UAE headquartered Fuze, a digital assets infrastructure provider, has raised a seed round of $14mn, the largest Seed investment in a digital assets startup in the history of the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA). The investment was led by Abu Dhabi-based Further Ventures, along with participation by US-based Liberty City Ventures. 

Fuze will benefit from the strategic capital and network of these investors, acting as a catalyst for the business as it builds the digital asset infrastructure that will drive the future of finance. 

A first-of-its-kind infrastructure provider in MENA, Fuze enables any bank, fintech or traditional enterprise to easily offer regulated digital assets products to their customers through their native apps.

Fuze was founded by an expert team of fintech, traditional finance (TradFi) and decentralized finance (DeFi) leaders, with its co-founders holding extensive knowledge from experience in global hypergrowth businesses. 

CEO, Mohammed Ali Yusuf (Mo Ali Yusuf) has held prominent roles at and Visa; Arpit Mehta (COO) was previously in the leadership team at fintech leaders like Simpl and Clear; Srijan Shetty (CTO) built algorithmic trading systems at Goldman Sachs and worked at tech leader Microsoft.

With a regional digital asset market worth $566bn, and growing at 48% YoY, Fuze co-founder and CEO, Mohammed Ali Yusuf believes the Middle East is the perfect home to establish a digital assets infrastructure business. 

Yusuf states, “We are excited to build the future of regulated financial infrastructure and digital assets out of the UAE. Regulations have played a pivotal role in propelling the UAE into a central position within the global Digital Assets industry. To receive the backing of Abu Dhabi-headquartered Further Ventures combined with the deep expertise of US-based Liberty City Ventures, confirms the relevancy and potential of Fuze’s mission to rapidly expand our cutting-edge infrastructure across the region.”

Further Ventures commented, “This is an important strategic investment into digital assets, one of our core verticals. The team at Fuze is highly experienced and has a clear vision to develop a trusted, world-class digital assets proposition. Technology that enables a range of stakeholders is vital for the future of the financial ecosystem and Fuze is well placed to be a leader in digital assets across the MENA region and beyond.”

In September 2022, Abu Dhabi’s ADQ and Further Ventures, an investment firm back by ADQ launched a $200 million fund focused on Fintech, digital assets and supplychain.

Fuze was founded in December 2022 and selected earlier this year to join Hub71, Abu Dhabi’s global tech ecosystem through its Company Building Program. Its white label solutions handle the complexities of blockchain and regulatory overheads for enterprises, enabling these organizations to readily offer digital assets such as stablecoins, cryptocurrencies, CBDCs and tokenized assets.

The funding will propel Fuze’s growth as it obtains regulatory licensing, adds strategic hires in key roles, continues to expand its technological capabilities, and accelerates its geographic expansion across the region. Its products, such as Fuze Trader and Fuze Loyalty, allow banks, brokerages and superapps to offer digital asset products in a simple, easy and trusted manner.

“We are building a suite of products that addresses the growing demand for regulated digital asset capabilities through trusted channels. Our technology first approach is a game-changer for the region and offers our customers a reliable bridge to the new era of investments and to the future of finance,” adds Yusuf. 

In a recent report by Singaapore funded UnaFinancial, the group said that Fintech funding in UAE could reach $2.8 billion in 2028 from $1.8 billion in 2023. This is boosted by a strong economy and favourable environment.

In Ripple’s latest report entitled “ 2023 New Value report, Crypto Trends in Business and Beyond” which covered topics such as cryptocurrencies, tokenization, DeFi, and crypto custody, financial decision makers from MENA ( Middle East and North Africa) are more bullish than their counterparts in other regions when it comes to cryptocurrencies, digital assets, and Blockchain.

As per the report findings, 72% of finance leaders surveyed expressed increased confidence in the crypto industry over the last 6 months, the number is even higher for those in the MENA region, reaching 87%.

90% of global finance leaders anticipate big impacts on business from blockchain and digital assets in the next three years. In terms of tokenization,they see the most massive impact in public stock trading and private share trading. This was especially expressed by finance decision makers with cryptocurrency experience in MENA.

In addition, global finance decision makers predict CBDCs and stablecoins will have a massive impact across business, finance  and society. This sentiment is particularly strong among  those with cryptocurrency experience, and those based in the LATAM and MENA regions.

When the Ripple report compared these results to last year’s survey, they saw that no only do  more respondents expect significant or massive impact of digital currency on business, finance and society,but they expect this to happen within a shorter period of time.

