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As investment opportunities continue to present themselves in the MENA region, identifying politically unexposed partners is the key challenge for foreign investors. A cadre of prominent commercial families who are not ostensibly beholden to the political elite exist, but diligence and foresight is needed to identify them.
As GCC countries lock horns over the direction that regional policy should take, a geopolitical realignment could feasibly crystallize in the Persian Gulf in the period ahead. Should Saudi and Emirati divestment across certain sectors occur, Qatar’s elite will invariably turn towards a cadre of new partners to plug the gaps in its economy. Enter Iran.
As the capital city and acting treasury for the UAE, Abu Dhabi is perhaps the real source of foreign intrigue in spite of Dubai’s overseas reputation as an investment hub. Besides the ruling Al Nahyan, there are a cadre of influential families that are gateways to obtaining a presence in the local market.
With Youssef Chahed ramping up the fight against corruption in Tunisia, many questions are left unasnwered. Chief among them is the Prime Minister’s intentions behind the crackdown and to what end it will be pursued going forward. The fate of the country’s businessmen exposed to the previous regime will also be determined.
The actors and transit routes involved in the DRC-Dubai gold trade raise suspicion; not least because estimates suggest that 70% of all DRC gold reaches Dubai. Those who stand to benefit may have little incentive to enforce a crackdown. Understanding the nuances of the DRC-Dubai trade route should be a priority for sector stakeholders.
Turkey and Qatar have come to the political rescue of each other twice in the space of 12 months; following the failed coup against Erdoğan in July 2016 and now as Tamim Al Thani faces a regional boycott. For investors, the bloated influence of the political sphere on commercial developments must be noted now more than ever.
Investment and religious connections have emerged as the driving forces behind the Gulf’s relationship with Africa. Qatar, lacking its neighbours’ religious, cultural and economic connections to the continent, appears to have been less effective in garnering African support.
Although a lesser discussed set of bilateral relations, Kazakhstan and the United Arab Emirates are sending signals of enhanced cooperation. Given the UAE’s desire to expand and diversify its economy, established investors should keep one eye on the effects that emerging bilateral agreements may have on their interests.
In Tehran, political forces may soon turn against one another, leaving onlookers to speculate over who will suffer most in the subsequent fall-out. The President and Supreme Leader each wield considerable power in Iran, but Khamenei’s enduring influence may prove too much for the elected executive during the battle for control.
With the Egyptian presidential election less than a year away, informal power plays are already at work. Elections may give legitimacy to the idea of a democratic political transition but this is merely a façade, designed to conceal the shadow forces influencing the real outcome.
The feed import sector is critical for driving Iran towards food security, giving it heightened political interest. President Rouhani has suggested that the monopoly on this sector, in the hands of the Modalal family, may be broken up. How this episode plays out should be the subject of investor interest.
Historically, Syria has represented a safe space for armed groups that follow the regime’s line with regards to domestic and international policies. These groups are somewhat of a double-edged sword that have spread terrorism and instability in the region, to the detriment of even the Syrian regime.