The MENA region has $100 billion worth of clean energy projects currently in the pipeline, according to a report by Energy & Utilities.
The report estimates total investment in clean energy to exceed $300 bn by 2050 if the region’s utilities are to meet their ambitious targets.
Middle East Energy said that the sharp drop in the cost of solar and wind power technologies is driving clean energy, with the cost of installing photovoltaic (PV) solar and wind having fallen by 73 percent and 80 per cent respectively since 2010.
The commissioning of the world’s largest single-site photovoltaic (PV) solar plant in 2019, the 1.17GW Sweihan independent power project (IPP) in Abu Dhabi, is one of the milestones reached this year in the push for clean energy, the report noted.
Dubai also reached financial close for a $4.3 billion concentrated solar power (CSP) project, Noor Energy 1, which is the largest single-site power investment project in the world.
The report estimates that installed power generation capacity will be required to increase 35 percent by 2025 just to meet rising demand in the Middle East. Rapid population growth combined with ambitious industrial and economic expansion programmes is resulting in the growing need for power, as demand for electricity is expected to triple by 2050.
“Driven by well-designed auctions, favourable financing conditions and declining technology costs, renewables are being brought into the mainstream. Based on the renewables targets already in place, the region, led by the UAE, could save 354 million barrels of oil which is equivalent to a 23 per cent reduction, cut the power sector’s carbon dioxide emissions by 22 percent, and slash water withdrawal in the power sector by 17 percent by 2030,” Gareth Rapley, Group Director, Industrial, at Informa Markets said.
The report was published as a preview to an event in Dubai, The Middle East Energy 2020, which will be organised by Informa Markets in March 2020.
Flying drone shipments to grow 50pc in 2020: Gartner predicts, after worldwide shipments of IoT enterprise drones take off, as these flying electronic-mechanical eyes are increasingly in demand in all field industries such as those mainly related to the built and non-built environment.
Worldwide shipments of Internet of Things (IoT) enterprise drones (defined as flying drones) will total 526,000 units in 2020, an increase of 50 per cent from 2019, said Gartner, a leading research and advisory firm in a new report.
Global shipments are forecast to reach 1.3 million units by 2023, it added.
“The construction sector is an early adopter of drones, which causes construction monitoring to be the largest use case by shipments worldwide across the forecast,” said Kay Sharpington, principal analyst at Gartner.
“Shipments are estimated to reach 210,000 drones in 2020, and more than double by 2023. Drones are taking over tasks such as site surveying and earthworks management as they are faster and safer to carry out with a drone than on foot.”
To save costs when surveying sites, the number of global construction employees per drone will decrease from 2,400 to 640 between 2018 and 2020.
In the short term, most use cases will be based around surveillance and monitoring due to the technical complexity of other applications. In 2020, the second and third use cases by drone shipments will be fire services monitoring and insurance investigation.
The insurance industry is the second largest use case by shipments with 46,000 drone shipments forecast for 2020. Shipments are expected to nearly triple by 2023, to reach 136,000 that year.
“Drones are used to carry out inspections on buildings and structures after a claim has been made, to assess the extent and cause of the damage. They can also be used to evaluate the type and condition of the building when providing an insurance quote,” said Sharpington.
“Their benefits are valuable. For example, they reduce the cost of scaffolding, ladders and employee time and provide a comprehensive photographic record of the building condition.”
To survey claim areas at a lower cost, Gartner expects insurance drones will grow from one per 152,000 people in 2018 to one per 72,000 people worldwide in 2020.
Police and firefighting agencies globally are deploying drones in public safety operations, wildfire management, crime scene investigation, and search and rescue operations. Gartner estimates that the number of drones used by police and firefighters will grow from one per 210,000 people to one per 47,000 people between 2018 and 2020.
“Fire service drones use cameras and thermal imaging to identify fire sources, extreme heat areas, trapped people and the positions of firefighters in the field,” said Sharpington. “Consequently, firefighting agencies can deploy resources in the right areas in emergencies and investigate incidents while minimizing risk to lives.”