In other words, impact from these digital currency technologies is and will continue to accelerate at a faster clip. Specifically, respondents appear particularly bullish on the overall impact of digital currencies on payments. Nearly half (46%) of all respondents think stablecoins will have the largest impact on cross-border payments, and anticipate the largest impact of CBDCs to be on consumer-to-business payments (39% of financial institutions) and cross-border payments (41% of enterprises).

Many are either somewhat or very likely to begin using cryptocurrencies, CBDCs or stablecoins in their business in the next three years, and are confident that the technologies can meet their business needs. Once again, Ripple saw that respondents in  LATAM and MENA ranked slightly higher than those in other regions, and particularly those decision makers at financial institutions who work in roles related to digital transformation, blockchain/cryptocurrency, and innovation.

Overall, Latin America (LATAM) is more bullish on enterprise and institutional use of crypto for business followed by the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), then North America (NA), Asia Pacific (APAC) and Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA).

The report also noted that more financial institutions are interested in instituational DeFi due to pain points around borrowing, raising capital which many see that DeFi can help solve. In addition high interest rates currently outweight other borrowing related pain points by a pretty significant margin everywhere except in MENA, where credit approval requirements were ranked as the primary pain point.

According to the report, these findings are reflective of the current state of the global economy, and that’s reinforced when one compares these results to last year’s data when interest rates were lower, and thus ranked lower on the list at that time.

Another significant technology being looked into by financial decision makers is Decentralized digital identity (DID). The vast majority (90%) think DiD will have a significant or massive impact on Banking, Financial Services and Insurance in the next three years, especially finance leaders in LATAM and MENA.

Even those in treasury, capital markets, payments, and institutional banking are bullish on the technology as it pertains to Banking and Financial Services, falling within the 90% response rate and above for significant or massive impact. Surprisingly, finance leaders in those more traditional roles ranked slightly higher than those in innovation, which is somewhat counterintuitive.

When it came to crypto custody the report found that while a greater proportion of respondents at financial institutions (compared to their enterprise counterparts) currently use crypto custody in their business, in general across all respondents it was found that a total of 35% are currently using a custody solution and 54% plan to within the next three years. Additionally, most companies currently or planning to use crypto custody will do so via a managed custody approach outsourced to a third party.

The vast majority of global finance decision makers (upwards of 88%) believe that crypto and blockchain will have either a significant or massive impact on business, finance, and society over the next three years.

Over half of global respondents cited that they already have a cryptocurrency solution in place at their company, or are in the process of implementing one. Upwards of three-quarters indicate an openness to using or exploring other crypto technologies over the next few years (e.g. CBDCs, stablecoins,NFTs, etc.)

Despite the general positivity, uncertainty and barriers to adoption like privacy concerns, lack of clear regulation, risk management and price volatility are still present.

Cross-border payments and consumer-to-business payments are the top two most highly ranked use cases for both CBDCs and stablecoins.

Enterprises are particularly bullish on the use of NFTs for business in the metaverse and events/ticketing. Over 80% of global finance leaders are somewhat or very likely to use cryptocurrencies, CBDCs and/or stablecoins in their business in the next three years.

Ease of use is far and away the most important requirement for organizations to enable customers to pay with crypto. Faster payments/settlement times and cost savings are the biggest value propositions for incorporating crypto into cross-border payments for enterprises and payments/treasury professionals at financial institutions—regardless of region and level of familiarity with crypto.

Top reasons to hold a cryptocurrency are for use as a currency for making payments, and for use as a hedge against inflation.  Interest rates and cost-related concerns are key blockers for borrowing, raising capital, and making cross-border payments.

According to a survey of global institutional clients commissioned by BNY Mellon and conducted by Celent, 97% agree that tokenization will revolutionize asset management and be good for the industry. They also found that 88% of investors are comfortable utilizing a digital representation of currency like stablecoins or tokens.

The majority (72%) of finance decision makers expect to explore tokenization as a way to drive innovation over the next three years, especially those at financial institutions who currently have or are in the process of implementing a cryptocurrency solution at their organization.

In terms of assets that would benefit the most from tokenization 63% of respondents said online security of data, 50% said stocks.

In a recent press release, Bahrain has granted its first five Golden licenses and Whampoa Group, a multi-family office with investments in global tech firms, and its digital bank has received one of these licenses. The holders of Golden licenses are eligible if they will create more than 500 local jobs, or make an investment of over $50 million in their first years in the Kingdom while contributing to strengthening the Kingdom’s overall development.

