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Sultan Ahmed Al Suwaidi: Championing Energy and Infrastructure in the UAE

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Sultan Ahmed Al Suwaidi, the UAE’s Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, has emerged as a pivotal figure in the nation’s ambitious plans to diversify its energy sources and enhance its infrastructure. With a rich history of education and career accomplishments, Al Suwaidi’s mission encompasses significant responsibilities, including addressing controversies and spearheading renewable energy initiatives.

Sultan Ahmed Al Suwaidi was born into a family deeply rooted in the UAE’s development landscape. His early education was marked by a keen interest in engineering and technology, leading him to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from a prestigious university. Recognizing the importance of advanced knowledge in managing large-scale projects, he furthered his education with a Master’s degree in Engineering Management.

Al Suwaidi’s career began in the public sector, where he quickly established a reputation for his technical expertise and leadership skills. His early roles involved overseeing major infrastructure projects, including the construction of highways, bridges, and public buildings. His dedication and effectiveness in these roles did not go unnoticed, and he was soon appointed to more senior positions within the government.

As the Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, Al Suwaidi’s mission is multifaceted. He is tasked with ensuring the sustainable development of the UAE’s energy resources, overseeing the maintenance and expansion of critical infrastructure, and promoting the integration of renewable energy sources into the national grid. His vision aligns with the UAE’s broader strategy of reducing its dependence on fossil fuels and embracing a more sustainable and diversified energy mix.

To Reduce The Environmental Footprint of Infrastructure Projects

Like many high-profile leaders, Al Suwaidi has faced his share of controversies. Critics have pointed to delays in some infrastructure projects and questioned the transparency of certain procurement processes. Additionally, there have been debates about the balance between economic growth and environmental sustainability, particularly in the context of large-scale construction projects that may impact natural habitats.

Al Suwaidi has addressed these controversies by emphasizing the importance of robust project management practices and transparent governance. He has also advocated for the adoption of advanced technologies to improve efficiency and reduce the environmental footprint of infrastructure projects. His approach includes engaging with stakeholders, including environmental groups and the public, to ensure that development projects align with the nation’s sustainability goals.

Involvement in Renewable Energy

One of the most notable aspects of Al Suwaidi’s tenure has been his commitment to renewable energy. Under his leadership, the UAE has made significant strides in this area, launching several high-profile projects aimed at harnessing solar and wind energy. The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, one of the largest solar parks in the world, stands as a testament to these efforts.

Al Suwaidi has also been instrumental in shaping policies that encourage investment in renewable energy. He has worked to create a regulatory environment that supports innovation and attracts international partners. His efforts have not only contributed to the UAE’s energy diversification but have also positioned the country as a leader in renewable energy within the region.

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The historic train line linking the UAE and Israel among new infrastructure projects

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The historic train line linking the UAE and Israel is among several agreed infrastructure projects following the Abraham Accords in 2020. The two countries seek to forge closer relations, with the line set to allow Israel to access new markets in the UAE, eventually carrying passengers from the Mediterranean to the Gulf. 

A historic re-opening to a historic line connecting Dubai and Haifa

At one time in the past it was possible to take the Hejaz Rail Line from Medina in Saudi Arabia to Damascus, and then onward to Haifa. After the establishment of the State of Israel however, this stopped, but based on comments made at Expo 2020 in Dubai from Merav Michaeli, Israel’s Minister of Transportation and Road Safety, the Al-Marj Train, built on the historic Hejaz line, may soon be running again. According to Michaeli, a train out towards Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, from Dubai to Haifa, is one of several big infrastructure projects being discussed between the UAE and Israel to build better relations and increase co-operation.

A sign of improving relations

The joint infrastructure projects are a sign of improving relations between the two countries which have had strained relations in the past. Israel was called ‘The Enemy’ by the first president of the United Arab Emirates, and there was another rocky period following the assassination of Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in 2010. In recent years though, the relationship has taken a big step forward with the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020, the first public statement normalizing relations between an Arab country and Israel since that of Jordan in 1994, and the establishment of diplomatic embassies in Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv. More than 50 agreements have now been signed between the two nations in diverse sectors, including the train line from Haifa to Dubai.

The Al-Marj train line in Israel, connecting the towns of Haifa and Beit She’an re-opened in Israel in 2016, connecting the Jordan River Crossing, Jalamah, and the Jenin area in the West Bank. The idea was that it could be extended towards Saudi Arabia and the gulf. Eventually, it would link Haifa to Dubai. As far as infrastructure projects are concerned, this is a relatively easy one to start with as the tracks needed for the rail connection are nearly all in place. With the exception of 200-300 kilometers of line that remains to be built in Jordan, the line is ready to connect the UAE and Israel.

