UAE museum partners with cryptocurrency exchange on ‘most beautiful NFTs in metaverse’ project

DUBAI: The abaya is a sartorial staple for women across the Gulf. The loose robe-like garment, which dates back 4,000 years to ancient Mesopotamia, constitutes national dress in countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, serving as a symbol of modesty.

Today, the abaya is a far cry from the plain black cloak of the past — as elegant as that can be. With time, the floor-length robe has evolved into a fashion statement, with many different designs available. The new wave of garments, while engineered for modesty, features contemporary elements like jewel-encrusted palm trees, black lace trim and embroidered hearts, and come in experimental and playful colors, silhouettes and fabrics that are anything but basic.

One such label reimagining the traditional garment is Wings.

Wings is a handmade abaya label founded by Emirati designer Al Anood Al-Mansoori. Inspired by the movement of birds, Al-Mansoori has produced a lineup of culturally modest attire in powerfully outspoken colors and fabrics that will ensure you are the best-dressed person in any room.

The fashion designer reveals that she is deeply influenced by sci-fi movies and TV shows. Supplied

“I have always been inspired by the boldness of an independent woman,” proclaimed Al-Mansoori. “All my life I have worked toward becoming one myself,” added the electrical engineer turned fashion designer.

“I am pretty much driven by the thought of freedom and breaking through,” she explained, hence the name Wings, which boasts multiple meanings.

The fashion designer, who reveals that she is deeply influenced by sci-fi movies and TV shows such as “The Matrix” and “The X-Files,” is currently studying for her master’s degree in artificial intelligence, and it is clear how biology, physics and algorithms inform her designs.

One bestselling piece is a graphic printed chiffon abaya that comes with a matching stretch jersey dress and opera gloves, which can also be worn on their own. The design’s print evokes the chronophotographic lines of bird wing movements.


A graphic printed chiffon abaya that comes with a matching stretch jersey dress and opera gloves is a bestseller. Supplied

The designer’s inspirations also culminated into an expansive lineup of edgy and contemporary looks that include an exquisite black overlay embroidered with a giant bird on the back and creations that merge the trench coat with the traditional abaya and can easily double as outerwear.

However, Al-Mansoori states that having unique creations is only one element of a successful clothing company.

“To thrive in such a local business, you can’t just be good at designing garments,” she said. “You have to master project and relationship management. You should always be up to date with worldwide trends in the fashion industry and any new entrepreneurship hacks.”

She explained, for instance, that she is using her education in artificial intelligence to see how she can predict her customers’ behaviors and thus improve customer loyalty through her findings.

However, judging by how quickly her creations run out of stock online, it is safe to presume that Wings is steadily on the rise — no fancy app or elaborate program necessary.  


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Bitcoin, Ether fall; Brazilian Congress may approve regulation; North Korean hackers blamed for heist: Crypto Moves

RIYADH: Bitcoin, the leading cryptocurrency internationally, traded lower on Sunday, down 0.56 percent to $40,296 as of 08.15 a.m. Riyadh time.

Ether, the second most traded cryptocurrency, was priced at $3.037, down 0.27 percent, according to data from Coindesk

The Brazilian Congress may approve a legal framework for cryptocurrency 

The proponents of various proposed law projects presented in the Senate and the Congress have stated they will seek the unification of the projects due to their similarity, according to reports from local media. 

This new consolidated project provides incentives for green mining and the inclusion of crypto-related fraud as a crime, according to Bitcoin.com. 

“There is a market demand for a safer business environment and the need for criminal classification to avoid fraud, in addition to adjusting Brazil to international agreements,” senator Iraja Abreu said. 

The senator believes that with a clear and well-established legal framework for cryptocurrencies in place that adapts the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force, known as FATF, the sector will be more suitable for investors interested in Brazil.

Oman integrates real estate tokenization in virtual assets regulatory framework  

The Oman Capital Market Authority, known as OCMA, is set to include real estate tokenization in its virtual asset regulatory framework, Bitcoin.com reported.  

Oman expects to complete the drafting of the regulatory framework for virtual assets by the third quarter of 2022, according to the report. 

“The Regulatory Framework for Virtual Assets and Virtual asset service providers currently being established will allow the issuance of virtual assets such as real estate tokens for the first time in the Sultanate of Oman,” the advisor Kemal Rizadi said at the real estate conference held in Muscat. 

Rizadi suggested the tokenization of real estate — the supposed conversion of real estate property into several blockchain-based tokens — will likely open up investment opportunities in the real estate sector for local and foreign investors. 

