An interesting region for conducting business is the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. With economic powerhouses such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Israel; and being an extended geography; there is a sufficient mix of things going on that allows for a NFT market to at least gather sufficient interest. An example of this is the NFT marketplaces that are popping up which are dedicated to MENA artists. Marketplaces like Nifty Souq and NuqtaNFT have started to pop up. Nuqta even has the backing of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia through the Ministry of Investment, which signals a definitive strategic move into blockchain technology by one of the largest economies in the region.
You even have NFT artists from the Middle East that are already creating a buzz on a global stage. Kristel Bechara is Lebanon-born artist that is based in the United Arab Emirates, and is the rising star in NFT art in the Middle East. Her artwork can be purchased for upwards of $4,000 and she is appearing in galleries in Tokyo, Milan, Brussels and France.
However, there is still a long way to go for the MENA region in terms of adoption of NFTs. Even though you can find the UAE in fourth place in lists of countries with higher NFT adoption rates (with a forecast that it will become the second in adoption), only behind Philippines. Reasons can vary, with technology limitations or there not being an obvious need to jump in the NFT and crypto scene just yet. And still, as the likes of UAE and Saudi Arabia look to pivot away from commodities, technology seems like something that will become a key component of their economies —like Israel already is—.
The MENA region has a wide array of realities, which might act as a driver for the mass adoption of cryptocurrencies and NFTs in the future. And with 19 countries —of which many are of fairly big size— who could jump into the space and experience exponential adoption at any time, it will be worth to keep an eye on MENA.
For example, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has the explicit goal of transforming its economy from being dependent on fossil fuels, to one that is more diversified and is a key hub in strategic sectors. And blockchain and NFT could well have a role to play as this policy goal, known as Vision 2030, is put into practice. Especially because arts and finances are some of the areas that the Saudis are looking to promote and transform into key cornerstones of the new economy. As this happens, DeFi solutions and, more importantly, NFT marketplaces are starting to pop in the kingdom. As KSA pivots into sectors that are being disrupted by NFTs, surely more investments into this technology will be made.
There is even an NFT collection in the region that is an homage to the all-famous Bored Ape Yatch Club. That is of course, the Bored Falcon collection, which was created by artists from UAE, Bahrain, Syria, and Lebanon. If there is ever a sign of NFT hype taking over, that has to be NFT projects that reference BAYC, right?
A lot of catching up to do, or a big opportunity?
The truth of the matter is that the NFT market in the MENA region has not reached the maturity or interest levels of some countries in the west like the U.S., Germany and the U.K.; or developing countries such as Philippines, Nigeria or Venezuela. Lebanon recently just made a top 15 for volume of searches on the term “NFT” on Google, with Morocco and UAE inside the top 30.
Does this mean that this is a market that is less interesting than other regions? Some people might read this is on a more optimistic note. Given the strategic importance, the incipient interest in Web3 that is already noticeable, plus the backing of sovereign wealth funds like in Saudi Arabia, you have the ingredient of, not only an up-and-coming market, but the makings of a potential big player in the NFT global market.
This is also very good news for the NFT art space, as more diverse voices will join in to create more artwork that perhaps could not be done anywhere else as cultural backgrounds will definitely have an impact on someone’s own subjectivity. Having more NFT art hubs will only be beneficial to the artists, as they will have more alternatives to showcase their work and more access to potential buyers and collectors. Art galleries from all around the world, like SOPRG in Czech Republic, can benefit from a Middle East that is more friendly towards NFTs, as it would mean a wider universe of potential collectors.
Meanwhile, in the Middle East and North Africa region, Dubai has already emerged as an arts hub. Coincidentally or not, this is where Kristel Bechara is now based, having been born in Lebanon. And looking at the cultural aspect of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiative, the Kingdom is looking to position Riyadh as one of the world’s creative and artistic hubs as well.
All of this is to say that some attention should be paid to the MENA region. After all, Web3 is just getting started all around the world, and any advantage from early adoption can be lost at this stage. Who knows if the ones that are catching up are the ones that later on people will have to catch up to.