When you think of the world’s richest country, which one comes to mind? Maybe China, or The United States? You might be surprised that neither of these countries can claim that title. In fact, they’re not even in the top three. The country that takes the top honor of world’s richest country is Qatar. The Middle East is made up of some of the world’s wealthiest countries, and is also – famously – home to some of the richest families in the world. When it comes to international business, the Middle East is a real money magnet.
So who are the men – and families – behind the vast wealth in the Middle East? They’re not all Princes who inherited their riches; some are incredibly savvy business people. Of course, some of the families on this list did in fact make their riches from oil. The Middle East is known for its liquid gold and with countries across the world depending on that precious oil, Middle Eastern businessmen who have a piece of that cash cow are guaranteed to become inestimably wealthy.
Of course, some countries are trying to find other ways of getting oil. Take the United States, for example. The US has been experimenting with Hydraulic fracturing (or ‘fracking’) in its own backyard, the once oil-rich ‘Lone Star’ State of Texas. However, not only is the fracking process itself unsafe (since it involves blasting high pressured liquid beneath the soil to break up rocks that may contain oil), but if the area is not contained properly the U.S. are putting their country at risk of an environmental disaster.
Even with the fracking in Texas and talk of a possible pipeline from Canada, The United States – with a population of over 300 million people – will still be somewhat dependent on Middle Eastern oil, and the Arabs in the oil business certainly won’t complain about that.
While we can’t talk about the Middle East’s wealth without looking at their oil, it must be acknowledged that the Arabs are using their advantage to advance in almost every other market; construction, luxury hotels, retail and merchandising, real estate, banking, aviation, and telecommunications. The list of potential business opportunities seems endless. And with the wealth of entire nations soaring on the back of all this investment, we’ve selected the 10 wealthiest Arabs who are clearly benefiting from precious natural resources and wise investment decisions in the Middle East.
10. Abdullah bin Ahmad Al Ghurair & Family, UAE: $3.1 Billion
Banking started out as the main source of wealth for this family. In 1967, the Al Ghurair family founded Mashreq – which is now the leading bank in the United Arab Emirates. Although the bank suffered some financial difficulties due to bad real estate loans during the recession, and the Al Ghurair family’s wealth has rebounded nicely. Mashreq did in fact see a 28% increase in net profits between 2012 and 2013. This entrepreneurial family has branched out into other areas. controlling a conglomerate with interests in construction, food and retail. Abdullah Al Ghurair and his brother Saif were born into a wealthy family but their business ventures have secured the family’s legacy for, it seems, a long time to come. Abdullah is currently chairman of Mashreq bank, while two of his sons act as CEO and board member.
9. Taha Mikati, Lebanon: $3.5 Billion
Taha Mikati and his brother, current Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, founded Investcom Holding telecommunication services in 1982. It’s currently known as Investcom, LCC and provides services in Africa, the Middle East and Europe. The telecommunications industry is one that pops up time again on the world’s rich lists, and these brothers are certainly a good example of the industry’s money-making potential. In 2006, the brothers sold their stake in the company to MTN Group, the largest telecom provider in South Africa. They didn’t let a precious asset go that easily, though, as together they remain the company’s largest shareholder with their holding company the M1 Group. Taha Mikati makes all the businss decisions, while his son Azmi – a Columbia University engineering graduate – is in charge of the day-to-day operations.
8. Najib Mikati, Lebanon: $3.5 Billion
As mentioned above, Najib became wealthy through companies he founded with his brother, Taha. The outgoing Prime Minister of Lebanon as of January 2014, Mikati has been busy with both political and industrial careers. Najib Nikati has helped his brother in expanding the M1 group through investments in real estate, privated jets, and even a high-end clothing company, Façonnable. Najib’s most valuable asset remains his stake in the MTN Group of South Africa, which is worth a staggering $1.9 billion.
7. Majid Al Futtaim, UAE: $3.6 Billion
Majid Al Futtaim is part of a rich Arab family, and is joined in the billionaire club by his brother Abdulla Al Futtaim. Although they are reportedly not close, each is successful in their own right. The Majid Al Futtaim Group mainly has investments in real estate, shopping malls, and other retail businesses in 12 different countries. Majid is planning to expand more in Egypt and is currently in the process of building the Mall of Egypt. The Majid Al Futtaim Group has become the largest retailer of hypermarkets and supermarkets in the Middle East, with 109 stores.
