Which businesses national governments choose to work with, and which ones they don’t, can be a telling indicator of global alliances and geopolitical positioning. Perhaps nowhere else is this more apparent than with the Chinese technology firm Huawei, and the mixed reception it has received from governments around the world.
While many European and American politicians have been outright hostile to the prospect of Huawei’s involvement in critical national infrastructures, if recent developments are anything to go by, decision-makers in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are taking a far more welcoming stance.
The most contentious issue at play is the use of Huawei components in building 5G mobile network infrastructure. Hardliners in Sweden and the United Kingdom have explicitly banned the Chinese firm’s involvement in 5G infrastructure and ordered telecoms companies to remove any Huawei-manufactured equipment from their networks.
Meanwhile, in Eastern Europe, Slovenia, Poland, Czechia, Romania, Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia and Bulgaria signed agreements with the former President Donald Trump administration to implement similar hardware bans.
MENA Countries Embrace Huawei Tech
Effectively shut out of many European 5G markets, Huawei appears to have pivoted its attention to the MENA region.
Last month, the technology company announced that it had signed an agreement with Zain KSA to accelerate the rollout of 5G in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi telecoms firm will deploy Huawei products in its national network as part of efforts to increase 5G capacity and coverage. The latest deal adds to Huawei’s growing presence in Middle Eastern telecoms after the firm previously secured key 5G contracts in the United Arab Emirates.
Huawei is also set to open its second Middle Eastern data center in Saudi Arabia, the first being Abu Dhabi’s “disaster recovery” data center.
At the same time as forging partnerships with the region’s digital infrastructure players, Huawei has also deepened its relationship with the UAE airline Emirates after the two companies convened in Dubai to discuss shared technology development and business synergies in September.
Emirates and Huawei first established a strategic partnership in early 2020, a move that expanded the user base of the Emirates app by making it available on the AppGallery of Huawei’s smart devices.
Then in May this year, the two companies signed an agreement encompassing marketing collaborations on joint projects and promotional activities, aiming to expand their reach in each other’s home market.
In another strategic deal for Huawei’s presence in the region, last week the company signed an agreement with Flat6Labs, a MENA-focused venture capital firm.
The agreement will see Huawei launch its “Spark” program in Egypt, a business accelerator scheme designed to foster innovation in digital technologies. Under the new agreement, selected Egyptian startups will be granted free-of-charge access to Huawei’s latest technologies alongside finance and investment from Flat6Labs.
Ultimately, it would be an oversimplification of the facts to say that Huawei is dialing back its European ambitions, as despite its 5G difficulties, the company is still heavily invested in the data center, mobile device and connected vehicle markets there.
Nevertheless, the overarching narrative is one of greater integration and high-level cooperation in MENA versus an uphill battle for political approval in Europe.
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