North Korean hackers blamed for crypto theft

The US has linked North Korean hackers to the theft of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cryptocurrency tied to the popular online game Axie Infinity, the US Treasury Department said on April 14.

Ronin, a blockchain network that lets users transfer crypto in and out of the game, said digital cash worth almost $615 million was stolen on March 23.

No one has explicitly assigned blame for the hack, but on Thursday the US Treasury identified a digital currency address used by the hackers as being under the control of a North Korean hacking group often dubbed “Lazarus.”

“The US is aware that the DPRK has increasingly relied on illicit activities — including cybercrime — to generate revenue for its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs as it tries to evade robust US and UN sanctions,” a Treasury Department spokesperson said, using the initials of North Korea’s official name.

The spokesperson warned that those transacting with the wallet risk exposure to US sanctions.

Amazon not ready for crypto payments

Amazon.com Inc. CEO Andy Jassy said the e-commerce giant is not close to adding cryptocurrency as a payment option to its retail business, in an interview with CNBC on April 14.

He also said it might be possible to sell NFTs on its e-commerce platform and expects NFTs to continue to grow “significantly.”

NFT, a type of digital asset that exists on a blockchain, has exploded in popularity in 2021, with NFT artworks selling for millions of dollars.

Jassy said cryptocurrencies will become bigger in the longer term, but added he himself does not own any bitcoin.

A growing number of companies have started to accept virtual currencies for payment, bringing an asset class shunned by major financial institutions until a few years ago closer to the mainstream.

Last year, eBay Inc. allowed the sale of NFTs for digital collectibles like trading cards, images, or video clips on its platform, the first e-commerce company to tap into the frenzy around NFTs.

eBay had also said it was open to the possibility of accepting cryptocurrency as a form of payment in the future.

(With inputs from Reuters) 


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GCC countries are leading the way of cryptocurrencies regulation

GCC countries are leading the way of cryptocurrencies regulation

GCC countries are leading the way of cryptocurrencies regulation
In the Middle East, crypto has generated traction, often in different ways. (Shutterstock)

The Russian central bank sent shivers down the spines of virtual asset investors after coming out with a proposal for a ban on digital assets in January. But a few days later the nation’s Ministry of Finance instead said that further regulation would be enough to protect citizens from fraud and other misuses, setting the stage for more internal debate. More regulation seems to be where the debate is currently pitched in the nation, with authorities setting their sights on boosting tax revenue.

The apparent split over virtual assets among Russia’s financial top brass is reminiscent of a larger global pattern that has emerged in recent years. Nations openly fret about whether to ban, or not to ban, cryptocurrencies.

Some countries, such as China and Algeria, imposed strict bans on digital currencies. Others, like the US, many European nations, and it seems, Russia, are slowly but surely moving toward comprehensive regulatory regimes.

In the Middle East, crypto has generated traction, often in different ways. Saudi Arabia has been quite welcoming to crypto companies and has experimented with blockchain for banks. The Kingdom has pledged to invest billions into blockchain and the metaverse. NEOM, its futuristic city in the making, will get a metaverse twin city, which will incorporate crypto and non-fungible tokens. This makes for a daring experiment, not just in crypto, but for urban development, as the end result could be nothing short of a city within a city, a place where the physical and digital worlds come together.

Bahrain is another leading nation in crypto adoption. In January, Bahrain’s national bank tested a blockchain platform built by US bank JPMorgan in another likely hint of where the lending industry may be moving its operations next. It previously rolled out a set of comprehensive rules in 2019, covering security, due diligence, and other digital asset operations. The Gulf nation allowed banking access to crypto companies, easing a major pain point these firms have traditionally faced due to a reluctance by banks to deal with digital assets.

But it is the UAE that stands out as a global and regional regulatory trailblazer in this area, seizing momentum early on and putting together a comprehensive regulatory framework to support digital asset firms. The country has emerged as a bustling hub for crypto innovation and bets on blockchain as a crucial part of its plan to double its gross domestic product by 2030.

Keeping up with innovation

The UAE has built up a network of around 40 free zones over decades, which are special economic areas with looser regulatory control. Their benefits include tax and customs exemptions, support for 100 percent foreign-owned businesses, and easy market access. These conditions are obviously very effective in attracting foreign talent and new firms to the country. But the benefits don’t end there— this arrangement is good for the nation’s administration.

