In a recent article in CoinDesk, Virgil Griffith, Ethereum Foundation Head of Special projects spoked about partnering with finance experts in the MENA region and GCC to present Ethereum as a platform that is compatible with Islamic Law. According to CoinDesk, this move is being carried out as a first step to secure investments from the region.
“My job is to keep rolling dice,” Griffith told CoinDesk about work to certify ethereum’s Sharia compliance. “Probably nothing will happen. But there’s a hypothetical case where say, the Saudi sovereign wealth fund invests, like, a trillion dollars [in ethereum projects], which would be a real boon. That would be really great.”
Wan Hafizi Halim, an Islamic finance expert at Amanie Advisors in Dubai, told CoinDesk his firm issued a paper saying ethereum smart contracts can be halal, or compliant with Islamic banking rules. Wan Hafizi said the research was conducted at the behest of the Ethereum Foundation, which is spearheaded by ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin. “What we did with ethereum was just to provide the guidelines,” Wan Hafizi told CoinDesk. “Any companies that wish to fundraise in Muslim countries, they can also approach Sharia scholars to assess their projects to see if they are compliant from end-to-end. … With the Sharia certification they obtain, that could provide some clarities and convince Muslim investors to participate and invest.”
Saudi Arabia’s, Public Investment Fund PIF, led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, reportedly manages investments worth $300 billion. Griffith called this certification effort a “moonshot” with high upside if it works and low downside if it doesn’t. In previous articles in UNLOCK KSA’S Saudi Telecom has been working to develop blockchain projects and has worked with Consensys. In addition in the Fintech arena KSA banks and SAMA Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority is also working with Ripple. Even IBM is working in KSA on several blockchain Projects such as the digital currency ABER between KSA and UAE, in addtion to work with Riyadh Municipality and ELM the tech conglamorate in KSA.
In the CoinDesk article it is mentioned that PIF, the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, has been in touch with ConsenSys, according to a source with knowledge of the matter. ConsenSys also confirmed that talks with the PIF explored opportunities to invest in ConsenSys through the purchase of equity as part of the company’s effort to raise $200 million in venture capital.
ConsenSys has existing projects in the region outside of Saudi Arabia. In Dubai, ConsenSys is working Smart Dubai in its efforts to make Dubai “the first city fully powered by blockchain by 2021.” Through a partnership with the Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company, ConsenSys explored opportunities for digital permits and an automated “process of attesting any document by governmental entities.” Rami Maalouf, the ConsenSys director leading efforts in the Middle East and North Africa, told CoinDesk there are currently 30 staff members in Dubai working on Smart Dubai projects, which are scheduled for launch by the end of 2019.
“Several conversations are underway with both private- and public-sector players in Dubai and the Gulf Cooperation Council as well,” Maalouf said. “The traction we are seeing is very encouraging as the understanding and appetite for investment in blockchain technology is accelerating.”
Ethereum Foundation liaison Atif Yaqub, partner at the London-based crypto and real estate firm UKP Assets, told CoinDesk that ConsenSys isn’t involved in his current partnership with Amanie Advisors to develop an ethereum platform for issuing Sharia-compliant financial products and services. Yaqub’s project, which he plans to spin out into a separate startup later this year, involves cooperation with the foundation and Griffith’s blockchain industry contacts but is not currently funded by the EF. Regardless, Yaqub said the work he’s doing with Griffith could benefit other startups, including Lubin’s ConsenSys investments, down the road.