AI regulation and policy landscape in the Middle East

News | Posted on Friday 15 March 2024

In this blog, program Fellow, Tarek Nakkach, looks at changes to the regulatory landscape in the Middle East since 2021 and how developments in AI technology are impacting regulation and policy. 

An illustration of tower blocks with people in windows and smaller colourful boxes illustrating AI identification and privacy
Emily Rand & LOTI / Better Images of AI / AI City / CC-BY 4.0

The last time I wrote about AI, regulation and policy was in 2021 and since then the regulatory landscape has undergone significant changes. When I started writing about the subject back in 2017 there was little, to no regulation. Over the past 3 months we have witnessed a surge in new regulation driven mainly by the rise of Generative AI, the need to protect privacy, IP rights and ensure safe and unbiased AI systems. 

The US and EU have decided to adopt AI regulation while the UK has refrained from regulating AI in the short term. Political agreement has been reached on the long-awaited EU AI ACT and it will be issued soon. The US also issued an executive order on Safe, Secure and Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence at the end of October 2023.  On the other side of the globe, the ASEAN Digital Ministers’ Meeting in February 2024 in Singapore endorsed the ASEAN Guide on AI Governance and Ethics.

These regulations will shape the AI regulatory landscape in 2024 and the near future.

The Middle East is not far behind. To the contrary the UAE & Saudi have been pioneers in terms of AI adoption and promotion. Both countries have opted to adopt the “soft law” approach through guidelines and principles.

The UAE established an AI strategy of 2031 and the UAE Council for Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain is tasked with proposing policies to create an A.I. friendly ecosystem. The UAE through the Minister of State for AI issued the AI Ethics and Principles in December 2022 and the Generative AI Guidelines in April 2023. Dubai also established “Digital Dubai” to develop and oversee the implementation of policies and strategies that govern all matters related to Dubai’s information technology.

The Dubai International Financial Centre amended its Data Protection Regulations and included under Regulation 10 a first of its kind regulation in the Middle East region on the processing of personal data via autonomous and semi-autonomous systems such as artificial intelligence (AI) or generative, machine learning technology. 

Saudi has also established Saudi Data & AI Authority (SDAIA) and National Strategy for Data & AI. The Council of Ministers’ Resolution No. (292) dated 27/04/1441 AH., stating in Paragraph (1) of Article 10 that SDAIA is mandated to develop policies, governance mechanisms, standards, and controls related to data and artificial intelligence. The goal is also for KSA to compete by 2030 as a leading economy utilizing and exporting Data & AI. 

The UAE and Saudi have recently issued Data Protection Laws. KSA with Personal Data Protection Law No. 98 dated 16 September 2021 and the UAE through Federal Decree-Law No. 45 of 2021 on Personal Data Protection. Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Egypt have also issued Data Protection Laws in the past 4 years and have either adopted a national strategy on AI or issued guidance and principles.  These legislative changes will govern the regulatory and policy framework of AI in the Middle East. 

With generative AI on the rise, calls for AI policy and regulation have intensified and concerns for privacy and copyright infringement have also multiplied. It is only a matter of time until we see substantive AI regulation spread across the globe. 

In my research as a fellow at the Assuring Autonomy International Program (“AAIP”) at the University of York, I had discussed potential gaps in regulation when it comes to fully autonomous systems and mentioned that local regulatory regimes must catch up with the technology trends. The global efforts to adopt new guidelines, frameworks and regulations will hopefully address many concerns around AI adoption and it will be interesting to see how courts will approach AI related liability issues and disputes.