Top 10 GCC contractors by country

29 March 2023


This article is part two of MEED's 2023 construction contractor ranking. The first part, MEED's 2023 top 10 GCC contractors, can be accessed hereKey points include: 

> Sentiment runs ahead of construction activity

> Improved outlook for the Gulf region’s construction market is not reflected in the 2023 contractor ranking

> Nesma & Partners retains its position as the most active GCC contractor, but its total value of work this year is down 22 per cent on 2022

PPP progress spurs Bahrain real estate

Bahrain is traditionally the smallest construction market in the GCC, a position that reflects the island kingdom’s small population and land area, combined with energy exports that are limited when compared to its neighbours. 

China Machinery Engineering Corporation continues to lead the ranking in 2023 with $689m-worth of work at the execution phase thanks to its contract to build the East Sitra development for the Housing Ministry.

In second position is Sharjah-based Al-Hamad Building Contracting, which is working on $560m-worth of projects. The contractor was the third-ranked contractor last year. 

In third position this year is the local Kooheji Contractors with $449m of projects. Its rise from eighth position in the ranking reflects the resurgent property market in Bahrain. The firm is part of the Kooheji group, which is developing new real estate projects in Manama, including the Onyx Sky View project that was launched at the end of last year.

Turkey’s Tav Construction – which was ranked fifth last year as it completed work at the airport – has now left the top 10. Its position in the ranking since 2016 demonstrated the importance of major projects to the Bahrain market.

While there has been a lull in construction activity in Bahrain over the past two years, major new projects are planned, including the Bahrain Metro and a second causeway bridge to Saudi Arabia. 

The Transport & Communications Ministry has prequalified companies for the metro, which will be developed as a public-private partnership (PPP). Similarly, the King Fahd Causeway Authority has approached contractors about working on the causeway, which is also being developed as a PPP. 

Airport contractor still leads in Kuwait

Kuwait’s ranking continues to be led by Limak with $5bn-worth of work at the execution stage. The Turkish contractor remains active on the expansion of Kuwait International airport. It could be the last year that Limak heads the Kuwait ranking, however, as the airport work is due for completion this year. 

The rest of the contractors below Limak have endured a significant drop in the value of the projects they are engaged on. The average total value of projects being worked on for the top 10 in 2023 is $1.1bn, down from $1.7bn in 2022.

Occupying the second and third places in this year’s ranking are two of Kuwait’s largest contracting companies. Ahmadiah Contracting & Trading Company is in second place with $1.1bn of work, followed by Mohammed Abdulmohsin al-Kharafi & Sons with $900m. 

With Limak’s work at the airport coming to a close, these two companies are likely to return to the top of the Kuwait ranking in 2024. 

The only other international companies in the Kuwait top 10 are Italy’s Impresa Pizarotti in sixth place with $730m of work and India’s Shapoorji Pallonji in seventh place with $687m of work at the execution stage.

Little change in Oman as big projects loom

Oman’s contractor ranking has remained largely static this year. The local Galfar Engineering & Contracting tops the list again with $1.05bn of work, down slightly on the $1.1bn of projects it was working on in 2022. 

Last year’s second- and third-ranked contractors have switched places. The local Al-Adrak Trading & Contracting Company is now ranked second with $800m of work and the local Al-Tasnim Enterprises is ranked third with $770m.

India’s Larsen & Toubro is the only international company that makes the top 10 this year. It is ranked number five with projects worth $280m at the execution stage. 

International companies could figure more prominently in the ranking in future. Oman-Etihad Rail Company is expected to tender construction contracts connecting Oman and the UAE later this year, and it is likely that international contractors will be involved in delivering that project. 

Similarly, tentative steps have been taken on the proposed Muscat Metro project. This scheme is unlikely to move into construction by next year, but if it goes ahead, it will offer more significant opportunities for international players.  

Qatar numbers drop in post-World Cup lull

After years of doubt and criticism, Qatar’s construction market successfully delivered the infrastructure, stadiums and hotels needed to host the Fifa World Cup last year. 

The problem is, with that 10-year building programme now complete, there are few projects left for contractors to work on. This is most clearly shown in the 2023 contractor ranking by the local Urbacon Trading & Contracting Company’s numbers. 

This year, the firm has $1.8bn-worth of projects at the execution stage, which is significantly less than the $4.9bn it was working on in 2022.

