Andreas Haberbeck is a partner in the Jeddah office of Hatem Abbas Ghazzawi & Co.

Postcard from... Saudi Arabia

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  • This is not an accurate description. What about Mutwa (the vice and virtue squad who can arrest you and molest you for almost everything and nothing). Single males are not allowed in public places on weekends (at least in Riyadh).

    Also, how many of the $600bn worth of projects are actually going on? The banks are extremely cautious of lending in the Saudi Arabia. There is no real M & A market to speak of and other practice areas are about a 1000 years behind the rest of the world. Having lived and worked in Saudi for an international law firm I can assure you that the work isn't as glittering as it appears. The legal system is a joke and the enforceability of any documents against Saudis even a bigger joke. Every year that you spend in Saudi you move two years behind in terms of actual knowledge and experience.

    Also, procuring visa's for your family is a nightmare. My advice stay as far away as possible from Saudi. No amount of money is worth the pain and there is a lot of it there!

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  • I have been in Saudi (Riyadh) now for nearly three years. I am a corporate lawyer and this place is a career disaster. There is no M&A activity, no capital markets activity, and nothing but an endless stream of incorporation, foreign investment licensing and basic advisory work. Many practitioners here with international firms have been sold a myth and this "Postcard" is just another version of the myth.
    Saudi is different in many respects from anywhere else I have experienced, and I have worked in Australia, Hong Kong and Dubai. While Jeddah may have a relatively vibrant expat social scene, it is another story in Riyadh. There are endless disruptions to your life and I would advise anyone thinking about a career out here to do some real due diligence before you come here. It may well offer a job during a slow period elsewhere, but are you really ready for life without culture (no cinema, theatre, art galleries), limited contact with females and the endless intrusive paperwork.
    There are some good aspects to living here, but it's just hard to think what they are.

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  • Re: corporate work & capital market work, the above bleak comments are certainly accurate. People here do JVs instead of M&A, so the level of sophistication is not as high as in other GCC jurisdictions.
    Re: visas: 100% correct! The process goes from painful if you sponsor has high-level connections to nightmarish if he doesn't.
    Re: enforceability, the court system et all: isn't this true of all GCC jurisdictions? Many standard international practice contract provisions would not fly before local courts (and the same issue would arise in terms of enforcing arbitration awards). Most of the provisions of the GCC mega-deals haven't been tested in courts -- this is not Saudi-specific.
    Re: "how many of the $600bn worth of projects are actually going on? The banks are extremely cautious of lending in the Saudi Arabia", I respectfully disagree. The major-scale projects are indeed going forward. Actually, the Saudi Gov is more than happy to make the point that - as opposed to some of its less fortunate neighbors - it doesn't need foreign or even local lenders to carry its projects forward. The Yanbu financing is evidence of that. The High Speed Train project is on track, and the major other PPPs are gong forward (they're generally delayed but this is because projects are always delayed around here, i.e. delays are not cause by the credit crunch).

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