Adoption of drones in the retail sector to rise rapidly after 2023
Drones used for retail deliveries will provide customers with rapid service and allow retailers access to customers in remote areas. However, the regulatory restrictions and logistical challenge of coordinating flight paths, managing airspace over densely populated areas and managing various payloads means that retail, overall, is a longer-term opportunity for drones.
Drone shipments will total 25,000 in 2020 and will rise to 122,000 units in 2023. Following this predicted trajectory, the biggest opportunity for retail will come after 2023.
In addition, Gartner estimates that the number of employees per drone will decrease from 73,000 global retail employees per drone in 2018 to 18,000 global retail employees per drone in 2020. – TradeArabia News Service
The insatiable demand of the global building boom has unleashed an illegal market in sand. Gangs are now stealing pristine beaches to order and paradise islands are being dredged and sold to the construction industry was the introduction to an article of The Guardian. A less partial response to that would definitely that of Seyed Ghaffar, Brunel University London proposes here below to how we can recycle more buildings.
More than 35 billion tonnes of non-metallic minerals are extracted from the Earth every year. These materials mainly end up being used to build homes, schools, offices and hospitals. It’s a staggering amount of resources, and it’s only too likely to increase in the coming years as the global population continues to grow.
Thankfully, the challenges of sustainable construction, industrial growth and the importance of resource efficiency are now clearly recognised by governments around the world and are now at the forefront of strategy and policy.
A critical component of the UK government’s sustainability strategy concerns the way in which construction and demolition waste – CDW, as we call it in the trade – is managed. CDW comes from the construction of buildings, civil infrastructure and their demolition and is one of the heaviest waste streams generated in the world – 35% of the world’s landfill is made up of CDW.
The EU’s Waste Framework Directive, which aims to recycle 70% of non-hazardous CDW by 2020, has encouraged the construction industry to process and reuse materials more sustainably. This directive, which favours preventive measures – for example, reducing their use in the first place – as the best approach to tackling waste, has been implemented in the UK since 2011. More specific to the construction industry, the Sustainable Construction Strategy also sets overall targets for diverting CDW from landfill.
Policies worldwide recognise that the construction sector needs to take immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, tackle the climate crisis and limit resource depletion, with a focus on adopting a circular economy approach in construction to ensure the sustainable use of construction materials.
Instead of simply knocking buildings down and sending the CDW to landfill, circular construction would turn building components that are at the end of their service life into resources for others, minimising waste.
It would change economic logic because it replaces production with sufficiency: reuse what you can, recycle what cannot be reused, repair what is broken, and re-manufacture what cannot be repaired. It will also help protect businesses against a shortage of resources and unstable prices, creating innovative business opportunities and efficient methods of producing and consuming.
Changing the mind-set
The mind-set of the industry needs to change towards the cleaner production of raw materials and better circular construction models. Technical issues – such as price, legal barriers and regulations – that stand in the way of the solutions being rolled out more widely must also be overcome through innovation.
Materials scientists, for example, are currently investigating and developing products that use processed CDW for manufacturing building components – for example, by crushing up CDW and using it to make new building materials.
Technical problems around the reuse of recycled materials should be solved through clever material formulations and detailed property investigations. For instance, the high water absorption rate in recycled aggregates causes durability problems in wall components. This is something that research must address.
Moreover, it is illegal in the EU to use products that haven’t been certified for construction. This is one of the main obstacles standing in the way of the more widespread reuse of materials, particularly in a structural capacity. Testing the performance of materials for certification can be expensive, which adds to the cost of the material and may cancel out any savings made from reusing them.
For the construction, demolition and waste management industries to remain competitive in a global marketplace, they must continue to develop and implement supply chain innovations that improve efficiency and reduce energy, waste and resource use. To achieve this, substantial research into smart, mobile and integrated systems is necessary.
Radically advanced robotic artificial intelligence (AI) systems for sorting and processing CDW must also be developed. Many industries are facing an uncertain future and today’s technological limitations cannot be assumed to apply. The construction industry is likely to be significantly affected by the potential of transformative technologies such as AI, 3D printing, virtual/augmented reality and robotics. The application of such technologies presents both significant opportunities and challenges.
A model for the future
As the image below shows, we have developed a concept for an integrated, eco-friendly circular construction solution.