The Kingdom of Bahrain has granted the first five Golden Licenses to projects presented by Citi, Eagle Hills Diyar W.L.L, Infracorp, Saudi Telecommunication Company (stc), and Whampoa Group. With a collective investment of upwards of USD 1.4 billion into Bahrain, the greenfield projects and expansions are expected to create more than 1,400 job opportunities within the next three years in support of the Kingdom’s Economic Recovery Plan goals.

The licenses were presented at the headquarters of each company to Michel Sawaya, Bahrain CEO for Citi; Dr. Maher Al Shaer, Managing Director of Eagle Hills Diyar W.L.L.; Majed AlKhan, CEO of Infracorp; Nezar Banabeela, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of stc Bahrain; and Shawn Chan, Group CEO of Whampoa Group. and a virtual signing event was organised for Singapore-based Whampoa Group.

The Bahrain Economic Development Board had welcomed Singapore based digital asset bank part of Whampoa Group to Bahrain earlier this year. The digital bank, which offers integrated financial solutions to serve institutions, innovators, and sophisticated investors globally, including digital banking services and the trading, custody, and asset management of digital assets, will open its operations in Bahrain by the end of year.

In 2022, Singapore’s Whampoa Group deployed about $100 million through a venture capital fund in start-ups in the burgeoning digital assets segment in Web3, digital assets, stablecoins and NFT. 

Whampoa Digital, the group’s digital assets investment arm, will invest in and incubate early stage startups in Web3 – a utopian vision of the internet where users, rather than shareholders, own websites and other online services.

In recognition of the Golden licenses’ launch, HE Abdulla Adel Fakhro, Minister of Industry and Commerce, said, “The Golden License is a pivotal step towards successfully achieving the objectives of Bahrain’s Economic Recovery Plan, which aims to attract $2.5 billion in foreign investment by the end of 2023.”

HE Khalid Humaidan, Chief Executive at the (Bahrain EDB), said, “The Golden License is a successful public-private partnership that has created bespoke solutions for investors and start-up companies. It has provided them with fast-tracked approvals and several features and facilities that have enabled them to secure a global footprint from Bahrain.”

During the Qatar Economic Forum organized by Bloomberg, Ola Doudin, Co-Founder and CEO of UAE based BitOasis participated in a panel alongside Yat Siu, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of Animoca Brands to discuss “Harnessing the Power of Blockchain”

Doudin uncovered during the panel that BitOasis would be the first regulated virtual asset platform in KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia). She stated, “We are working with regulators in KSA to be the first regulated platform in Saudi and other larger markets.”

She also mentioned that BitOasis is in discussions with regulators in Egypt and Morocco. She discussed how in both Egypt and Morocco, citizens are interested in access to tokenized dollars, better known as stablecoins especially in countries with high inflation rates and easy access to these stablecoins. According to her, this is a challenge to regulators and is something they will have to seriously look at.

This comes after BitOasis became the first crypto broker to receive an operational license from Dubai’s virtual asset regulator (VARA). BitOasis has also received preliminary approval for its license in Bahrain.

Interestingly Ola Doudin talked about the GCC’s growing interest in tokenization.

According to Doudin, “One of the biggest applications of interest in the Gulf region is tokenization because it can bring in new industries by tokenizing hard assets into liquid form through blockchain based tokens. We are seeing the Gulf region, KSA and UAE focusing on tokenized securities bringing more liquidity, more transparency from an investment standpoint in a regulated way.”

She adds that BitOasis is ready for tokenization of hard assets as it has already built a regulated infrastructure with the means to buy and sell tokenized assets and as such can support this movement.

She gives the example that in a recent BCG research it stated that in the next 10 years tokenization of assets will be worth $16 trillion.

XRPayNet a blockchain XRP Ledger based crypto-fiat micropayments solution provider is gearing up to launch in the UAE. Already in the process of being regulated through VARA and the Central Bank of UAE, XRPayNet and its partner in the UAE, ChainTech Labs aim to revolutionize the crypto payments sector by bridging the world of fiat and crypto for micropayments and buy now pay later offerings.

Kristian Poliszczuk Founder, of XRPayNet has been a passionate crypto investor since Bitcoin was valued at just $2000; he then became an XRP enthusiast and from there built XRPayNet on XRP’s Blockchain ledger. Poliszczuk is an entrepreneur at heart building small businesses since he was 12 years old. At just 23 years old he had 19 properties under his belt as a real estate broker and today he is seeking to become one of the world’s leading crypto micro payments provider.