6. Sulaiman Al Rajhi & Family, Saudi Arabia: $6 Billion
Sulaiman Al Rajhi founded the Al Rajhi Bank, with his brothers Abdullah, Mohammed and the late Saleh, who passed away in 2011. Al Rajhi Bank is one of the world’s largest Islamic banks, and Sulaiman himself owns 20% of the business – which is worth more than $5 billion. Sulaiman is also known as a philanthropist, and now focuses most of his attention on his SAAR Foundation, which hopes to end hunger and provide more education in Saudi Arabia.
5. Nassef Sawiris & Family, Egypt: $6.5 Billion USD
Of all the families on the list, this one is probably the most diverse. It all started with Onsi Sawiris back in the 1940s, who originally worked in agriculture. He then shifted his focus to construction and contracting, and things took off from there. The family now invests in an Egyptian newspaper, and telecommunications. Naguib Sawiris started Mobinil in 1998, which was the first cell phone company in Egypt. The family then went on to create Koryolink in 2008. It was the first major cell phone operator in North Korea. In May 2013, their investment fund Accelero Capital, made an attempt to buy a Canadian fibre optics company, but the deal was denied by the Canadian government due to security reasons. Naasef Sawiris now heads up Osasco Construction, which has attracted huge foreign investment despite the unsettled situation in Egypt.
4. Mohamed Al Jaber, Saudi Arabia: $7 Billion
Born in Saudi Arabia and educated in the United Kingdom, Sheikh Mohamed Bin Issa Al Jaber is more than a businessman; he’s also a well known philanthropist. He created the MBI group, which invests in companies and does business in the Middle East and all over Europe. His main business is hotels, and he made the wise decision to invest in JJW Hotels & Resorts, which has now taken over the Penina Hotel & Golf Resort. It’s safe to assume that this man knows a thing or two about the hotel industry. He’s also doing his part to make this a better place for the new generation, by bridging the cultural and educational gaps between the rest of the world and the Middle east.
3. Mohammed Al Amoudi, Saudi Arabia: $13.5 Billion
Mohammed Al Amoudi was born to an Ethopian mother and Saudi Arabian father. Like many of the wealthy Arabs on our list, Al Amoudi made his enormous fortune in the construction industry. Of course, while Mr. Al Amoudi initial garnered capital in construction and real estate, he really started to make money once he purchased oil refineries. He has two companies, the Corral Group and the Midroc Group which employs more than 40,000 people in the Middle East and Europe making him one of the top 3 richest Arabs in the world today.
2. Joseph Safra, Lebanon: $15.9 Billion
Joseph Safra, a citizen of both Brazil and Lebanon, controls the family empire – the Safra Group -in the banking and investment business. A scion of the Safra banking dynasty, Joseph consolidated the family’s wealth with an enterprising spirit. The Safras moved from Lebanon to Brazil in 1952, where Joseph’s father Jacob mainly conducted business in Sao Paulo. Joseph made his own way, and in 1955 he founded Banco Safra. As of today, it is one of the largest banks in Brazil. The Safra bank has extended to Europe and the U.S. Joseph has invested in some coveted real-estate in America, too: He owns the 660 Madison Avenue building, which is home to Calvin Klein and other high-end stores.
1. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud, Saudi Arabia: $20 – $30 Billion
Prince Alwaleed is a very important, popular and somewhat eccentric man. His company, Kingdom Holding Company, has valuable stakes across several industries; recently, the company spent $300 million on a stake in Twitter and when the social media platform went public a few months back, his $300 million stake turned into $900 million. A tidy 200% increase, but a drop in the ocean for one of the richest men in the world. The Kingdom Holding Company also has other interests within the United States, and is considered one of the largest foreign investors in the US. Prince Alwaleed’s business projects range from luxury hotels, to retail to healthcare and even aviation. This is the 10th consecutive year he has been in the number one spot, and as of now….no one comes even close. His self-reported net worth comes in at $30 billion, although Forbes recently valued him at closer to $20 billion. Either way, though, he’s firmly at the top spot.