The first official crypto-currency exchange to be registered in the UAE has been hailed as a 'game changer' for regional fintech industries. Photo: iStock
DMCC, a Dubai government entity, announced at Davos 2020  that it is launching a crypto valley in its free zone. Photo: iStock

While countries such as China and India continue their crypto crackdown, the Middle East is growing as a destination for blockchain startups.

Dubai is becoming the epicenter for this growth and new developments from the UAE are coming thick and fast.

This week it was reported that the Al Zarooni Group had joined forces with the Crypto Bulls trading house to open the first official crypto-currency exchange to be registered in the UAE. Chairman of the Al Zarooni Foundation, Suhail Al Zarooni, hailed the development as a “game changer” for fintech industries in Dubai.

The Al Zarooni Group was founded in 1996 and has since grown into a multinational freight, logistics and international trading conglomerate with business across the region. It has collaborated with US-based Crypto Bulls and also Gulf Coin Gold (GCG) for the joint venture, with the signing of a MoU between Al Zarooni and Shasha Gupta and Madhu, co-founders of the Crypto Bulls exchange.

Gupta added that the exchange has already garnered more than 200,000 registered traders in the past six months. The exchange will become the first in Dubai to offer crypto to fiat trading in local currency, the Arab Emirate Dirham (AED). “With this unique support from the UAE government, Crypto Bulls would be able to attract a huge number of foreign investments in crypto from Asia and the Middle East,” he added.

The government is taking a positive stance towards blockchain and crypto-currencies and plans to have more than 50% of state transactions on the blockchain by 2021. The initiative has been launched as the UAE Blockchain Strategy, and digital currencies are a big part of it.

Dubai also plans to launch its own crypto-currency, emCash, later this year. According to a state news agency, a subsidiary of Dubai Economy, emCredit, and the UK-based Object Tech Group Ltd, will work together to establish a digital currency payments system. Using the emPay digital wallet system, UAE residents will be able to make real-time purchases at any supporting vendors.

Deputy Director General of Dubai Economy Ali Ibrahim said the project will grant a financial identity to contactless transactions, reinforce Dubai as a competitive business destination and accelerate its evolution into a smart economy.

With an open door policy to crypto comes the international investment that countries such as China and India are missing out on. San Francisco fintech company Ripple recently announced the opening of a new Dubai office before the end of 2018.

Ripple has already partnered with banks in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman, so a regional office is the next logical step. Global infrastructure innovation head at Ripple, Dilip Rao, said the Middle East is “our fastest growing marketplace.”