Advanced sensors and AI that can detect quickly and determine accurately what can be used among CDW and efficient robotic sorting could aid circular construction by vastly improving the recycling of a wide range of materials. The focus should be on the smart dismantling of buildings and ways of optimising cost-effective processes.
The industry must also be inspired to highlight and prove the extraordinary potential of this new construction economy. We can drive this through a combination of creative design, focused academic research and applied technology, external industry engagement and flexible, responsive regulation.
Only through a combination of efforts can we start to recycle more buildings, but I’m confident that with the right will – and the right investment – we can start to massively reduce the amount of materials we pull from the ground each year and move towards a truly sustainable future.
IMFBlog on December 2, 2019, posted this excellent article The Adaptive Age by Kristalina Georgieva whose advice is that No institution or individual can stand on the sidelines in the fight against climate change, for ever that is.
When I think of the incredible challenges we must confront in the face of a changing climate, my mind focuses on young people. Eventually, they will be the ones either to enjoy the fruits or bear the burdens resulting from actions taken today.
I think of my 9-year-old granddaughter. By the time she turns 20, she may be witness to climate change so profound that it pushes an additional 100 million people into poverty. By the time she turns 40, 140 million may become climate migrants—people forced to flee homes that are no longer safe or able to provide them with livelihoods. And if she lives to be 90, the planet may be 3–4° hotter and barely livable.
Unless we act. We can avoid this bleak future, and we know what we have to do—reduce emissions, offset what cannot be reduced, and adapt to new climate realities. No individual or institution can stand on the sidelines.
Ready or not, we are entering an age of adaptation. And we need to be smart about it.
Our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through various mitigation measures—phasing out fossil fuels, increasing energy efficiency, adopting renewable energy sources, improving land use and agricultural practices—continue to move forward, but the pace is too slow. We have to scale up and accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy. At the same time, we must recognize that climate change is already happening and affecting the lives of millions of people. There are more frequent and more severe weather-related events—more droughts, more floods, more heatwaves, more storms.
Ready or not, we are entering an age of adaptation. And we need to be smart about it. Adaptation is not a defeat, but rather a defense against what is already happening. The right investments will deliver a “triple dividend” by averting future losses, spurring economic gains through innovation, and delivering social and environmental benefits to everyone, but particularly to those currently affected and most at risk. Updated building codes can ensure infrastructure and buildings are better able to withstand extreme events. Making agriculture more climate resilient means investing more money in research and development, which in turn opens the door to innovation, growth, and healthier communities.
The IMF is stepping up its efforts to deal with climate risk. Our mission is to help our members build stronger economies and improve people’s lives through sound monetary, fiscal, and structural policies. We consider climate change a systemic risk to the macroeconomy and one in which the IMF is deeply involved through its research and policy advice.
Mitigation plus adaptation
On the mitigation side of the equation, this means intensifying our work on carbon pricing and helping governments craft road maps as they navigate their way from brown economies dependent on carbon to green ones that strive to be carbon-free. Carbon taxes are one of the most powerful and efficient tools at their disposal—the latest IMF analysis finds that large emitting countries need to introduce a carbon tax that rises quickly to $75 a ton in 2030, consistent with limiting global warming to 2°C or less. But carbon taxes must be implemented in a careful and growth-friendly fashion. The key is to retool the tax system in fair, creative, and efficient ways—not just add a new tax. A good example is Sweden, where low- and middle-income households received higher transfers and tax cuts to help offset higher energy costs following the introduction of a carbon tax.
This is a path others can follow, strategically directing part of the revenues that carbon taxes generate back to low-income households that can least afford to pay. With the revenues estimated at 1–3 percent of GDP, a portion could also go to support firms and households that choose green pathways.
While we continue to work to reduce carbon emissions, the increasing frequency of more extreme weather like hurricanes, droughts, and floods is affecting people all across the world. Countries already vulnerable to natural disasters suffer the most, not only in terms of immediate loss of life, but also in long-lasting economic effects. In some countries, total economic losses exceed 200 percent of GDP—as when Hurricane Maria struck Dominica in 2017.
Our emergency lending facilities are designed to provide speedy assistance to low-income countries hit by disasters. But the IMF also works across various fronts on the adaptation side to help countries address climate-related challenges and be able to price risk and provide incentives for investment, including in new technologies.