Benefits for everyone involved

Once all the tracks are in place, goods from Israel can be transported to the UAE within a couple of days, rather than the approximately 12 days it currently takes when shipping along the Suez Canal. It will also allow Israeli producers to access new markets – fresh vegetables in particular are in demand in the UAE.

The project, backed by the United States, will also benefit the economy of Jordan. Jordan is in desperate need of an economic boost, with unemployment on the rise and reaching 25% in 2021, with youth unemployment rates reaching an unprecedented 48.1%. Both the employment created by the building of the infrastructure for the rail line, and revenue from the long-term operation of the line will inject much-needed funding to the country.

Egypt watches with wary eyes

Not everyone in the region is excited about a possible new railway line between Israel and the UAE. In Egypt, where Suez Canal revenue is the third largest source of national income, representing 10% of the GDP and an important source of hard currency, a land passage between Israel and the Gulf states is not welcome news. Nor are reports that the UAE intends to buy Haifa Port in Israel, leading Egyptian economists to talk about the upcoming impact on Egypt’s economy from the two states forging closer relations.

While the agreement is a big step, there are still many challenges before the line becomes operational. Nonetheless, the prospect of rail travel from Abu Dhabi to Israel leads to the question: Will Israeli passengers be able to travel to Abu Dhabi by train, like they could on the famous Hejaz Rail Line back in the time of the Ottoman Turks? According to the ministry, the network will one day be able to transport passengers from the Mediterranean to the east, and between the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia and Iraq to the west. Perhaps in time, after the successful launch of rail transit of containers between Dubai and Israel via Jordan and Saudi Arabia, passengers will be a possibility again.

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Music Streaming Service Anghami gets listed and moves to the UAE

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Anghami is now the first Middle East Tech Company to be listed on NASDAQ, following its acquisition by a SPAC and pending relocation the United Arab Emirates

The Middle East’s Top Music Streaming Platform

In 2012, Anghami revolutionized the way music was consumed in the Middle East by launching the first legal music streaming company in the Arab World. Now, it becomes the first Middle Eastern tech company to list on NASDAQ after merging with a special acquisition company (SPAC), Vistas Media Acquisition. With a music catalog including Arab labels such as Melody, Mazzika and Platinum Records alongside international labels like Sony and Warner, Anghami quickly grew in popularity. Initially launched in Lebanon, the company is relocating its headquarters to the United Arab Emirates with the support of the Abu Dhabi Investment Office’s (ADIO) Innovation Program. Anghami co-founder Elie Habib has been quick to make sure people know that they will “continue to have offices and teams and [they] are still recruiting in Beirut.”

Where Spotify goes Solo, Anghami goes Social

Anghami faced tough competition when it initially launched, with French company Deezer pouring $130 million into a regional expansion in the same year. Since then competition has only increased, with Spotify, Apple Music, and of course YouTube having a global reach, and significantly more resources at their disposal. Despite this, Anghami has managed to grow to have more than 70 million registered users, with over 1 billion streams every month.

Despite the crowded space, Habib was never worried about competition from these other providers as he felt the product was fundamentally different. He has stated that “We aren’t exactly tit for tat with Spotify – we have our own roadmap and differentiators that we focus on…we noticed, for instance, that most users were sharing music with others on WhatsApp, and a lot of our incoming traffic [also] happens via WhatsApp. If users use WhatsApp to send music, this means that they want to share.”

It is sharing that has been key to Anghami’s success. Habib’s theory is that music was meant to be social, not consumed alone, so the service makes it easy to connect with people and bond over music choices. Deep-learning and machine learning algorithms are used to match listeners with profiles that choose similar music, which led to people following more playlists from their matched users.

Anghami has continued with this focus, launching a live radio that features real-time text chat and voice chat to let any user, including artists and DJs talk to each other while playing songs and podcasts from Anghami’s library.

Another Tech Company in Abu Dhabi

The Government of the United Arab Emirates has been trying to entice innovative tech companies for some time, with the goal of turning the country from a consumer of technology to a producer of technology. Its Hub71 incentive program offers subsidized housing, office space and health insurance for companies in the seed and emergent phase, and while Anghami might be beyond that, Habib has stated that the city will invest in both the team and their research in the years to come. Part of the merger agreement is a $40 million commitment from UAE financial firm Shuaa Capital.