A Solution to a Problem

According to Poliszczuk XRPayNet was developed to solve three major problems facing the 420 million crypto holders globally today. The first was that most crypto holders have no place to spend their crypto given that retailers are hesitant to accept crypto due to its volatility, secondly most crypto payment solution providers have yet to bridge fiat with crypto and finally retailers and merchants want a secure, easy technology platform to use seamlessly with their existing technology.

Poliszczuk told LaraontheBlock, “For crypto to be mainstream, it must work in harmony with fiat. I started to think about creating a tool that would allow users to spend their crypto from their wallet while retailer receives fiat currency. We are doing this through both our debit card solution as well as mobile application, making the Crypto to Fiat payment process seamless.”

Today, cryptocurrencies are accepted by less than 0.001% of companies throughout the world, yet $2.5 Billion was spent by consumers on pre-paid crypto cards in 3 months from the end of 2021-start of 2022.

Utilizing XRPL network, as one of the only 145 node validators, XRPayNet is built on one of the most scalable and ecological blockchains developed to date.

In addition to offering micropayments XRPayNet will be offering the first Buy Now Pay Later solution for crypto holders. Poliszczuk explains, “We are bringing the solution of Buy Now Pay Later to the crypto world. Clients who hold our card or application can buy on credit using the XRPAY coin staked with us as collateral. We are offering crypto holders more choice and providing the retailer with fiat currency of their choice.”

Entering the UAE

Currently XRPayNet is going through the process of acquiring a regulated license in the UAE, working with the legal firm Saeed and Company. They are seeking regulatory approval from Dubai’s Virtual asset regulatory Authority as well as the Central Bank of UAE given that they are a payment solution provider.

Poliszczuk says, “We have been told the process will take three months and we are confident given that one of our retail partners is closely involved in the regulatory scene and understand VARA’s requirements well.”

XRPayNet already has clients lined up in the UAE who are looking to offer crypto fiat micropayments and Buy now Pay later services. Poliszczuk, told LaraontheBlock, “We have a UAE chain of stores ready and waiting for us to deliver our technology to start using it in March 2023, we have also been approached by a gas station chain who also want to use our service. We have built a complete POS (Point of service) interface and all these stores need is to download our application on their terminals at point of sale to complete the payments.”

The XRPayNet coin while developed identical to that of XRP Ripple is not the same as XRP. According to Poliszczuk while the coin is built on XRP ledger and identical  to Ripple’s XRP we did not choose to use XRP because Ripple has already positioned it as a coin for international cross border payments for banks and not for micro payments.

To date XRPayNet has more than 10,000 holders of their coin. In addition XRPayNet is considering with its UAE partners to developing their own XRPayNet stablecoin as well as adopting the stablecoin required by UAE regulators. He states, “As part of the regulatory process it stipulates that we should use a particular stablecoin which has to be embedded in our applications. We are adhering to these regulations very strictly.”

XRPayNet founder is confident that there is huge demand in the UAE for crypto retail payments services and this is one of the reasons they were approached by ChainTech Labs. According to Poliszczuk, “ Today there are maybe 100-200 global crypto payment entities in the space and many of them won’t go forward as they usually stop development during bear markets. We are not them, we increased our talent base from 9 people to 26 within the last 6 months, and regardless of our coin price we are still developing to create the best products. So we are positioned ahead of others.”

Expansion and the Future

Other than the UAE, the 14 month old XRPayNet will be expanding to other jurisdictions. In December 2022 alone there were 11 requests for partnerships across the globe.

In conclusion XRPayNet founder believes that crypto is still in its infancy stage and is here to stay as long as people don’t convince themselves that crypto can work in silo of fiat, in the end they both need to work in harmony.

Bahrain real estate developer Bin Faqeeh Real estate Investment Company announced that clients can buy apartments or houses using cryptocurrencies. Bin Faqeeh will be offering crypto payment services with Bahrain financial service provider EazyPay POS terminals.

Binance Co-Founder and CEO, Changpeng Zhao tweeted about Bin Faqeeh Real Estate Company accepting Crypto Payments via Binance Pay through Eazy Financial Services. EazyPay and Binance had signed a partnership in Q4 2022 to offer crypto payment services to EazyPay’s 5000 plus POS terminals.

Prior to this Bahrain CoinMENA crypto broker partnered with Carlton Real Estate, a Bahrain-based real estate agency, allowing clients to buy real estate property using crypto assets. Under the partnership, Carlton real estate would accept stablecoins like USDT and USDC.

The UAE as well has been offering clients the ability to pay for real estate in cryptocurrencies. In May 2022 UAE Properties developer Nakheel and Abu Dhabi based crypto exchange Hayvn partnered to offer crypto payment options for Nakheel clients. Nakheel clients are able to pay for their rent, service fee, and real estate purchases in cryptocurrency.