We support resilience-building strategies, particularly in highly vulnerable countries to help them prepare for and rebound from disasters. And we contribute to building capacity within governments through training and technical assistance to better manage disaster risks and responses.
We work with other organizations to increase the impact of our climate work. One of our most important partnerships is with the World Bank, in particular on Climate Change Policy Assessments. Together, we take stock of countries’ mitigation and adaption plans, risk management strategies, and financing and point to gaps where those countries need investment, policy changes, or help in building up their capacity to take the necessary action.
Moving forward, we must also be open to stepping in where and when our expertise can help, and there are other areas where we will be gearing up our work. For example, we will be working more closely with central banks, which, as guardians of both financial and price stability, are now adapting regulatory frameworks and practices to address the multifaceted risks posed by climate change.
Many central banks and other regulators are seeking ways to improve climate risk disclosure and classification standards, which will help financial institutions and investors better assess their climate-related exposures—and help regulators better gauge system-wide risks. The IMF is offering support by working with the Network of Central Banks and Supervisors for Greening the Financial System and other standard-setting bodies.
Central banks and regulators should also help banks, insurers, and nonfinancial firms assess their own exposures to climate risk and develop climate-related “stress tests.” Such tests can help identify the likely impact of a severe adverse climate-driven shock on the solvency of financial institutions and the stability of the financial system. The IMF will help push forward efforts around climate change stress testing, including through our own assessments of countries’ financial sectors and economies. Careful calibration of stress testing for climate change will be needed, because such testing requires assessing the effects of shocks or policy actions that may have little historical precedent.
All these efforts will help ensure that more money will flow into low-carbon, climate-resilient investments. The rapid increase of green bonds is a positive trend, but much more is required to secure our future. It is that simple: we all need to intensify our efforts to work together to exchange knowledge and ideas, to formulate and implement policies, and to finance the transition to the new climate economy. Our children and grandchildren are counting on us.
DOHA (AFP) – Migrant workers in Qatar are facing discrimination because of their nationality, racial identity, stereotyping and the “prevalence” of profiling, an independent UN expert warned on Sunday (Dec 1).
The Gulf monarchy has seen an influx of migrant workers, mainly from poor developing countries, in advance of the 2022 World Cup meaning that the population is 90 per cent non-Qatari.
“For many people living in Qatar, their capacity to enjoy human rights fully is mediated by their nationality or national origin,” the UN’s special rapporteur on racism and discrimination Tendayi Achiume told AFP.
Migrants from specific countries are often recruited for certain roles such as women from south-east Asia for domestic work and men from south Asia for unskilled construction jobs, she said.
“Far from being mostly short-term guest workers, many low-income workers spend the better part of their working lives in Qatar and do so facing serious barriers to full enjoyment of their fundamental human rights,” she said.
Very few migrant workers ever qualify for permanent residency and almost none achieve citizenship and the welfare benefits enjoyed by Qataris.
UN experts are independent and do not speak for the world body, but their findings can be used to inform the work of UN organisations including the rights council.
Ms Achiume will present her final report on the visit to the UN Human Rights Council in July 2020.
She warned that stereotypes persist in public and private that “Sub-Saharan African men are presumed to be unsanitary, sub-Saharan African women are presumed to be sexually available, and South Asian nationalities are presumed unintelligent”.
“North Americans, Europeans and Australians, on the other hand, are presumed superior, and whites in general are presumed to be inherently competent,” she said.
But Ms Achiume stressed that while racism and discrimination remained an issue in Qatar, authorities had accepted the issue and made efforts to improve the situation – unlike some other countries.
“The existence of racial, ethnic and national stereotypes and discriminatory structures… are, in part, the product of the history of slavery in Qatar,” she said.
Slavery in the country was abolished in 1952.
Ms Achiume, a law professor at UCLA in the United States, said she had also received reports that “highlighted the prevalence of racial and ethnic profiling by police and traffic authorities”.
Security guards in parks and shopping centres also engaged in such practices, she said, favouring white and Arab residents while treating others differently.
Ms Achiume praised Qatar for the “significant reforms the government has embarked on that stand to make important contributions to combatting structural racial discrimination”. “Much work remains to be done, however,” she said.