Capitalizing on the Extra Capital

Anghami will continue to operate under its own name after the merger with Vistas Media Acquisition. The pro-forma enterprise value is listed at $220 million, and it has been speculated that the company could be valued at close to $300 million following the deal. It is the first time a Middle East Tech Startup has made it on to NASDAQ and speaks volumes to the success of the company. Habib has said that they want to have “deeper penetration into high-growth, high revenue markets.” The newly raised funds are expected to be used to expand further in both Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

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Tourist numbers to Dubai continue to grow in 2019

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When you look at most cities in the world that serves as major tourist destinations, they tend to have long and illustrious histories. London and Hong Kong both have histories dating back 2,000 years or more, Luxor dates back over 5,000, and Athens some 3,500 years. But Dubai is very much a modern city in every way with little in the way of history, so it was very much a sandy tabula rasa for the rulers to write their ideas and dreams on. 

Although Dubai has brief mentions in the annals of travellers and traders as far back as the 11th century, it was little more than a waypoint though the general area was popular for pearl fishers. The Al Abu Falasa dynasty founded Dubai proper in the early years of the 19th century and one early historical footnote of interest is the signing of the “General Maritime Peace Treaty” between several of the regions sheikhs and the British government which was the first formal denunciation of slavery in history. 

In 1892, Dubai became a British protectorate, with tax exemption granted to foreign traders in 1894. By the early years of the 20th century, the Sheikh of Dubai had convinced a British steamship company to make Dubai a port of call, perhaps the first real hint of the city’s future. The merchant class gained strength with Dubai cementing its position as the main – and busiest – port in the Gulf, and they continue to be at the heart of the city’s political and power structures.

Dubai had a lean period between 1920 and the late 1960s with economic blows from the collapse of the pearl industry, the Great Depression, and World War II. This period was marked not only by poverty but by political unrest and instability. 

Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum : the Modernisation and Revitalisation of Dubai

Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum became ruler of Dubai in 1958 and it was he who was the driving force behind the modernisation and revitalisation of the city. The United Kingdom’s announcement in the late 1960s that they were withdrawing protection led to the foundation of the United Arab Emirates in 1971 in order for the small kingdoms to work together in defence and economically. 

But it was oil that was the real game-changer for the area but for Dubai in particular. With the discovery of oil in 1966 and the first shipment in 1969, the ruling family now had the funds to start realising their visions for the city.

Emirates Airlines has played a big part in the growth of Dubai. It operates over 3,600 flights a week from Dubai and the geographical location of Dubai has helped it become the major hub for many long-haul flights. The government saw that people looking to break up 15-25 hour flights offered huge potential tourism wise and billions of dollars were pumped into that area. They also realised that as oil production slowed down in the early 1990s – not to mention the constantly fluctuating prices – they need to diversify in order to survive and grow. 

A New Record of 16.73 Million of Tourists

That diversification has seen Dubai become not only a major tourist destination but also a regional centre for finance and real estate. Its diversity is perhaps underlined by the fact that some 90% of its population are foreigners, with many seeing the rich emirate as an ideal hub for many types of businesses.

2019 was a record year, with visitor numbers rising 5.1% from the previous year to a new record of 16.73 million. India keeps its top spot of providing the most visitors, with just under two million tourists, and Saudi Arabia and the UK stay 2nd and 3rd respectively. Omani tourists saw the biggest jump with a 24.3% increase in visitors from 2019. 

So why do so many tourists continue to flock to Dubai? As mentioned, a major factor is the city’s location combined with the routes flown by Emirates Airline. Many people initially chose to just have a one-day layover in the city to break up their long haul flights and to reduce the effects of jet lag. But now, the average length of stay is 3.5 to 4 nights, giving visitors an opportunity to sample some of Dubai’s many attractions. 

The Magnificence of the Burj Khalifa and the Splendour of the Burj Al-Arab

And this is where Dubai excels. They have taken a hot and arid desert with average temperatures that range from 25 degrees Celsius to the low 40s and turned it into an air-conditioned paradise for tourists and expats. The magnificence of the Burj Khalifa and the splendour of the Burj al-Arab (the world’s tallest hotel) continues to wow visitors. The Dubai Mall offers a cornucopia of shopping and entertainment choices and the Dubai Aquarium attached to the mall is one of the city’s most popular tourist spots. 