Other real estate developers in UAE also are offering crypto payment services, such as DAMAC, SAMENA developers and more. In March UAE based Real estate and industry experts estimated that crypto payments for Dubai real estate increased by 300 percent in 2022. Majority of buyers are using stablecoins such as Tether, USDT as well as Bitcoin and Ethereum.

Even UAE Property Consultancy firm, Your place partnered with Utrust, a cryptocurrency payment solution designed to modernize the finance and payments industry offers clients the ability to pay for properties in Dubai UAE using cryptocurrencies. Recently Utrust is now enabling crypto payments for luxury hotels in the UAE. BM Hotels & Resorts luxury hotel chain is accepting digital currencies using Utrust.

As HE Omar Sultan Al Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy and Remote Work Applications participated in the WEF session ‘Finding the right balance for crypto’  announcing that the UAE has not licensed a single crypto exchange, concurrently the Dubai based Virtual Asset Regulatory Authority (VARA)  affirmed this on its website in its latest announcement.

Al Olama told audiences at WEF, that the regulations in UAE are not light. There are extensive regulations at VARA. He affirmed, “ UAE has not issued a single licensed crypto exchange in UAE neither Binance nor FTX.” He explained that there is a four step process  and to date, “no one was able to onboard any customers even last week.”

Concurrently VARA stated on its website, “VARA has not granted any operating permits to date this is a four stage licensing process” VARA’s website explained, that the VARA regime is founded on the principles on enforcing responsible market participation backed by a future-proofed and responsive regulatory framework that remains technology agnostic; that collectively deliver socio-economic stability; robust consumer protection; and jurisdictional resilience.”

As such there are four stages to regulation at VARA, the first is Provisional permit; graduating to a 2-step [(2) Preparatory + (3) Operating] Minimum Viable Product (MVP) license; and culminating at the (4) Full Market Product (FMP) license.

The fourth stage takes into effect after regulations have been tested within the regime. As such according to VARA every Virtual Asset Service Provider [VASP] must go through all 4 stages in this current environment, wherein VARA expects to evaluate, observe, and only then authorize suitably qualified entities to undertake any market servicing activities under its licensing regime.

VARA then clarifies that at this stage the only licenses that have been issued are Stage Gate (1) Provisional or (2) MVP-Preparatory to enable VASPs to fulfill all pre-conditions, and undertake readiness steps establish offices, onboard employees with work visas, secure domestic bank account etc. prior to being in a position to undertake any market operations.

So VARA affirmed that no VARA licensee has, to date, been awarded an MVP-Operating permit.

Each VASP that is awarded an MVP license must comply with the [MVP License Conditions Document] issued by VARA, and strictly adhere to the licensing conditions outlined in the appended letter. One of the MVP conditions is that VA activities during this phase may only be provided to qualified and/or institutional investor segments.

Mass retail consumers are strictly prohibited until the Stage Gate (4) FMP license approval has been secured. [Virtual Assets and Related Activities Regulations 2023] will stipulate relevant licensing conditions and requirements.

VARA adds that when it publishes its full market regulation, it will enable borderless economic opportunity across the global VA industry, protecting investors and market participants, backed by active enforcement of all regulatory requirements beyond security and cross-border compliance including those pertaining to custody and segregation of client money; prudential requirements (viz. insurance and liquidity cover); FATF compliance, market manipulation and/or abuse prevention.

In terms of Virtual Assets Exchanges, VARA has awarded Binance (MVP Preparatory License Issued) while Bybit,, Equiti, GCEX, Huobi, and OKX have provisionary approval and started the process.

In terms of Virtual Assets Payment Services, Zamp has applied and have provisional approval. 

In terms of Virtual Assets Broker – Dealer services those who have applied and been granted provisional approval include BitOasis, CoinMENA, MidChains and Scallop

Virtual Assets Issuance Services include Calvin Cheng Web3.0 Holdings, Hike, Monstera, Prypto, Woonkly Labs, and Xfinite

While under Virtual Asset Custodians only Hex Trust (MVP Preparatory License Issued) and Komainu (MVP Preparatory License Issued)

Virtual Assets Management/ Investment Services: Amber Group, BRE Holdings, Brevan Howard, Fintonia Group, NineBlocks, NOIA Capital, TPS Capital and Q9 Capital have all been granted provisional approvals, first stage. 

