Money, money, money: Where are the Middle East's billionaires from?

Published April 22nd, 2014 - 10:51 GMT

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saudi walid bin talal
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Image 1 of 8: Saudi Arabia: No surprises here! The oil-rich Kingdom took the lead 39 names on the list with Al-Waleed Bin Talal holding on to the throne (and that libel case he brought against Forbes for “underestimating” his wealth).

Israeli billionaires
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Image 1 of 8: Israel: Controversy aside, there are some very rich Israelis splashing the cash in Tel Aviv. With their “unique” set of advantages, the country is the only OECD economy in the region meaning it’s on a whole different “playing field”. As a result Israel is home to 18 billionaires - l’chaim!

Emiratis billionaires
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Image 1 of 8: Egypt: Who would have thought there were billionaires packed along the Nile? While the revolution’s been ticking away, Egypt’s been hiding rich people - 15 of them to be precise, and most from the Swaris and Mansour families. If Egypt had a “pyramid” of wealth, they’d be at the top!

Swaris and Mansour family
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Image 1 of 8: UAE: Known for its ostentatious spending, it should come as no surprise that the UAE boasts its fair share of billionaires. Its rich ranking may be improved by wealthy expats in the Emirates but it’s doing fine on its own - Dubai alone is home to nine billionaires. Mo’ money, mo’ problems? Not in the UAE!

Joseph Safra
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Image 1 of 8: Lebanon: Beirut’s spot on this coveted list could be higher - if all the Lebanese billionaires stayed in their home country! There are 12 billionaires of Lebanese origin and the 2nd richest man is Lebanese-Brazilian Joseph Safra who is worth $16bn - pretty impressive stuff. Now...how to get him to stay in Beirut?!

Othman Benjelloun
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Image 1 of 8: Morocco: Seemingly a billionaire under-dog, this North African country has six rich bankers boosting the ranks! Othman Benjelloun tops the list of Moroccan billionaires, as chairman and CEO of BMCE Bank, one of the country’s largest banks, which is active in more than 15 African countries.

kuwait billionaires
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Image 1 of 8: Kuwait: When it comes to Kuwait, it certainly is all about the family….feud. Kuwait is home to five billionaires all from two families, Al-Kharafi and Al-Ghanim - quite the money monopoly. It’s not al happy families however - the Al-Ghanim brothers have locked horns in a dispute on how divide assets inherited from their father. Play nice boys!

Mo Ibrahim
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Image 1 of 8: Sudan: The lone billionaire from Sudan, Mo Ibrahim, made his billions on the first mobile phone company to serve MENA. He pocketed $1.4 billion after selling the company in 2005 and now helps to fight corruption in Africa. Helping governments' economies and supporting positive leaders, Ibrahim is the definition of a good-guy-billionaire!

Forbes Middle East published it’s most up to date survey of the region’s billionaires. It reported that the combined fortunes of the Arab’s world richest 100 registered $166.07 billion. While it’s obvious which countries hold the most billions, the same cannot be said for individuals.

A country by country division based on each tycoons’ country of origin reveals that there a billions to be pocketed even in the region’s worst economic performers like Egypt, who, believe it or not, came second and just after Saudi Arabia (if we're not counting Israel).

Forbes has yet to find billionaires in Iraq, Jordan, Syria or Yemen, which should come as no surprise given that the latter three states’ entire GDP comes close to what Al-Waleed Bin Talal singlehandedly holds. But your jaw might drop when you hear that Forbes has failed to find a single billionaire in Qatar or Bahrain. In all fairness, they couldn’t even if they wanted to, given that it’s practically impossible to dig into their wealth of royal families. So it goes without saying that the wealth of royal families in the region was excluded from Forbes’ probe. We have a feeling their inclusion might’ve changed a thing or two about the rankings, for better or worse.

So, what is so Middle East-specific about this list? It’s about family!

First, it’s clear that in this region, more than any other part of the world, wealth stays in the family (take for example Egypt’s Al-Sawiris and Kuwait’s Al-Kharafi). In fact, one third of the billionaires in the Middle East are related to each other.

Forbes Middle only considered publicly held shares, audited documents, and official information disseminated in the public domain. And for those who know a thing or two about the Middle East, we can safely that there other “hidden” billionaires who could’ve tipped the balance.

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