But not all the attractions are modern. The beauty of the Jumeirah Mosque is a must-see and the souks of Deira give a glimpse into Dubai’s merchant past. Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary is perfect for nature lovers and Kite Beach is ideal for those looking to soak up some rays or watch the spectacular kite-surfing. 

Dubai is a destination that offers something for everyone – if you can afford it – and numbers will likely continue to grow throughout the coming decade. 

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2020 World Expo Dubai: a first for the region

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world expo dubai

The World Expo will be held in Dubai in 2020, meaning that the MENA & SA (Middle East and North Africa & South Asia) region will host the event for the first time. The Expo began in London back in 1851, and once every 5 years a new location plays host to the global event. Hosting such a prestigious event comes as a huge boon for Dubai’s continually growing economy, and marks a breakthrough for the region as a whole. The event demands a lot of planning, not just for the initial hosting, but for the long term use for all the investments.

A long road to completion

The process of securing the right to host the 2020 World Expo began back in 2011, when 5 cities made the final shortlist. These cities were Sao Paulo in Brazil, Yekaterinburg in Russia, Izmir in Turkey, and Dubai of the UAE. Dubai’s bid was titled “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”, and in 2013 it was announced that Dubai had won.

The Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) are the body responsible for selecting the winning bid, and after 164 member nations had voted, Dubai was the runaway victor with 116 votes.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, said at the time “I am proud of our teams who earned this victory for Dubai with two years of hard work, dedication and commitment.”

The process to build the infrastructure for the Expo then began; as the 6 month event will see millions of visitors arrive, with the potential to generate an additional $40 billion of revenue for the economy, as 277,000 new jobs are created. The main site for the event is named Al Wasl, which means “The Connection” in Arabic, and the 4.38 sq km site will feature a 65 meter tall dome that includes a 360 degree screen to project images to the thousands of visitors.

Every nation that is appearing at the Expo will have its own pavilion, and there will also be 3 main pavilions for the central themes of the event, which are “sustainability”, “mobility” and “opportunity”. Contracts for the construction of these 3 key sites will be awarded later this year.

The UAE is only 45 years old as a nation, but the history of the people and the region is obviously far deeper. To try and illustrate this point, the 2020 Expo’s logo was based upon a ring that was discovered at a 4,000-year-old archaeological site in the Al Marmum area of Dubai.

Sheikh Mohammed said that the logo “represents our message to the world that our civilization has deep roots. We were and will always be a pot that gathers civilizations and a center for innovation.”

Building for the Future

Many major global events lead to their hosts finding that they are left with large debts rather than long term growth. The Olympic Games and soccer World Cup have often proved a cost, rather than an economic boost, to their host cities. However, Dubai’s planners are confident that they are building for sustained growth.

Aside from the new jobs created to prepare for the Expo, the organizers say that 80% of the buildings created for the event will continue to be used once it has ended. An additional 28,000 hotel rooms will have been built by 2018, and this should help continue Dubai’s growing tourism trade.

In addition, major expansion of the Al Maktoum International Airport is planned to carry on after the Expo, with the works to finish in 2025. The 2020 Dubai Expo is also aiming to be the first one in which more than 70% of the visitors are from overseas, which should again help sell Dubai as a tourist destination to many people new to the region.

A new city is being built in the Dubai South region, a city which will eventually host 1 million residents and 500,000 jobs. Long term contingency plans for the various developments used at the Expo are in place, and already Siemens has announced that, from 2021, it will use Expo site as its global logistics base.

The arrival of the 2020 World Expo should dovetail well with the government’s Vision 2021 plans, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid has promised “to astonish the world in 2020.”

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In Dubai, child’s play is good business

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Fairytales Dubai

Two Emirati women combine family with entrepreneurship to launch Fairytales, an indoor play area for young children.

Basma Al Fahim and Fatma Al Madani wanted to spend more time with their young children. But to them, that didn’t mean staying at home all day like many of their fellow Emirati women.

Instead they launched Fairytales, an indoor play area for young children in Dubai. For the two friends, business innovation began with family.

Al Madani had left a seven-year career in government to focus on raising her two young daughters while Al Fahim, who has two young sons, had already launched several successful businesses when they opened Fairytales in December.

Arabian Business recently recognized Al Fahim and Al Madani for their entrepreneurship.

The play center is a new idea in the United Arab Emirates, where most women stay home to take care of their children and only 14 percent of the workforce is women, mostly younger women who have been able to attain an education as the federation of emirates modernizes.

