, equivalent to 20 per cent.
Saudi Arabia, Arab League and EU hold meeting in New York
Saudi Foreign Affairs Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud and Arab League secretary-general Ahmed Aboul Gheit attended a meeting of the Arab Peace Initiative Committee and its sponsors in the EU. The meeting took place at the UN General Assembly in New York.
The Arab Peace Initiative, which Saudi Arabia launched in 2002, is a proposal to end the Arab-Israeli conflict. The members of the Arab Peace Initiative Committee are Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain, Tunisia, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iraq, Palestine, Qatar, Lebanon, Morocco and Yemen. The initiative is sponsored by Spain, Sweden and France.
Two years of high oil prices set to improve regional outlook
Rating agency Moody’s Investors Service has said that elevated oil prices during the next two years will lead to a significant improvement in the fiscal and external positions of GCC sovereigns, partly reversing the sharp deterioration in their balance sheets since 2015.
Improvements in creditworthiness will hinge on the extent to which regional governments utilise the windfall to address constraints posed by their exposure to cyclical oil price and demand volatility, and by longer-term carbon transition risks, Moody’s said.
The agency expects oil prices to average about $105 a barrel in 2022 and $95 a barrel in 2023. As a result, most hydrocarbon-exporting countries in the GCC will run fiscal and current account surpluses, allowing governments to pay down debts, rebuild fiscal reserves and accumulate foreign-currency buffers.
Regional banks are returning to pre-pandemic form
After a strong first half, ratings agency S&P Global expects that earnings for most GCC banks will almost reach pre-pandemic levels by the end of this year amid high oil prices and rising interest rates.
In the second half of 2022, S&P forecasts further strengthening of regional banks’ interest margins and a manageable rise in cost of risk amid lingering effects from the Covid-19 pandemic via loans that benefited from support measures and were then restructured. Combined, these factors will be a net positive for banks’ earnings.
Saudi infrastructure and property projects top $1.1tn
The aggregate value of property and infrastructure projects since the launch of Saudi Arabia’s National Transformation Plan in 2016 has crossed $1.1tn as the kingdom continues to diversify its economy, according to real estate consultancy Knight Frank.
The $500bn Neom city development is the biggest of 15 major projects in Saudi Arabia that are currently at various phases of construction. The kingdom plans to have more than 555,000 residential units, 275,000 hotel rooms, 4.3 million square metres (sq m) of retail and 6.1 million sq m of new office space by 2030.
The country is also developing several large-scale tourism projects as it seeks to increase the economic contribution of the sector from 3 per cent of GDP to 10 per cent by the end of this decade.
UK prime minister considers relocating British embassy
UK Prime Minister Liz Truss is considering moving the British embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Truss spoke about a possible move to the contested city during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York in September.
Despite Israel having designated Jerusalem as its capital, Britain has long maintained its embassy in Tel Aviv.
When he was president of the US, Donald Trump took the controversial decision to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem in May 2018.
Both Israelis and Palestinians claim the city as their capital.
First Saudi woman to be sent to space in a crewed mission
Saudi Arabia plans to send a woman into space for the first time as part of its new mission programme.
A crew will be launched next year that will include the first Saudi female pilot and astronaut.
The kingdom’s astronaut programme aims to produce qualified Saudi citizens who will take part in short- and long-term space flights, as well as participate in scientific experiments, international research and future space-related missions.
The new programme comes under the umbrella of Saudi Vision 2030 and will fall under the National Space Strategy, the details of which will be announced in the coming months.
FIFA WORLD CUP
Qatar to shut borders to non-World Cup ticket holders
Entry to Qatar will be restricted from 1 November to citizens, residents and holders of the World Cup Hayya card, the tournament’s organising committee has announced.
The suspension of visits by people not attending Fifa World Cup matches will continue until 23 December, five days after the final match takes place in Doha.
The restrictions apply to all air, land and sea borders into Qatar.
Football fans in possession of a match ticket for the World Cup must also apply for a Hayya entry permit – a pre-approved digital visa linked to a passport that offers free public transport around the country.
The Hayya card allows entry into Qatar until 23 January 2023.
Qatari citizens and residents, GCC citizens holding a Qatari identification card, holders of work entry permits and personal visas, and approved humanitarian cases will be exempt from the restrictions.
Exclusive from Meed
Kuwait cancels oil financing tender
6 June 2023
Region positions itself for sustainable future
6 June 2023
Hospital boost for Jordan construction
5 June 2023
Political deadlock in Lebanon blocks reforms
5 June 2023
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Sports Boulevard to seek construction partner for iconic buildings
6 June 2023
Saudi Arabia’s Sports Boulevard Foundation plans to work with contractors on a collaborative basis 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, 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 my 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 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 that the city has to offer. 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.https://image.digitalinsightresearch.in/uploads/NewsArticle/10916967/main.jpg
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.https://image.digitalinsightresearch.in/uploads/NewsArticle/10915058/main.gif
Region positions itself for sustainable future
6 June 2023
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 Reviewhttps://image.digitalinsightresearch.in/uploads/NewsArticle/10910825/main.gif
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.
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.https://image.digitalinsightresearch.in/uploads/NewsArticle/10914437/main.gif
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
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 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.https://image.digitalinsightresearch.in/uploads/NewsArticle/10907713/main.gif