Al Olama also noted at the WEF session that the job of a regulator is to try and be proactive and to protect people as much as possible whenever people adopt a technology. He states, “In UAE we have a young population so we need to ensure that we regulate fast because youth are early adopters. He added, “The UAE wants to protect talent since we aim to be the country with the highest per capital talent on earth.”

According to him there are other sides of crypto such as Web3 and UAE wants to attract Web3 and Blockchain talent. Blockchain is a technology of the future given that traceability cannot be removed. This according to H.E. Al Olama is a positive thing for the world as it is easier to trace someone who transacts through Bitcoin than through hard cash.”

He ascertained that regulators across the board need to work together. First bad actors should not be able to move from one place to another, and the same incidents should not be repeated tomorrow.

In terms of DeFi Al Olama believes it is is evolving and is least regulated. He states, “ We want to jump into each vertical on its own, the only issue we have is that while the UAE government can move fast  if we work with other governments as teams and we all scrutinize  every single vertical it is better as we cannot wait for next catastrophe.”

As per a recent PWC Crypto regulation report 2023, the UAE has finalized its crypto regulation, includes AML/ CTF Money laundering and counter terrorist financing rules as well as its travel rule and has already prepared the stablecoin regulation for payments which is awaiting final legislation. ( refer to graph page 8 of report).

For those not familiar with the travel rule, it is a Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) rule [31 CFR 103.33) which requires all financial institutions to pass on certain information to the next financial institution, in certain funds transmittals involving more than one financial institution.

This PwC Global Crypto Regulation 2023 report provides an overview of the crypto regulation landscape, with a focus on financial services. It offers insights into how the regulatory frameworks are developing across the world and seeks to identify how this may impact relevant industry participants and virtual service providers within the financial services sector.

The report notes that UAE authorities are assessing their approach to areas including stablecoins and wider DeFi.

In addition as per the report, the Central Bank of UAE is establishing its position in communicating permissible virtual asset activities to local banks. These include opening accounts for Virtual Asset Service Providers (VASPs) better known as crypto exchanges. 

 UAE Securities Commodities Authority with its Decision on Crypto Assets Activities Regulation (CAAR), regulates the offering, issuing, listing and trading of crypto assets in onshore UAE. This includes the initial coin offering exchanges, marketplaces, crowdfunding platforms, custodian services and related financial services based upon or leveraging crypto assets.

In December 2022 the UAE Cabinet updates some of its legislations including those pertaining to virtual business and virtual assets allowing them to be regulated onshore.

As for the rest of the GCC and Arab countries, the report notes that Bahrain has implemented crypto regulations and AML/CTF  yet has not implemented neither the travel rule nor stablecoin regulations for payments.

Jordan, Kuwait, and Oman have not initiated a crypto regulation process, while KSA and Qatar have prohibited cryptocurrencies.

It is interesting that while the report for example considers that Oman has not initiated the crypto regulation process, Oman had announced in 2021 that it was launching through the Central Bank a high level Oman cryptocurrency task force to study the economic advantages and disadvantages of authorizing the use of cryptocurrencies in the country.

In January 2022 Oman capital markets Authority announced a tender for specialized companies to assist in setting up a legislative and regulatory framework for virtual assets and licensing supervision and regulations of Virtual assets service providers within the Sultanate of Oman. Since then no other announcements have been made.

Both Bahrain and Oman have allowed crypto payments to be made in the country through virtual asset providers. Oman based, cryptocurrency broker, Easy Coins launched its trial of Tether USDT on the Tron Blockchain. Accordingly Easy Coin users in Oman can now purchase TRC20 USDT. At the end of 2021 there were 43 thousand registered crypto wallet addresses in Oman.

In the meantime even stablecoins are being trialled in Oman. The Oman Water and Waste Water Services Company (OWWSC), member of Nama Group, to trial a stablecoin linked to the Oman Riyal. The company signed an MOU with Oman based Digital Digits, the creators of Easy coins and Connected Chains to trial “ Hasalah” a stablecoin Wallet.

While in Bahrain EazyPay, a payments solution provider partnered with Binance’s Binance Pay to launch a regulated and approved crypto payments service offering in the Kingdom.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia crypto traders and investors are growing despite the ban on cryptocurrencies and the Central Bank of Saudi Arabia has created a division to study implementation of virtual assets and CBDCs. In 2022, Qatar announced the introduction of its blockchain blueprint for the country.

So while regulations are essential for the growth of crypto ecosystem, and the UAE is leading in this regards, it doesn’t mean that crypto is not being utilized in other countries regardless of their regulatory status. 