While it has some infrastructure and regulatory obstacles to overcome, the automotive industry in the Middle East and Africa (MENA) region is developing fast, driven by investment and innovation, as delegates heard at the ALMENA conference in Dubai last week.
Despite a sustained period of decline over the last few years affected by a fall in oil prices and geopolitical strife, the Middle East and Africa is fast becoming a region of automotive and supply chain opportunity. Carmakers such as VW, Toyota, GM, Groupe PSA and Mercedes-Benz are investing in local assembly, ranging from North African countries including Morocco, Algeria and Egypt, to sub-Saharan markets such as Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Ghana. There are also some notable logistics developments there and in the Middle East.
According to figures from IHS Markit, light vehicle sales in the Middle East and Africa are to increase by 6% in 2020 to around 3.5m, supported by ongoing recovery in Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries. That is still below 4.65m units sold in 2015 but at that point Middle East sales were helped by increases in Saudi Arabia and Iran, the latter of which was seeing an (albeit brief) resurgence after sanctions were temporarily lifted. That said, by 2025 annual new light vehicle sales across the region are set to hit more than 5.3m, according to IHS projections.
Saudi Arabia already accounts for about 40% of total vehicles sold in the Middle East and IHS Markit forecasts annual sales could reach over 800,000 beyond units by 2030. Contributing factors including the recovery in price per barrel of oil and to a lesser extent the lifting of the ban on female drivers suggest sustained growth is expected to start in the next two years.
Countries within the Gulf Corporation Council (GCC) have established a national employment challenge to employ more local workers, the so-called ‘Gulfization’ policy, which is increasing labour opportunities in the area, something also fuelled by the exodus of foreign workers and the need for investment in local skills and talent.
Aurecon’s Daniel Borszik shares insights on modular buildings “clipped together like Lego” and IoT-integrated buildings.
The building industry, which has historically lagged in terms of technology adoption, is beginning to have a dialogue on shifting from projects to products, with a particular focus on modular construction.
Speaking at the 40th edition of the region’s largest and most influential event for the construction industry The Big 5, Aurecon MEP associate, Daniel Borszik, said: “Modular construction could scale easily to an industry worth $100bn in the US and Europe alone. Even though that’s quite a large number, the industry could deliver about $20bn in annual savings.”
During his talk at The Big 5, Borszik shared details on the various methods of modular construction from modular 2D panels in high-quality single-family housing units that permit for design flexibility and optimised logistics; to 3D volumetric modular systems that create standardization, repeatability, and cost reduction in low- and mid-rise apartment buildings or hotels.
Borszik also elaborated on the combination of automated fabrication with what he called ‘buildable tech’, which called for new materials and fabrication methods that might initially attract a premium but will result in cost savings in the long run.
He pointed to a construction industry where future building parts are printed using cutting-edge 3D printing technology; where these building parts are then “clipped together like Lego”; where machine learning technology and Internet-of-Things (IoT) is integrated into these buildings; and where the completed buildings will be able to self-manage, and fix themselves.
“What I find exciting about the buildings of the future is that you will see a lot more of integration of technology in our buildings. Sooner or later, if the air conditioning has an issue in your house, the air conditioner itself will be able to send an email to the maintenance team to come and fix it, without the need for a human to raise a complaint, and all you get is a notification on your phone that maintenance has been scheduled,” Borszik said.
This will disrupt every player in the construction industry from developers, architects, and designers to contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, consultants and others. Borszik stated that all stakeholders in the industry need to prepare for the disrupting shifts in value pools.
“From engineers to designers, city planners to politicians, it will take all hands on deck to turn a truly transformative design into the city’s new normal,” Borszik concludes.
Where do real estate and construction opportunities exist in this region?
GCC and the wider Middle East were recognised for standout construction opportunities
The most opportunities to be found in the United Arab Emirates (56%) followed by Saudi Arabia (44.4%)
36% of those interviewed said their business would enter the UAE within the next 12 months either directly or via a joint venture
The Middle East and Africa’s largest construction event, The Big 5, which takes place from 25 – 28 November, has officially revealed a first of its kind research paper, TheVoice of the Construction Industry Report, during the CEO Forum on its opening day.
