People to watch in 2008

04 January 2008
MEED lists the 12 key figures in the Middle East economy in the coming year: Sheikh Ahmad bin Zayed al-Nahyan, managing director of Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund manager Adia; Mohammed al-Gergawi, executive chairman and chief executive officer of Dubai government company Dubai Holding; Khalid al-Falih, executive vice-president of operations at Saudi Aramco; Hamad Kasasbeh, Finance Minister of Jordan; Mohammed al-Mady, chief executive officer and vice-chairman, Saudi Basic Industries Corporation; Chakib Khelil, Opec President; Rachid Mohamed Rachid, Industry Minister, Egypt; Nasser Jaidah, chief executive officer of Qatar Petroleum International; Saad al-Shuwaib, chief executive officer and vice-chairman, Kuwait Petroleum Company; Abdullah Dabbagh, chief executive officer and president, Maaden; Ali Abdullah Saleh, President, Yemen; and Abdulaziz Mohammed al-Hokail, president, Saudi Railways Organisation.

Sheikh Ahmad bin Zayed al-Nahyan

Al-Nahyan is managing director of Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund manager Adia. As the force behind a series of major deals in 2007, sovereign wealth funds will assume a more prominent role in cross-border transactions in 2008. Adia is one of the oldest, largest and most sophisticated institutional investors in the region. In December, it provided $7.5bn to US bank Citigroup, one of the firms most severely affected by the sub-prime lending crisis. The investment was the first headline-hitting deal from the fund, which has up to $1trillion worth of assets under management. The recent demonstration of its ability to rescue a global institution shows that Al-Nahyan has considerable sway within the international financial market. He can be expected to sanction more such investments in the coming years.

Contact - Tel: (+9712) 415 0000

Mohammed al-Gergawi

Mohammed al-Gergawi is executive chairman and chief executive officer of Dubai government company Dubai Holding, the subsidiaries of which include Jumeirah Group, Dubai International Capital and Dubai's Media, Internet and Studio cities, putting Al-Gergawi at the helm of the emirate's development. His influence is extended by his position as secretary general of the Dubai government's Executive Council and his position as Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs. As such, he is responsible for shaping the domestic economy and the physical landscape of the emirate, as well as Dubai's international profile. Both these paths to development are being emulated by states elsewhere in the region. Al-Gergawi is chairman of the Arab Strategy Forum. He was previously chairman of the Dubai Development & Investment Authority.

Contact - Tel: (+9714) 362 2063

Khalid al-Falih

Khalid al-Falih was promoted to the newly created post of executive vice-president of operations at Saudi Aramco in 2007. He is widely regarded within Aramco as the probable successor to current chief executive officer, Abdullah Jumah. Rumours are growing about Jumah's retirement, which means Al-Falih could take over the top role in 2008. Al-Falih joined Aramco in 1979 and has since managed the Ras Tanura refinery and the Petron joint venture of Aramco and Philippine National Oil Company. More recently, he has run the new business, exploration and gas venture divisions. He currently controls four key business lines, including exploration and production; refining, marketing and international; and operations services. Al-Falih has a degree in mechanical engineering from the US and an MBA from King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals in Saudi Arabia.

Contact - Tel: (+9663) 872 0115

Hamad Kasasbeh

As Finance Minister of Jordan, Hamad Kasasbeh has the challenging role of reforming the fuel subsidy system. The artificially low price of petrol in Jordan is a critical political issue that led to the resignation of Kasasbeh's predecessor Ziad Fariz in August 2007, after fellow ministers blocked his plans to bring oil subsidies to an end. The government began cutting fuel subsidies when the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 brought an end to cheap oil exports. However, significant subsidies remain and the cost of keeping prices low is a major drain on the government. The budget deficit for 2007 is expected to hit a record of JD 560.9 million ($792.5 million) and Kasabeh has committed to cancelling all subsidies in early 2008. He must also tackle the problem of recent wheat and barley subsidies, which began in 2005 and threaten to undermine economic gains made from eliminating the fuel subsidy.

Contact - Tel: (+9626) 463 6321

Mohammed al-Mady

Al-Mady is widely considered to be the most important individual in the global petrochemicals industry following Saudi Basic Industries Corporation's (Sabic) $11.6bn acquisition of GE Plastics in May 2007. In 2008, he will lead Sabic in introducing new products, such as synthesized rubber and plastics, to the company's portfolio in a bid to create jobs and diversify product lines. Al-Mady has been chief executive officer and vice-chairman of Sabic since July 1998. He is also chairman of Saudi Arabian Fertilizer Company (Safco), chairman of Gulf Petrochemicals & Chemicals Association (GPCA), a board member of the International Advisory Board for King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals, and a member of the US-Saudi Business Council. He joined Sabic in 1976 with a Master's Degree in chemical engineering from the University of Wyoming in the US.