In what seems to be a great start for Blockchain and Web3 ecosystem in the MENA region, the first $1 billion fund was announced by UAE based Venom Foundation and Iceberg Capital under Venom Ventures Fund.

As per the press release, Venom Ventures Fund is allocating $1 billion to invest in Web3, blockchain and cryptocurrency projects and services. This is the first $1 billion fund for Web3 and Blockchain to originate from the MENA region. Prior to this UAE Cypher Capital had announced its allocation of $200 million for Blockchain, Web3 and Crypto at the end of 2022 and Shurooq Partners had allocated $150 million for the same.

Venom Foundation is the first Layer-1 blockchain licensed and regulated by the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM). In October 2022, Venom Foundation added a regulated virtual asset exchange to its roster. The UAE based exchange formerly known as Yoshi Markets was re-names to Venomex. Venomex had received financial services permission from FSRA at ADGM allowing it to operate as a multilateral trading facility and custodian for virtual assets.

As for the blockchain-agnostic fund, it will invest in innovative protocols and Web3 dApps, focusing on long-term trends such as payments, asset management, DeFi, banking services, and GameFi. It aims to become the leading supporter of the next-generation digital technologies and entrepreneurs.

Venom Ventures Fund (VVF) will leverage Iceberg Capital’s network, expertise, and capabilities to offer incubation programs and access to an extensive industry network. Furthermore, it will assist the investee projects with marketing, exchange listing, technical, legal, and regulatory support.

The fund’s leadership team consists of experienced traditional finance and blockchain professionals; including Peter Knez, ex-CIO at BlackRock and Mustafa Kheriba, a seasoned and well-known investment professional with an impressive track record in the MENA region. Mustafa has served on the Board of Directors of several financial services and insurance companies in the Middle-east and Europe.

As per the announcement, the fund operated by Iceberg Capital, will be investing in projects and teams from pre-seed to Series A rounds. It will strive to accelerate the adoption of blockchain, DeFi, and Web3 while generating long-term value for investors.

Mustafa Kheriba, the Executive Chairman of Iceberg Capital, stated, “We are thrilled to partner with Venom Foundation, launching their new $1 billion fund. Even though the blockchain industry is witnessing a steep correction in prices, we believe that builders will continue to build and innovate. With Venom Ventures, we will be providing financial, technical, and marketing support to the most promising teams and projects in Web3 space to help them bring their visions to life.”

Peter Knez, Chairman of Venom Ventures, added, “I am delighted to be a part of the launch of our new Venture Capital fund here in Abu Dhabi. I am excited to work with a team of experienced investment professionals and talented people from the crypto industry, and we are ready to allocate strategic investments in the most innovative web3 start-ups that are poised for mass adoption. Our mission is to transform digital asset management and make a lasting impact on the industry. Venom is the ideal platform for us to achieve this goal.”

With regards to investments, already Venom Ventures Fund (VVF)  has led a $20 million funding in Nümi Metaverse.  Nümi Metaverse is a universal platform for creators, innovators, and followers. Nümi will launch its ‘Visual Novel’ in 2023, a mini-game experience with a range of special prizes for players.

Nümi will also launch VR metaverse by the end of this year, followed by a PC and mobile version in 2024. The Nümi investment showcases the fund’s investment strategy. Developers and builders working on innovative Web3 projects are invited to apply for funding through the Venom Ventures Fund website.

In an interview with Cointelegraph, Venom Ventures chairman Peter Knez noted that the Venom Foundation, its founders and regional institutional and private investors had seeded capital for the fund. The fund will support companies and projects with a global footprint and is not limited to Abu Dhabi-based firms.

The investment fund will look to attract startups and technology firms to use Venom’s scalable, proof-of-stake-based blockchain solution. Knez highlighted key services that could operate on top of its ADGM-regulated blockchain:

“Payment systems, central bank digital currencies (CBDC), stablecoins and remittance are core services that Venom can provide a solution for due to our unique blend of technology and enterprise.”Knez also believes that the platform could power a multitude of use cases, highlighting the potential for micropayment solutions driving Web3 business models and financial inclusion.

There are 112 countries that are — in one way or another — exploring central bank digital currency (CBDC). Of this number, 11 countries have launched their own CBDCs, 15 are piloting, 26 are developing and 46 are researching. This trend appears to have reached the UAE, with the country’s central bank collaborating with various international agencies.

In 2019, the Central Bank of the UAE (CBUAE) piloted a wholesale CBDC project with Saudi Central Bank named of “ABER.” A final report was published in 2020, which showed that “the distributed ledger technology would enable central banks to develop payments systems at both local and cross-border levels.”