Inspiring creativity, growth

Unable to obtain bank financing for their project, the two women funded the business themselves from their savings.

“The concept was inspired by our children,” Al Madani said, noting that their children were playing pirates and fairies while the two women held their first brainstorming session in the same room.

“They reminded us of how we played as kids’’ before digital devices came along, she said. That sparked the goal of creating an environment that stimulates the child’s imagination and intellectual growth.

Their priorities as mothers – education, healthy food, and safety – became priorities for their business, according to Al Fahim, who had already started a fashion brand, an events company, and a beauty salon.

Teach social responsibility

At Fairytales, their goal to spark the imagination and creative thinking of each child as well as to instill social responsibility among the children, who are up to age eight.

They donated more than 200 children’s books during a local donation campaign on behalf of young cancer patients in Dubai Hospital on World Cancer Day.

The two also took part in a Happy Hearts project, organized by The Happy Box in Dubai, which sent more than 600 handmade cards to orphans in India.

Basma Al Fahim and Fatma Al Madani

A serial entrepreneur

Al Fahim brought significant business experience to the venture as founder and managing director of Eventra Events, an event-planning agency.

After studying marketing at Zayed University, she moved to Dubai and worked in digital and brand marketing. Coming from a prominent business family, she wanted to set a pioneering example for young Emirati women.

Her family’s conglomerate is the Al Fahim Group, whose activities include support for development of oil and gas fields, luxury cars, hotel management and investments. She chairs the company’s employment committee.

Events business succeeds

She opened the events business in 2010, bringing a fresh approach to events ranging from corporate gatherings to weddings to exhibitions. Today, Eventra is a premier event management company in Dubai.

Al Fahim went on to open The Dollhouse, a beauty salon with what she described as a “super chic” atmosphere and attention to detail and glamour.

After establishing The Dollhouse, she also launched Sirkaya, a fashion line that has become a well-known brand in Dubai.

After starting Eventra with three employees, she said she now has more than 100 working on her different ventures.

Advice for young entrepreneurs

She said she has many more business ideas. Growth plans keep her motivated.

“When I say growing I mean improving,” she said.

Al Fahim encouraged young Emirati entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams by having confidence in themselves and focusing on key goals.

“Keep your mind positive,” she said. “Train your brain to think positively to attract the right energy in your life.”

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Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi : The Arab World’s Most Powerful Woman

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Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi

Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi’s more than decade-long political career began with the groundbreaking distinction of being the first woman appointed to a ministerial office in the UAE.

CEO Middle East magazine has ranked United Arab Emirates’ Minister of International Cooperation and Development (MICAD, also called the Ministry of Tolerance), Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, the most powerful Arab woman for the sixth year in a row. The first woman to hold a government ministerial position in the UAE, Sheikha Lubna’s long political career has enabled her to rise through the ranks of a male-dominated society.

A member of the ruling party, Lubna is the niece of his Highness Dr. Sheiki Sultan bin Mohammand Al Qasimi, the current ruler of the Sharajah Emirate and a member of the Supreme Council of the UAE. Before her political career took off, Sheikha Lubna studied in the United States, where she received her Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science before undertaking her MBA with the American University of Sharajah.

Becoming the Most Powerful Arab Woman: Education, Family and Positions of Power

CEO Middle East magazine creates its ranking of 100 powerful Arab women based upon the number of lives each woman has touched. With more than a decade in political office, Sheikha Lubna’s position of power has enabled her to create and inform UAE policies, impacting the lives of millions.

Her professional career includes a litany of impressive feats across business and financial sectors: in 2000, she became the CEO of Tejari, the first business-to-business e-market place in the Middle East; acted as the head of the Dubai e-Government executive team and was responsible for instituting initiatives throughout Dubai’s public sector in 2004; and Sheikha served as the Chairperson of the board of Directors of the UAE’s Securities and Commodities Authority from 2004-2008. In addition to her MBA, Sheikha Lubna has three Honorary Doctorates: Law and Economics from in science, from California State University (Chico), in Law, from the University of Exeter (United Kingdom) and in Economics, from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (Korea). Honorary Doctorates are given in recognition of contribution to the field, and are usually awarded after an individual and provided a commencement speech or rendered another service to a university.

