Saudi news channels have been instructed to begin transferring their operations from Dubai to Riyadh as part of a drive by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to turn the Saudi capital into a major business hub to rival the UAE.
Staff at Al Arabiya and Al Hadath, two prominent Saudi news channels, which operate under the same media umbrella, were told on Monday to move their headquarters out of the Dubai Media City, home to global and local media companies, to Riyadh. The move is expected to happen in stages over a period of six months.
Saudi owned MBC Group, the largest broadcaster in the Middle East and North Africa, has also said that its plan announced last year to set up a new headquarters in Riyadh was on track but added that it will maintain a "strong regional presence."
Other news channels are expected to follow suit especially as from the start of 2024 the Saudi government and state-backed institutions will stop signing contracts with foreign companies that base their Middle East headquarters in any other country in the region.
Monday's instruction is part of Bin Salman's broader campaign to turn Riyadh into a major business hub that rivals the UAE. In addition to giving foreign companies an ultimatum to establish their regional headquarters in Riyadh if they want to do business in the kingdom, Saudi Arabia has amended trade rules that undermine the interests of Abu Dhabi.
The flight of media groups will be a major blow to Dubai Media City. Al Arabiya was said to be renting the largest studio at a cost of $700,000. Also, workers in the Saudi channels represent the largest wage block in Dubai, which will mean other sectors like real estate will be impacted.
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Its not clear what long-term repercussions this will have in relations between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. Until recently the two countries saw eye to eye in most regional matters. However cracks have started to appear, beginning in 2019 when the UAE withdrew most of its military forces from Yemen, leaving Saudi Arabia alone in its war against Iran-backed Houthis. The Emirates was also found to be backing a rival government in Yemen.
Other major sources of tension are said to be the speed of Saudi-led efforts to end the trade and travel embargo on Qatar, about which Abu Dhabi is not pleased, while Riyadh is equally frustrated over the pace of UAE normalisation with Israel.
In a sign that the region was heading for a geo-political reset, Saudi Arabia and Qatar signed an agreement last week to establish a coordination council in an effort to improve relations between the Gulf states.