More recently, the CBUAE — along with the BIS Innovation Hub Hong Kong Centre and the central banks of Hong Kong, Thailand and China — implemented Project mBridge, a joint initiative experimenting with cross-border payments using a custom-built common platform based on distributed ledger technology (DLT) upon which multiple central banks can issue and exchange their respective central bank digital currencies.

H.E. Khaled Mohamed Balama, governor of the CBUAE, commented on the mBridge successful pilot by saying, “We will continue to establish the right governance framework for interoperable CBDCs to deliver tangible benefits to UAE companies and consumers.”

The CBUAE and its work on the digital currency could mean that a CBDC may be issued in the near future, but how close in the future is still unknown. The launch of a UAE CBDC will depend on various factors, including the ability of CBDCs to resolve issues of privacy, blockchain interoperability as well as economic monetary concerns.

Will the UAE launch a CBDC?

Stanislav Madorski, the senior vice president of blockchain strategy at WadzPay, told Cointelegraph MENA that given the cost and complexity of executing CBDC pilots, he expects the CBUAE would launch a CBDC.

“UAE has been making strides towards developing a cashless society and is in the top 10 in the world for the most cashless societies with ambitions to be fully cashless within this decade.”

Meanwhile, IBM MENA’s Chief Technology Officer, Anthony Butler, an expert on blockchain and digital assets, saw renewed interest in CBDCs in the region over the last few years, and the mBridge project is reflective of this.

This comes as governments worldwide show renewed interest in launching CBDC projects. In December, Pakistan signed two new laws to expedite the launch of its CBDC. Meanwhile, Spain’s central bank has stated its plans to start a wholesale CBDC project and asked financial institutions and tech providers to submit proposals for the initiative.

Challenges to CBDC launch in UAE

Both Butler and Madorski confirm some challenges that await the CBUAE and other central banks globally in their bid to launch CBDCs.

Madorski sees that while CBDCs have advantages because they are issued by central banks, which have a greater influence on monetary policy and can drive regulatory changes, the biggest challenge will be cross-border acceptance. He explains, “Each country’s blockchain might not be compatible with the other, so interoperability is an issue that we at WadzPay are trying to resolve.” 

Meanwhile, Butler sees much friction in launching retail CBDCs (rCBDCs), most notably the technical and economic challenges. He explains that if CBDCs are to replace cash, they would need to have the privacy that cash experiences offer.

“This is not only relevant within the boundaries of a country but also in cross-border payments,” Butler says. “There was a lot of consideration given in the UAE Saudi ABER CBDC design to this particular point because other countries could have visibility into transactions of counterparties.”

He also notes there are obstacles in moving past the “zero bounds” and toward the introduction of negative interest rates.

In addition, Butler emphasizes there are also structural implications of rCBDCs because if the general public has access to central bank money they no longer need to work with the commercial banking sector.

He emphasizes, “If you replace cash with rCBDC, then there are questions of how to ensure the ability to perform offline payments when someone isn’t connected to the network.”

The future is hybrid

It is plausible that the CBUAE could follow suit and issue stablecoins and a CBDC. Butler believes that several countries are exploring the different aspects of CBDC, like retail and stablecoins. He said these assets have been made available by the commercial banking sector. As he explains, “This will mitigate some of the well-known risks facing CBDCs.”

Madorski confirms that central banks, including Hong Kong, are looking at a hybrid model that would include both stablecoins and CBDCs. He states, “The hybrid model is allowing easy digital currency acquisition both locally and abroad, as stablecoins are readily available on many global exchanges. This model is definitely feasible in the UAE.”

UAE could follow in the footsteps of Singapore and launch something similar to Ubin, which is exploring the use of CBDCs for cross-border currency transactions, the Bank of Japan, which is rolling out a pilot program for its CBDC project to three major Japanese banks in spring 2023, or even India.

But out of the central banks experimenting with CBDCs, the People’s Bank of China leads the race. The Bank will expand the rollout of digital wallets for its e-CNY digital currency to several developed provinces by the end of 2022. It has already recorded $13.9 billion in e-CNY digital transactions and 260 million app downloads.

Whatever the use case, the CBUAE appears to be one the most promising countries in the MENA region when it comes to a CBDC launch, followed by Saudi Arabia, which recently hired a virtual assets and CBDC program lead.

While it’s still unclear when this will happen and what type of CBDC will be launched, the UAE inevitably will have to embrace CBDCs in its effort to build its crypto economy.