In 2004, Sheikha Lubna was appointed Minister of Economy, earning the distinction of the UAE’s first female minister. After a successful tenure at Minister of Economy, Sheikha Lubna became Minister of Foreign Trade in 2008. In 2013, she was appointed Minister of the Ministry for Cooperation and Development, and in March 2014 appointed as President for Zayed University (one of the UAE’s highest ranking tertiary educational institutions), as well as the Head of the UAE Committee of Humanitarian Aid just two months later.

Moving Up, As a Woman

Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi with Bill Gates

Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi with Bill Gates

Sheikha Lubna’s impressive educational, professional and political career would have likely been impossible without her family connections and high standing in Emirati society. That being said, it was due to Sheikha Lubna’s perseverance and persistence that her family allowed her to pursue her academic interests.

“I wanted to be a computer engineer and my dream was to go to the US…It took a lot of [effort] from my brothers to convince my parents to let me go, but I [went to] the UK, and I stayed with a British family. As long as I was within a family environment, it was OK by my parents and eventually I went to the US,” Sheikha Lubna said at the Global Women’s Forum Dubai earlier this year.

Lifting Women along her Journey

Not only does Sheikha Lubna use her position to create positive change for Emiratis, but she is an influential figure for women throughout the Arab world. Her story of academic and professional success is no doubt inspirational for the millions of women who have not had strong female role models.

This highlights the difficulties Emirati, and Arab, women continue to face: Sheikha Lubna is from a very well-respected family, and yet it was her brothers who had to petition her parents on her behalf. When asked why she chose to return to the UAE, where her path would be presumably more challenging than if she stayed lived in a more equitable society, she said “I came back to the UAE because I owed to it to my country and to the leaders, and not many people get such opportunities.”

Sheikha Lubna has been recognized by Forbes and the Wall Street Journal as one of the most influential women in the world, regardless of region. Her sense of duty to her nation and countrywomen is truly remarkable. It has been a challenging road to be the first female minister in the UAE, and her dedication has not gone unnoticed.

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Sharjah launches Sheraa entrepreneurship center

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2016 brings the launch of entrepreneurship centre “Sheraa” based in Sharjah, complete with royal inauguration.

In an increasingly competitive commercial world, most countries are recognizing that to ensure a successful economic future they must invest in companies and the people creating them. Hence, it was with pride that the emirate of Sharjah welcomed His Highness Shaikh Dr Sultan Bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, to attend the official launch of the Sheraa, the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Centre.

On the 17th of January, 2016, an official ceremony took place inaugurating the opening of the center at the American University of Sharjah. An initiative of Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), it aims to encourage and support aspiring entrepreneurs. Simultaneously it hopes to boost the profile of the emirate, as an innovative and sought after place to start an enterprise.

“Here at Sharjah, we are witnessing the birth of a new initiative for the future of the nation,” explained HE Marwan bin Jassim Al Sarkal, CEO of Shurooq.

Why Sharjah?

A long standing hub for commerce, the emirate of Sharjah is the third largest in the United Arab Emirates, estimated to have a population of around one million. Its long history, dating back 6,000 years, is steeped in trading, fishing and pearling. Now Sharjah’s main trade is crude oil and gas, while the economy benefits from a variety of means such as tourism, education and logistics.



Nestling so close that it is regarded as a suburb of Dubai, this bustling country is one of the wealthiest in the UAE, and represents 48% of the UAE’s total Industrial Sector. Its geographical location is also ideal for trade and commerce with Europe, Africa and Asia.

Also known as the “rising sun,” the emirate is becoming well known for its emerging business talent and support of. Acknowledging the role enterprise has had on advancing many other countries, HE Marwan Bin Jassim Al Sarkal expressed his hopes for the UAE. “According to the Entrepreneurship and Development Institute, UAE occupied first place in supporting entrepreneurship and we strive to achieve first place internationally in this sector,” he said. It is in this spirit, to support and nurture, that Sheraa has been conceived.

About the University

Set up as a facility to not only educate but also as an investment in the future of Sharjah, the overall goal is to make a difference, to improve the prosperity of the economy and to develop its society. Highlighting this ambition during the opening ceremony Sheikha Bodour Bint Sultan Al Qassimi, Chairperson of Shurooq, confided that the investment in Sheraa, “reflects our complete belief in the ability of our youth to make a difference and positively contribute in the enhancement of our economy and development of our society,” she said.

