Professor Dr Mohamed S Abdel Wahab is chair of private international law and professor of international arbitration at Cairo University; founding partner and head of international arbitration at Zulficar & Partners Law Firm; vice president of the ICC International Court of Arbitration; and CIArb trustee for the MENA/Indian subcontinent regions. He is also a member of the LCIA Court; the advisory council of Africa Arbitration; the advisory committee of the CRCICA; the CIMAC court of arbitration; and the AAA-ICDR international advisory committee.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO PURSUE A CAREER IN THE LAW?
I was brought up and nurtured in a legal environment. My grandfather, father and mother were notable legal practitioners and my father was a true role model. I am still guided by his wisdom despite the fact that he drew his last breath in 2009. Having appreciated early on that law is a science of life, I was adamant on pursuing a career in law, and I was always fascinated by upholding justice and the rule of law.
WHAT QUALITIES MAKE A SUCCESSFUL AND LEADING ARBITRATOR?
A leading and successful arbitrator must: be well read; not be predisposed; be fully impartial and independent; have a solid legal base; have a sharp, analytical mind; pay great attention to details, law and facts as pleaded by the parties; and be well versed in the art of efficient conduct of arbitral proceedings and reasoning of awards.
WHAT IMPACT HAS YOUR WORK AND EXPERIENCE AS COUNSEL HAD ON YOUR APPROACH TO PROCEEDINGS WHEN ACTING AS ARBITRATOR?
Acting as counsel in major arbitration proceedings has had a positive impact on my approach to proceedings when sitting as arbitrator. First, it has made me more appreciative of counsel perspectives, choices and approaches to drafting memorials and prosecuting proceedings. Second, it has made me more efficient and understanding when exchanging communications during the course of the arbitral proceedings. Third, it has given me invaluable insight into counsel mindset and tactics, which has proved very useful during hearings and drafting awards. Fourth, it has made me appreciate the importance of not being predisposed or wedded to a specific approach, legal concept and/or position. Finally, it has enabled me to fully appreciate the different roles of party-appointed arbitrators and counsel.
WHAT DID YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT SETTING UP YOUR OWN LAW FIRM?
As one of the founding partners of Zulficar & Partners, I very much enjoyed and valued the collegial work and effort that we, as founding partners, put in to establish a firm that is now recognised as a leading institution in the region and beyond. Working towards building an unbreakable covalent and symbiotic bond between partners, lawyers and staff is indeed a source of immense joy and a true pillar of success.
I should also mention that I very much enjoyed building the firm’s arbitration practice and positioning it as a world-class group. The joy of bringing together, mentoring, training and nurturing young and talented practitioners, who I am sure will contribute to shaping the future of arbitration in Arab and African contexts and beyond, has given me unparalleled joy. Nothing compares to contributing to others and investing in young talent, and witnessing how they blossom and mature into future leaders of the field.
HOW HAS THE PRACTICE OF INTERNATIONAL ARBITRATION EVOLVED SINCE YOU FIRST BEGAN YOUR CAREER?
The practice of international arbitration is in a constant state of flux and the field has indeed changed over the years – especially in the 20 years since I started my career. International arbitration has become more complex, more sophisticated, more demanding and, increasingly, more diverse and inclusive. In terms of players and practitioners, more attention is indeed given to the younger generation and newcomers to the field. The diversity pledge has contributed to this, but much remains to be done across the diversity spectrum. In terms of the process, it has become more procedurally entrenched, streamlined and there is a proliferation of guidelines, policies and practices aimed at harmonising the conduct of the proceedings.
Moreover, international arbitration has become much more complicated and exceedingly more sophisticated in relation to various factors. These include: disclosures and conflicts of interest for the purpose of arbitral appointments; the prosecution of proceedings as counsel, and the level of intervention and participation of in-house counsel and clients; the rise of a fourth generation of highly specialised practitioners in sector-specific disputes; the integration and use of technology in the conduct and prosecution of proceedings; the drafting and reasoning of awards; the reconsideration of the requirements of due process, confidentiality and transparency; the legislative and judicial trends in support of international arbitration; the proliferation of publications, decisions and materials tackling all aspects of international arbitration, along with an increase in comparative and interdisciplinary research; and, finally, the increasing scepticism towards the status quo of the ISDS system and the practice of international arbitration therein.
