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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Amazon makes hiring push in Riyadh after Saudi Crown Prince’s visit

Company lists jobs for business development and grocery, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos met with Saudi Crown Prince last week

Amazon is a server kingmaker. AFP
Amazon is a server kingmaker. AFP

Amazon.com is adding several jobs in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, signalling chief executive Jeff Bezo’s desire to expand in the country following a closely watched meeting with the crown prince.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman met with Amazon’s chief executive officer in Seattle last week.

The 32-year-old heir apparent had planned to discuss a potential project with the Ministry of Energy for Amazon to build a data centre in the country, which would be the first in the Middle East for the world’s largest cloud provider, Bloomberg reported last week.

While the status of the data centre proposal is unclear, Amazon began advertising at least five new full-time positions for e-commerce and grocery operations in Riyadh this week. Amazon-owned Souq.com also added three others in Dubai since Tuesday.

Raf Fatani, Amazon’s head of Middle East and Africa, promoted the jobs on his Twitter account on Wednesday, which includes a key role for a government relations representative. Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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After ceding China to Alibaba Group Holding, Amazon is looking for a win in the Middle East. It is locked in expensive competition with home-grown online shopping sites in India, Brazil and elsewhere. Global expansion has been costly, with international operations losing $3 billion last year.

Amazon purchased Dubai-based retailer Souq.com last year to take out a main rival in the region. The Middle East has lagged behind the rest of the world in e-commerce, but mobile and online shopping is picking up in Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other more developed countries, where smartphone penetration is higher. Online sales in the Middle East and Africa are expected to reach $49bn by 2021, up from $29bn this year, according to research firm EMarketer.

The US is the largest investor in Saudia Arabia, and Prince Mohammed’s three-week tour is designed to cultivate more deals, said Sam Blatteis, the former head of government relations for Gulf countries at Google who is now chief executive of the MENA Catalysts, a consulting firm for tech companies expanding to the Middle East.

The prince’s visit has been mostly free of controversy, despite international criticism that has surrounded the government’s recent moves, including a Saudi-led bombing in Yemen and the temporary jailing of top businessmen at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh.

“The kingdom needs to increase foreign investment to help finance its ambitious reform and development agenda,” Blatteis said. “This heightening American technology interest in Saudi Arabia really matters.”