So what can a young student of Sheraa expect from the course to help lead them in this positive direction? With an emphasis on innovation, creativity and development, encouragement will be given to explore ideas. Meanwhile students are to be directed in how to apply their visionary concepts in the business world, practical knowledge of the working business climate will be taught as well as assistance given to find the right business path within the emirate. The hope is that students will be inclined to remain in Sharjah, with the incentive of possible help to jump-start their projects from established entrepreneurs within the UAE.


Recognizing the current trend of the business world and how to move forward positively into the future, Sheraa is clear in its aim: to produce creative and innovative business men and women. The university will run cutting edge programs, adapting to the ever changing business climate.

As fast as technology progresses so too does business and it is with this in mind that Sharjah wants to ensure they are forerunners in the field. Already renowned for trade, culture and fossil fuels, the emirate is looking to carve a new niche for itself. To enter onto the global market as a key player will not only ensure other countries are unable to monopolize on the sector but in addition, that foreign businesses will not move in and corner the market. Sheraa is just a step towards ensuring continuing prosperity for the Emirate of Sharjah and the young men and women of the future.

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Najla Al-Midfa Breaks the Glass Ceiling

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Najla Al-Midfa

Najla Al-Midfa set her sights above the solid glass ceiling in the Emirati banking sector, joining as the first female board member at the United Arab Bank, and founding an online mentorship community to provide young Emiratis with more equitable opportunities.

The Muslim world is often portrayed as an oppressively sexist society despite some seemingly modern societies, such as the United Arab Emirates. Despite its widely publicized modernization, for women living in the UAE, life is undeniably inequitable: by law, Emirati women cannot marry non-Muslim men unless they convert (whereas men can marry a woman regardless of her religious affiliation), and wedding contracts are negotiated between future husband and a woman’s male guardian; sex outside of marriage is illegal, women cannot unilaterally divorce their husbands (whereas men can), and in order to petition for divorce must prove that they have been abandoned for more than three months, that they have been physically abused or that a husband has been financially negligent; and in the case of divorce, a woman’s custody rights may be revoked should she re-marry.

The First Step on the Career Ladder

Emirati women are lesser citizens than their male counterparts, which makes individual rebellions against the system all the more remarkable. Najla Al-Midfa, a native Emirati born and raised in Sharjah, is a prime example of the incredible strength and acumen Emirati women possess. Al-Midfa was born and raised in an affluent neighborhood in Dubai and received her Master in Business and Administration from Stanford University before entering the entrepreneurial world of the UAE. Upon her 2010 return to the UAE, Al-Midfa joined the Khalifa Fund. The Khalifa Fund was launched in 2007 to support young, local entrepreneurs in Abu Dhabi enter the business world. The Khalifa Fund was the perfect starting point for Al-Midfa: she wanted to use her business and interpersonal skills to promote local entrepreneurs in a comprehensive way. She guided a team through the due diligence process, and helped identify smart investments. While at the Khalifa Fund, Al-Midfa was constantly questioned about her career path: it was these questions that inspired her to create a mentorship program so that young people would have guidance after their academic careers.

Starting Up to Help Others Starting Out

Al-Midfa left the Khalifa Fund and founded Khayarat. Khayarat gives recent graduates exclusive access to existing companies, connecting them with potential mentors who can offer personal advice on entering the workforce. The online career development platform targets the 18-25 year old market so they can launch their careers in the private sector. Khayarat promotes companies through individual company pages that provide a complete analysis of the company: a Khayarat team visits each company and photographs the workspace and employees so prospective employees can get a feel for the atmosphere. For international businesses, this personal touch is important. Khayarat only visits local branches of international companies, which might not be highlighted on a given corporate website. By highlighting the local branch, Khayarat provides a comprehensive directory of local private sector companies with which recent graduates could work.


A Crack in the Ceiling

Not only is Al-Midfa the founder of her own business, but she has worked for numerous international firms and is on several boards of directors and committees. It is common knowledge that, while women make up a significant portion of the formal global workforce, their presence in the upper echelons of business is lacking. Through hard work, perseverance and a refusal to accept the status quo, Al-Midfa has cracked the omnipresent glass ceiling. In her earlier career, she worked for PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the multinational professional services network. She is currently on the board of Education for Employment UAE; Sharjah Business Women Council; Young Arab Leaders and is on the Board of Directors and a Member of the Executive Committee at the United Arab Bank–the first woman to hold such a high position.