The report is based on research conducted by GRS Research & Strategy Middle East, in conjunction with The Big 5. A total of 5,951 senior construction industry professionals were surveyed from136 countries on the trends and outlook of the construction sector in the GCC, Middle East and Africa.
Ben Greenish, Senior Vice President of dmg events said: “Thanks to the size, strength and history of The Big 5, we not only deliver a world-class trade event, we are also a trusted source of insight and intelligence for the construction industry. This new research from a huge cross-section of senior construction professionals underscores our reputation as a source of knowledge, and helps global industry stakeholders generate revenues, save money, and shape future strategies.”
“The responses come from professionals in sectors including manufacturing and distribution through to developers, contractors, engineers, architects and consultants, with each being segmented by business type, seniority, geographic location, and company turnover, allowing for a detailed analysis of the issues influencing each sector and how they are shaping the industry,” added Greenish.
The research revealed that the GCC and the wider Middle East were the standout opportunities recognised by respondents not already active in those regions when considering where their business may look for opportunities in the future.
Of the GCC countries, respondents felt there were the most opportunities to be found in the United Arab Emirates (56%) followed by Saudi Arabia (44.4%). In line with these findings, 36% of those interviewed said their business would enter the UAE within the next 12 months either directly or via a joint venture.
According to Andrea Piccin, Partner – General Manager, GRS Research & Strategy, the findings represent good news for the UAE and the wider Middle East region: “Economic growth is seen as a key factor generating business opportunities in the GCC. This is undoubtedly piquing the interest of international companies, which are now looking to expand in the Middle East for the first time.”
“Also, the increase in tourism, particularly in the UAE, is a major driver for business growth and one that many construction companies have already capitalised upon,” he added.
As part of the research, the top trends impacting all aspects of the construction industry were addressed with respondents stating prefabrication and modular construction, energy efficiency, and sustainability are the most important.
“These trends reflect the UAE and Saudi governments’ recent focus on the development of smart and sustainable cities. According to the results, it is anticipated during the next 12 months governments from these two countries will place even greater emphasis in these key areas providing an additional boost for the industry,” added Piccin.
Technology and the impact it has on the construction industry is also outlined within the data. Advanced software, building information modelling (BIM), and digitalisation are identified as the top three disrupters of the sector. These are closely followed by the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart technology, and 3D printing.
The Voice of the Construction Industry Report was unveiled at The Big 5’s invite-only CEO Forum, a conference for 150 CEOs from the region’s leading construction firms, which took place at The Big 5’s opening day.
AMEinfo staff members report business news and views from across the Middle East and North Africa region, and analyse global events impacting the region today.
The World Bank in its “Adaptation to Climate Change in the MENA Region” predicted that this region being particularly vulnerable to climate change, it should do more to adapt to water scarcity and heat and adjust all institutional mechanisms to deal with these environmental constraints. Environmental awareness in the Arab world posted on The Arab Weekly of 17 Novembre 2019 is a good illustration of this latest trend.
Lebanon was the country with the strongest concerns about climate change in general, followed by Tunisia and Egypt.
Climate change is a global emergency that respects no borders but results from a recent survey revealed that, when it comes to convincing MENA populations to come to grips with the crisis, substantial barriers remain.
Recent data gathered by Arab Barometer, a nonpartisan research network that has conducted opinion surveys across the region since 2006, indicated that a strong majority of respondents said they were “very concerned” about water and trash pollution (70% and 66%, respectively). Both issues are immediate problems that MENA residents must often deal with directly and can see with their own eyes daily.
However, when it came to more abstract or long-term environmental issues, such as climate change and air quality, fewer survey respondents said they were very worried (35% and 44%, respectively).
Opinions showed no significant variations across age and gender groups. However, more educated and affluent respondents expressed slightly stronger concerns about climate change in general.
The survey uncovered dividing lines geographically: Residents in rural areas were more likely to view climate change as a “very serious” problem than those living in urban environments.
Lebanon was the country with the strongest concerns about climate change in general, followed by Tunisia and Egypt, but national differences on specific issues were the starkest. Air quality was considered a “very serious” problem for 57% of respondents in Libya but only for 25% of those surveyed in Kuwait.