Contact - Tel: (+9661) 225 8000

Chakib Khelil

Khelil became Opec President on 1 January 2008, replacing the UAE's Mohamed al-Hamli. Khelil must manage a delicate balancing act to satisfy the demands of Opec members wanting the greatest possible returns for their resources, while placating oil consumers demanding increased production. Khelil has indicated that output may be increased in February if it is a cold winter. Domestically, the minister will preside over the bidding process for Algeria's second international mining licensing round and the tendering of hydrocarbons acreage in the country's seventh international oil and gas round. The oil and gas round will be presided over by two new state agencies: licensing body Agence Nationale pour la Valorisation des Ressources en Hydrocarbures (Alnaft); and regulator Agence Nationale de Controle et de Regulation des Activites dans le domaine des Hydrocarbures (ARH).

Contact - Tel: (2132) 148 8526

Rachid Mohamed Rachid

Rachid Mohamed Rachid will face another tough year as he attempts to attract inward investment into Egypt's industrial zones while cutting the sector's energy sub-sidies. Stimulating labour-intensive industries is seen as a critical measure to address the country's rampant unemployment. Controversy has surrounded cuts in state support for gas feedstock to energy-intensive industries, with some commentators saying the cuts introduced in September 2007 have not yet been implemented. A further round of subsidy reductions is scheduled for 2008. The minister must also preside over the findings of an investigation into alleged anti-competitive behaviour by the country's cement producers. In the meantime, he will continue to appeal for overseas investment in designated industrial zones, with the second phase of the country's industrial development programme due for completion in early 2008.

Contact - Tel: (+2022) 792 1167

Nasser Jaidah

Nasser Jaidah is chief executive officer of Qatar Petroleum's (QP's) international division. Promoted from head of operations, Jaidah now runs QP's overseas arm with billions of dollars at his disposal to invest in global energy joint ventures. After signing a range of memorandums of understanding this year, 2008 should see the development of more detailed plans as Jaidah works to create a diversified economic base for Qatar, by investing up to $40bn in strategic assets around the world. The most significant development so far is the agreement to pursue international energy developments with the US' ConocoPhillips. The two companies have previously collaborated on the Qatargas III development, the first gas project in Qatar targeted exclusively at the US market. It also signed an memorandums of understanding with Japan's Itochu.

Contact - Tel: (+9744) 402 000

Saad al-Shuwaib

Since taking the helm at Kuwait Petroleum Company (KPC) in 2007, Al-Shuwaib has overseen the initial agreement with the US' ExxonMobil Corporation to produce heavy oil from north Kuwait and is expected to be at the heart of negotiations with other international oil companies for further enhanced technical services agreements. He is also the driving force behind Petrochemical Industries Com-pany's recent move to buy the upstream production assets of Dow Chemical Company. Looking ahead, 2008 is set to be a challenging year for Al-Shuwaib. Close to $20bn worth of work is to be awarded over the next 12 months. Al-Shuwaib is committed to turning around the country's production decline and ensuring that KPC produces 4 million barrels a day by 2020. He must also overcome political uncertainty in a country that has had three acting oil ministers in 2007 alone.

Contact - Tel: (+965) 858 585

Abdullah Dabbagh

Geologist Abdullah Dabbagh is chief executive officer and president of Saudi Arabian Mining Company (Maaden). As such, he is charged with both making the sector attractive to private investors and growing the kingdom's mining sector to provide employment opportunities for nationals. In 2008, Dabbagh will oversee the sale of 50 per cent of Maaden through an initial public offering worth $2.5bn. The company is focused on mining a range of natural minerals that have historically been underexploited, and is also growing its gold-mining operations - the fifth mine opened in Al-Amar, to the southwest of Riyadh, in late 2007. Dabbagh also oversees megaproject developments including the Ras al-Zour integrated phosphate mining and fertiliser project with Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (Sabic) and a $7bn integrated aluminium complex at Al-Zabirah with US firm Alcan.

Contact - Tel: (+9661) 472 1222

Ali Abdullah Saleh

Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh retains his tight grip on power. His party, the General People's Congress, dominates the country's political landscape, as it has since unification in 1990. In the 2006 presidential elections, Saleh won 77.2 per cent of the vote, despite having previously announced he would not continue to stand for presidency. In 2008, Yemen will continue its bid to become one of the GCC member states, a move that would significantly boost the country's political and economic position. Priorities for Saleh include imposing central authority on the provinces, which is complicated by the divisions between north and south, and tackling unemployment, which remains high. The country has a population of more than 20 million, of whom two thirds are under the age of 24. The hope is that continuing political stability will lead to economic revival and the alleviation of poverty.

Contact - Tel: (+9671) 274 961

Abdulaziz Mohammed al-Hokail

As president of the Saudi Railways Organisation (SRO), Abdulaziz Mohammed al-Hokail will be a prominent figure in 2008 as the kingdom awards contracts for the two most significant rail projects in the Middle East, the east-west Saudi Landbridge and the north-south Mecca to Medina rail link. A contract is due to be awarded for the Saudi Landbridge early in 2008, and the Mecca-Medina Rail Link will follow. Both projects were delayed in 2007, and Al-Hokail will need to prove that the organisation is experienced enough to manage the construction of these projects and push development through within the project timescale. On the $5bn Landbridge project in particular, he is also likely to face difficult negotiations with contractors. Several companies from the consortia bidding have intimated they will seek changes to the concession should they win.

Contact - Tel: (+9663) 871 2222

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