Al-Midfa’s impressive resume summarizes and even more impressive woman. Al-Midfa is a formidable role model for all young business people, regardless of gender or nationality. When asked for her best piece of advice, Al-Midfa said “the advice that I give most often is a piece of advice that was given to me – and now I’m passing it on… ‘We find comfort amongst those who agree with us, but we find growth amongst those who don’t.’” This advice should ring true for all: comfort zones must be left, as Al-Midfa did when she went to the USA for her MBA, and as she has done time and again in the male dominated private sector, in order to grow as a person and a professional.

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Sugar Refining in the Middle East Faces a Squeeze

Comments (0) Business, Featured, Middle East

Al Khaleej Sugar

Middle Eastern sugar refining faces a squeeze as global demand and prices drop, and production capacity across the region rises

The UAE’s Al Khaleej sugar refinery sells to ICE Futures Europe

The expansion of Middle Eastern sugar refining has pushed one of the region’s leading producers to sell through the London Investment exchange, the first time a company from the region has done so in a decade. In a deal worth around $200 million, UAE-based Al Khaleej Sugar Company delivered just over 200,000 metric tons of white sweetener to ICE Futures Europe, which was bought in full by ED&F Man Holdings. But the move signals a difficult time for sugar refining in the Middle East.

Al Khaleej, which refines, produces, and distributes refined and raw sugar and sugar syrup, was founded in 1992, and was one of the first home-grown sugar refineries to see success in the Middle East. Importing raw sugar from Brazil and India, it has an annual output of around 1.8 million tons, and is one of the world’s largest sugar refiners. Although it may seem odd that one of the world’s leading sugar refineries is based in a region without the correct weather to produce its own sugar, the World Trade Organization’s decision to cap exports from the European Union in 2006, formerly the largest exporter of white sugar to the MENA region, left a huge gap in the market.

However, a decade later sugar prices have dropped, and there is a global sugar surplus, while consumer demand is weak. Al Khaleej’s rare move to sell through the ICE – at a time when it is operating at 70% capacity, well below its production capacity of around 2.5 million tons per year – has only underscored these concerns. As analysts comment, the London exchange is seen as a last resort buyer, signaling that there is not much of a market. Al Khaleej has said that where last year’s weak demand was compensated by high sugar premiums, the company is looking to 2016 with some trepidation.

Sugar refining capacity expands in Middle East

The choice to sell outside of the MENA physical market also highlights the excess refining capacity of the region itself. Inspired in part by the success of Al Khaleej during the 2000s, a significant number of new refineries have come onstream in recent years, notably in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, and Bahrain (which has the $150 million Arabian Sugar Company which produces 600,000 metric tons per year). The MENA region’s refining production is around 8.5 million tons, although its total capacity stands at around 13.5 million tons, and consumption is around 12-15 million tons.

Between 2016 and 2018, that capacity is expected to increase by around 4.7 million tons thanks to a stream of projects which were planned and approved before demand dropped. A new Al Reef Sugar Refinery is due to start operations in Jizan, Saudi Arabia by the end of 2017, with a planned refining capacity of 1 million tons annually. It also has plans to acquire land in East Africa to grow its own cane sugar crop in the long term. A second refinery in Saudi Arabia, the Durrah refinery, is also under construction, with a planned refining capacity of 750,000 tons.

Further refineries are also in development across the Middle East, including in Oman, where work on the Sultanate’s first ever sugar refinery, the $250 million Oman Sugar Refinery Company, has commenced, and in Algeria, where production has just started at a new refinery with a capacity of 350,000 tons per year. That figure will increase to 700,000 tons annually over this year to serve the domestic Algerian market which consumes 1.2 million tons a year. Bahrain, Yemen, and Iraq have also expanded their sugar refining capabilities in recent years.

Production outstripping demand

However, it is feared that this significant expansion will create a production capacity far in excess of forecast consumption. Indeed, it is estimated that processing capacity in the region will be producing a 6.1 million ton surplus by 2018.

In Saudi Arabia white sugar consumption is around 1.2 million tons annually, a figure already matched by the Saudi refinery, United Sugar Company (a subsidiary of the Savola Group). The two further refineries currently under development in the Kingdom will push production capacity to saturation, especially considering that United is already operating at a loss and has plans to expand its annual capacity by 500,000 tons by 2017. Similarly in Oman, a new refinery with a planned annual capacity of 700,000 tons seems unnecessary in a country that consumes only 100,000 tons a year. Like Iraq, many countries across the Middle East are now self-sufficient. So as raw sugar futures drop to a three and a half year low, Middle Eastern sugar refining should be expecting a squeeze.

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