The survey adds credence to the argument that a region-wide effort must be made to build awareness about climate change.
Two and a half years after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain launched a boycott against rival Qatar, the quartet are headed to Doha for a soccer tournament on November 24 – a game-changer in the Gulf dispute.
In the absence of significant Qatari capitulations or face-saving gestures, it appears concerns over Iran’s ability to threaten oil production and shipping have compelled Riyadh and its allies to bring Doha back into the fold.
The most important thing to watch is whether Qatar’s border with Saudi Arabia, the peninsula state’s only land border to the rest of the Gulf, will open for the match.
“If the border opens up for the soccer game it will open up for regular visitors,” said Sigurd Neubauer, an analyst at the DC-based Gulf International Forum.
“This will be the game-changer,” he told Asia Times, as it could lead to a permanent lifting of the land and air blockade on Qatar and its lucrative national carrier, Qatar Airways.
Egyptian gas connection
While Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain may be subtle in their rapprochement with Qatar, Egypt has been willing to go to the next level to secure key energy supplies for its 90 million population.
In the past week, Qatar’s state gas company announced that a US$4.4 billion investment in Egypt – one of the countries supposedly boycotting it – had begun to bear fruit.
“Qatar Petroleum is pleased to announce the successful start-up of the Egyptian Refining Company (ERC) Refinery project located in Mostorod, north of the Egyptian capital Cairo,” a company statement said.
“All of the ERC Refinery units are now successfully operating, and are expected to ramp up to full production before the end of the first quarter of 2020, which will reduce Egypt’s dependence on imported petroleum products,” it added.
Qatar has quietly supplied the neighboring UAE with gas during the blockade, but the massive investment in Egypt – its largest in the Arab world and Africa – means Doha is going a step further to exhibit its strategic relevance.
With Saudi Arabia, a key patron of Egypt, focused on cooling Gulf tensions, deals like this may be increasingly granted a green light, if they even require a blessing at all.
“Egypt is the most populous country in the Arab world and even if [President] Sisi is aligned with Saudi, Egypt did not expel any Qatari citizens during the blockade and allowed Egyptians to keep working and sending remittances,” said analyst Neubauer.
In turn, Doha showed a willingness to distance itself from its key ally through the blockade: Turkey.
“The Qatari decision to invest in Egypt is a strategic decision and it angered [President] Erdogan. So this is another sign things are moving in the right direction,” Neubauer added.
For Egypt, a key qualm against Qatar was its ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and support for the anti-government 2011 uprising. But for Saudi Arabia, the key issue was ties with its arch-foe Iran.
But with the US maximum pressure campaign on Tehran now understood to be limited to sanctions, and with Tehran exhibiting its willingness to hit the Arab monarchies where it hurts – the petroleum sector – Qatar may increasingly be seen as a potential mediator for its vulnerable neighbors, rather than as a spoiler.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, just a few years ago set on taking on every rival from the Houthis of Yemen to Iran, has massively changed his positioning since the summer.
The damage to Saudi Aramco facilities last month drove home the risk of escalation with Tehran, and by extension, the importance of Gulf unity and multilateralism. For the UAE, attacks on oil tankers off its coast earlier this summer had a similar effect.
The lightning attacks on Aramco facilities wiped out half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production in a span of hours, wreaking not only physical damage but financial – compelling international investors to consider fresh security risks amidst an IPO valuation.
With no US military response to the Aramco attacks, the Saudis were shown how they would bear the brunt of further aggravation of their powerful neighbor.
“The combination of those attacks in September and doubts about US reliability … has persuaded the UAE and the Saudis that they needed to start dialing down tensions,” said James Dorsey, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
“And that relates to Qatar and Iran.”
In the case of Qatar, the Gulf states will be looking to come to an understanding that allows all parties to save face.
But Doha, which over the course of the blockade has embraced dairy farms and shifted to greater trade with Iran, is unlikely to ever go back to reliance on food imports through its land border with Saudi Arabia.
“Whatever compromise you find, it is not going to be a return to the status quo. It’s going to take a while to heal the wounds,” said Dorsey.
The Qataris, he said, will not be suddenly putting their eggs into one basket.