To counter the decline in the domestic market, Urbacon is pursing opportunities internationally. The company recently secured two major contracts in Saudi Arabia for the construction of entertainment complexes. 

Other contractors are likely to pursue a similar strategy as they face fewer new Qatari projects moving into the construction phase in the near term. 

There is a hope that major schemes such as the Doha Bay Crossing and extensions to the metro will move ahead, however. If these schemes do progress, then they are likely to spend the next year in the design and tendering phases before they move into construction.

Gigaprojects shake up Saudi ranking

Saudi Arabia is the region’s most exciting construction market in 2023. After six years of planning, construction work is now well under way on the kingdom’s five gigaprojects – Neom, Qiddiya, The Red Sea, Roshn and Diriyah Gate – as well as on a host of other masterplan projects such as Sports Boulevard and King Salman Park.

As construction ramps up, logic would dictate that the value of projects that contractors are working on would also increase. Somewhat surprisingly, this has not been the case, and in the 2023 ranking, most of the top 10 are working on a lower value of projects than they were in 2022. 

This could be explained by the fact that several legacy projects in the kingdom have been completed in the past year, but it also suggests that while there is an expectation of a significant ramp-up in construction activity, it has not quite happened yet.

The top-ranked contractor, Nesma & Partners, shows this trend clearly. In 2022 it was working on $6.8bn of projects. In 2023 it is working on $5.3bn. 

The second-ranked Saudi Binladin Group has experienced a similar decline, with its total value falling from $6.5bn to $4bn. 

There are several explanations for this trend. Some say projects are moving into construction more slowly than expected as they get bogged down in the design phase, and that decision making at the senior level is hampering design and procurement decisions. Others say that the market is already operating at full capacity and can not take on more work. 

Some respite for the market is in sight. This year, the Public Investment Fund invested in four contractors: Almabani, Nesma, El-Seif Engineering & Construction and Al-Bawani. These firms are expected to grow rapidly and take a leading role in delivering projects for Vision 2030. 

Other companies are also expanding. One is the local Modern Building Leaders, which has entered the top 10 this year at number eight, with $2.3bn of work at the execution stage. Its main project wins have been the Royal Arts Complex in Riyadh and the expansion of Duba Port. 

With so many large projects expected to move into construction in the next year, there will be plenty of opportunities for contractors in Saudi Arabia to build up their order books. This should mean that the kingdom’s ranking will be a dynamic one in the years ahead. 

All change in the UAE construction market

The top 10 contractor ranking for the UAE shows a shift in the order of companies and the growing dominance of Abu Dhabi-based contractors, as well as a general decline in the value of projects being worked on. 

National Marine Dredging Company (NMDC) has taken the top spot with projects worth $2.3bn. The Abu Dhabi-listed contractor has moved up from fourth position in the 2022 ranking.

NMDC replaces Beijing-based China State Construction Engineering Corporation, which was at the top of the 2022 ranking with project values worth $2.6bn. The Chinese firm has dropped to third place this year with projects worth $1.6bn. Its fall from the top of the ranking can largely be explained by it completing a series of real estate projects in Dubai in the past year. 

China State’s orderbooks are expected to swell this year as Dubai’s property market remains buoyant and major projects start moving into construction. An example is Wasl’s Island project, which involves the construction of several high-end hotels on a man-made island close to Marsa al-Arab. 

Abu Dhabi-based Trojan General Contracting has moved up from the sixth position in 2022 to the second position in 2023, with project values worth $1.7bn. 

Another Abu Dhabi-based firm, Al-Amry Transport & General Contracting, has moved into the top 10 to occupy the fourth position in the 2023 raking, with $1.2bn of projects at the execution phase.

In fifth position is iBuild, which is working on $1.2bn of projects. The company is part of Innovo Holding UK, a London-registered firm with ownership links to ASGC, which occupied 10th position in the 2023 ranking with $774m of projects at the executions stage. 

Although they are separate companies, if iBuild and ASGC were taken together they would be working on $2bn-worth of projects and would occupy the second position in the ranking. 

Another contractor in the ranking that has gone through corporate change is Dubai-based Alec. Ranked seventh with $919m of work, it completed the acquisition of Abu Dhabi-based Target Engineering last year, giving it a foothold in the oil and gas market. Both Alec and Target now aim to double their turnover in the next five years, mostly with work from the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

MEED's 2023 top 10 GCC contractors
Colin Foreman
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