Free zones are usually focused on a specific market niche and have their own regulators, who are well placed to keep the finger on the pulse of the relevant industries they oversee. The arrangement allows free zones to advance the government’s regulatory framework as innovation occurs.

This flexible model helped the nation move quickly to embrace virtual assets, even though the process is not evenly spread across the country. On the mainland, beyond the boundaries of the free zones, the virtual and digital asset sector is playing catch up. This is also true when it comes to banks, which are yet to make significant moves into the blockchain space. But in free zones, things could hardly be more progressive, with the digital asset business steaming ahead at full speed.

In June 2018, the Financial Services Regulatory Authority, the regulator of the Abu Dhabi Global Market, a financial free zone, published the first edition of its virtual asset framework. Essentially, the FSRA became the world’s first regulator to offer a bespoke regulatory framework for this novel asset space, and this work serves as a good example for others to follow.

What the regulator got right

The FSRA built its virtual asset guidelines from the ground-up four years ago, in a move that treated this kind of digital infrastructure as a self-standing asset class. Its regulations include a clear-cut definition of digital assets, giving them the three key features of a currency — as a medium of exchange, a store of value and a unit of account. It also distinguishes different sub-classes in this category, such as digital securities and fiat tokens.

These guidelines show a thorough
understanding of the playing field, which the FSRA was able to gain by maintaining proximity to the industry and monitoring
its development.

Also, by treating crypto as a self-standing asset class, it went further than many other regulators, who tend to put the sector on the same shelf as money transfer companies.

The problem with the money transfer approach is that it focuses only on knowing your customer and anti-money laundering issues, ignoring other factors. The FSRA’s rulebook includes provisions designed to guarantee market integrity, consumer protection, custody regulations and technology governance.

When it comes specifically to exchanges and platforms where users can trade digital assets, the FSRA rulebook goes far beyond knowing your customer supervision. It provides guidelines for transparency, fair trading practices, market surveillance, and other aspects of exchange operations.

The FSRA continues to monitor the industry and updates its regulations in line with key developments. It also incorporates the best practices proposed by international bodies, such as the French Financial Action Task Force.

With its fast-moving and flexible approach to virtual asset regulations, the UAE sets the example for every nation outside the crypto ban club to follow. Countries looking to capitalize on this novel asset class should pay close attention and take notes.

• Vasja Zupan is the president of Matrix, the first Virtual Assets Multilateral Trading Facility and Custodian to be launched under the regulations of the Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Abu Dhabi Global Market.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point of view

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India to launch digital rupee, tax cryptocurrency earnings

LONDON: Oil paused for breath on Tuesday after breaking $91 earlier in the week, ahead of  OPEC+ meeting and amid increased tensions over Ukraine.

Despite speculation that OPEC+ could upwardly revise its current output levels, most analysts believe the group will stick to its current strategy of adding 400,000 barrels a day to output in monthly increments, further incurring the wrath of US President Joe Biden by ignoring his calls to turn the taps on more.

The latest OPEC figures reveal the group increased production by just 210,000 bpd last month, just over half the 400,000 bpd increase the group is committed to producing.

Against the backdrop of the current tight market and OPEC+ continuing to lag behind its targets, many industry observers believe crude oil is rapidly heading towards $100, particularly if the Ukraine-Russia crisis worsens and US producers fail to ratchet up production.

Put simply, the market is concerned that OPEC+ would struggle to maintain an increase in production levels in the event that Russian premier Vladimir Putin decides to launch a military invasion of Ukraine, or a smaller incursion where he annexes more territory in the east of the country.

UBS oil analyst Giovanni Staunovo told Arab News: “In a severe scenario, and this is a risk case, not our base case, we assume that 10–20 percent of Russian oil production and exports are disrupted, lifting Brent prices to $125 or higher. The magnitude of the price reaction would depend on when the disruption occurs. OPEC+ still has some spare capacity, so the group could increase production and compensate for the disruption at this time. This buffer, however, is likely to diminish this summer, with only Saudi Arabia and the UAE having spare capacity.”

A conflict in Ukraine threatens the energy security of Europe because of its dependence on Russia to supply natural gas. According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) European OECD nations took in 48 percent of Russia’s crude and 72 percent of its natural gas exports.

Potential sanctions in the event Russia invaded Ukraine are unlikely to include oil and gas, but Putin could of course turn off the gas himself, as he has done periodically over the last year, if other western sanctions start to bite.

It’s worth nothing that Russia’s central bank is estimated to be sitting on US$600bn in reserves, more than enough to cope with a brief energy shock.

