Navigating the AI Regulatory Maze in MENA

Entrepreneurs in MENA, as elsewhere, are starry-eyed for AI.

H Author: Hkhayrat
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AI, which is developing at a breathtaking pace, is proving instrumental in reshaping the global economic and social landscape. The recent ousting of the CEO of OpenAI and his reinstatement just days later serves as a stark reminder of the complex interplay between technology, corporate strategy, and national and international regulations that are shaping the future of this groundbreaking technology.

We take a closer look at how the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region’s evolving AI regulatory landscape reflects a diverse array of approaches that impact entrepreneurs across the region and within each country. As of today, there is no regulatory framework to guide AI development in the region as a whole.


In April of 2023, the Egyptian National Council for Artificial Intelligence introduced the Egyptian Charter for Responsible AI to promote ethical AI development -- a pioneering step in the MENA region. This charter, integrating principles like human-centeredness, transparency, fairness, accountability, and security, comprises 13 general and 16 technical guidelines for AI ecosystem members. These guidelines are still in the initial stages of implementation and enforcement, with an annual review planned to align with AI technological progress. Egypt’s significant contribution includes drafting and adopting the OECD’s Recommendation on AI. Egypt is the first Arab and African nation to adopt the OECD AI Principles. [1]


Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia emphasizes innovation and ethical AI use in its regulatory approach. Central to Vision 2030, the nation is boosting AI startups through significant investments. The Intellectual Property Law, integral to Vision 2030, offers a legal framework for privacy, data protection, commercial aspects, and IP rights, particularly addressing AI-generated IP. It features a chapter on “Intellectual Property associated with AI and Emerging Technologies,” protecting AI IP with notable human involvement, while AI developed with minimal human input becomes public domain. The law also encourages AI IP inventions with financial perks and expedited processes, showcasing Saudi Arabia’s goal to lead globally in data and AI, balancing innovation with effective AI regulation. [2]


The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) recently updated its Data Protection Regulations, effective September 2023, establishing itself as a leader in AI governance in the MENA region. These changes, focused on the regulation of autonomous and semi-autonomous systems in personal data handling, are among the UAE’s first to specifically address AI. This framework, emphasizing ethical AI use, transparency, and accountability, significantly advances data protection and cements DIFC’s role in fintech innovation. This regulatory evolution presents both opportunities and challenges for businesses by offering a clear guide for responsible AI development, while introducing a rigorous compliance environment, reflecting DIFC’s dedication to fostering a balanced, progressive AI ecosystem. [3]


Qatar is emerging as a noteworthy AI regulator in MENA, albeit with a cautious approach. Unlike its regional counterparts, Qatar has not yet established a comprehensive framework specifically for AI regulation as of 2023. However, its existing legal and regulatory structures, particularly in the realms of data protection and cybersecurity, provide a foundational layer for AI governance. [4]

The country’s vision for a tech-forward future, as evidenced by its significant investments in smart city initiatives and digital transformation, underscores the potential for more defined AI policies. Qatar’s balancing act between technological advancement and regulatory oversight reflects a broader trend in the MENA region, where the embrace of AI’s potential is often tempered by the complexities of establishing robust, yet flexible, regulatory environments.

More is happening across the rest of the region

Across the rest of the region, governance varies widely. Kuwait is in the early stages of exploring how to regulate AI, although it doesn't have specific laws in place yet. [5] Qatar is developing its approach, with smart city investments showcasing its drive toward integrating AI into broader governance. Morocco stands out with its data protection law from 2009, which, although not specifically designed for AI, is being aligned with the EU’s GDPR, laying a solid base for future AI-related legislation. [6] Tunisia has signaled its intent to develop national AI policies, but detailed regulations are still on the horizon. These countries highlight the early to foundational stages in the AI governance maturity framework, each crafting their path in this new terrain.

Navigating the AI Regulatory Maze in MENA

What Does This Mean For Entrepreneurs in AI?

So, what does this all mean for the go-getters steering the startup ship?

In Phase 1, it’s the wild frontier -- no rules, just raw potential. The smart play? Look ahead. Where’s your next market conquest? Lay down roots with those regulations in mind. Get your house in order so that when change comes -- and it will come -- you’re not just ready, you’re waiting at the finish line.

In Phase 2, the groundwork’s been laid. Semi-firmed-up regulations are like puzzle pieces -- they need entrepreneurs to piece them together. Your move? Get in the thick of it. Lend your voice to shape the landscape. Dive into dialogues, dissect the tough stuff, and help carve out a path that’s fair and forward-thinking.

Then there’s Phase 3, where oversight’s the word and technocracy’s the beat. It isn’t just about playing by the rules now; it’s about writing the next chapter. Keep standards sharp -- inspect, reflect, and push for progress that checks every box: Economic viability, social equity, and ethical integrity. And don’t forget to pass the torch; offer a hand to those a step or two behind you

It’s a framework, yes -- high-level talk to spark deeper discussion. But it’s more. It’s a call to action: To embrace the chaos, join the conversation, and lead with purpose.

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