Meanwhile, other sanctions that could damage Russian trade, such as expelling it from the international Swift payments system have been effectively dismissed by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.

Germany of course relies on Russia for around a third of its gas and crude oil supplies.

But is it feasible that a dispute in eastern Europe could really trigger $100 oil in the coming months?

Staunovo said: “Calculating a risk premium is always tricky. Historically geopolitical risk premia didn’t last if there were no supply disruptions. Russian oil keeps flowing to the world at the moment.”

Staunovo added that much of the current spike in oil prices is largely attributable to production disruptions in Nigeria, Libya, and Ecuador in late December.

He said: “That resulted in ongoing oil inventory declines in January, when we normally have an oversupplied oil market in the first and second quarter of every year, and is the main reason Brent trades around $90.”

Meanwhile, something else OPEC+ may be pondering this week is the potential revival of the US shale industry.

The heyday of US shale may well be over, but no less an authority than Larry Fink, who at COP26 appeared was busy embracing all things green, wrote to investors in his annual letter that Blackrock “does not pursue divestment from oil and gas companies as a policy”, adding that companies in the sector “are a critical part of decarbonization”.

Against the backdrop of OPEC’s refusal to open up the pumps, President Biden has also signalled that the US fracking industry has a role to play in combatting spiralling petrol pump prices.

The EIA estimates that US oil and gas production was 11.7 million in November, and output in the Permian Basin, the country’s largest shale oil field, set a record in December. Estimates suggest shale production will increase sharply this year though  remain below 2018 and 2019 levels.

But a shale revival could prove a mixed blessing, as Christyan Malek, JP Morgan’s head of oil and gas noted last month: “If US oil rig counts are up, OPEC will add barrels back into the market in April to cap shale productivity.”

That again begs the question of how long OPEC could maintain an increase in supply if required. Against the backdrop of increased environmental concerns and the wider shift in energy investment, one suspects OPEC is better placed to remain the swing producer than the US shale industry.


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End of Facebook’s cryptocurrency dreams points to challenges for stablecoins

LONDON: Facebook is said to be winding down its cryptocurrency project Diem and preparing to sell its assets following regulatory pushback in the US

The Diem Association, launched by Facebook in 2019 and supported by 25 businesses, will sell its technology to California-based Silvergate Bank for $200 million, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the discussions.

Originally named Libra, the crypto coin was initially planned to be backed by a basket of currencies, but under pressure from regulators narrowed its ambition to assuming the status of a stablecoin, backed one-to-one by US dollars.

Similar products already exist in the form of other stablecoins, such as Tether, Dai, Binance USD and USD Coin.

They are braced for action from regulators, who have shown an increasing interest in stablecoins and other crypto assets of late. Facebook’s failure to launch a preapproved coin does not bode well for them.

A report in November from the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency called for urgent legislative action to limit the issuance of stablecoins to insured depository institutions and to enable their regulation.

They are most concerned about their ability to destabilize the financial system if there is a sudden run on withdrawals. The market for stablecoins is growing rapidly — up to nearly $130 billion as of the end of October from closer to $23 billion at the same time last year.

Stablecoins are mainly used in transactions involving other digital currencies, but they have the potential to be used in retail transactions as companies like Visa explore services relating to them.

However, there are reasons to believe stablecoins will not meet the same fate as Diem, which faced some unique challenges.

Because of Facebook’s size – it has about 2.9 billion users – it was always going to face greater scrutiny than rival products. It was liaising with regulators during a period of numerous scandals, including the Cambridge Analytica privacy row, which meant trust in the social media pioneer was historically low.

Diem hired former HSBC legal chief Stuart Levey as its first CEO and, in May last year, moved its headquarters from Switzerland to the US in an attempt to placate regulators. But the writing was on the wall when founder David Marcus left the company at the end of 2021.

However, Facebook’s parent company, Meta, has not given up all its crypto ambitions. It built a digital currency wallet, called Novi, and released it as a small pilot in October. Novi is central to its plans to pivot toward projects related to allowing its users to buy and sell non-fungible tokens, known as NFTs, which became a $40 billion market in 2021.

Don’t expect this to be the end of Meta’s crypto ambitions.

On the markets today, Bitcoin was down 0.6 percent to $36,379, while Ethereum declined 2.9 percent to $2,379.

However, outflows of $670 million of Bitcoin from centralized exchanges is a bullish sign for the largest cryptocurrency, according to CoinDesk. Most investors prefer to have direct custody of coins when they intend to hold them for the longer term, it said.

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