With such changes, complexities and sophistication, competition has all the more become intense and the field has become much more demanding. It is no longer sufficient to be a generalist to practice arbitration on an international level; one must develop notable expertise and a unique set of soft and hard skills to have an edge in such a highly competitive field.
AS HEAD OF THE FIRM’S INTERNATIONAL ARBITRATION GROUP, HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE IT DEVELOP OVER THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?
As head of the firm’s international arbitration group, I am committed to sustaining its excellence and maintaining it as a world leading practice. My goal is to develop and build an A-team of talented practitioners who can contribute to the development of international arbitration nationally, regionally and internationally.
WHAT IS THE BEST PIECE OF CAREER ADVICE YOU HAVE RECEIVED?
The best piece of career advice is: build a solid skill set, work hard, never stop learning, and never overestimate yourself or underestimate opposing counsel. Also, let your work speak for you, so that you do not need to speak about yourself.
WHAT DO YOU THINK WILL BE THE GREATEST CHALLENGE FACED BY THE GENERATION OF ARBITRATION PRACTITIONERS BEHIND YOU?
Simply put, the greatest challenge facing the younger generations is twofold: first, the accelerated integration of information and communication technologies in international arbitration and its impact on the practice; and second, extreme competition.
Professor Dr Mohamed S Abdel Wahab is chair of private international law and professor of international arbitration at Cairo University; and founding partner and head of international arbitration, construction, and oil and gas at Zulficar & Partners Law Firm. He has taught construction law and practice courses, and conducted trainings on FIDIC forms of contracts and disputes arising thereunder. His construction law expertise spans disputes involving multiple and cross-claims, variation orders, concurrent delays, time extensions, liquidated damages, defects and completion certificates, force majeure, hardship, warranties, financing, insurance, and security.
What has been the most interesting construction arbitration you have worked on to date and why?
Among the most interesting construction arbitrations in which I was involved was a case where I served as arbitrator, and the dispute related to the construction of a mega power plant. It was most interesting because it involved a carefully planned site visit that unveiled important factual findings, which helped resolve very complex aspects of the dispute.
What impact has China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) had on construction and infrastructure projects in Africa and the Middle East?
The BRI, which aims to revive the Silk Road, has indeed caused an increase in the Chinese investments in mega construction projects throughout Africa and the MENA region. By 2018, China has invested more than US$70 billion into BRI-related infrastructure projects, and more construction-related projects are well under way. It is expected that the BRI will bring about more construction and infrastructure projects to Africa and the MENA region, where more airports, ports, railways, power plants and dams are planned to boost global connectivity along the BRI overland and maritime routes. This will likely result in an exponential growth in related disputes.
Are there any innovative approaches to construction arbitration you have noticed recently?
Construction arbitration is a fertile field for innovation to make the process more efficient and the resolution of the disputes more predictable. Innovative trends include the use of forensic technologies, document analysis and data retrieval technologies, as well as an increased use of hot-tubbing of technical and industry experts.
Would approaches to construction disputes differ if arbitrators were of a civil or common law background? If so, how would they differ?
Approaches to construction disputes may well differ if arbitrators were of a civil or common law background. Different approaches may likely exist as to contractual interpretation, implied terms, burden of proof, taking and giving of evidence, pleading the law and the weight given to legal principles that are relatively alien to the arbitrators’ own background.
You have been published extensively when writing about arbitration and construction topics. Do you consider this to be important to your work as an arbitration and construction specialist?
I have both academic and professional hats, so balancing scholarly contributions with practice is important. Publications are an opportunity to share insights on practical topics of interest with a wider community of readers and practitioners. Moreover, publishing enables a person to keep up to date in his/her field of expertise and practice. Furthermore, many important issues arise in practice and deserve to be publicised through publications.
How has your role on the expert group of the Permanent Forum of China Construction Law enhanced your practice?
My role as an international expert member of the Permanent Forum of China Construction Law has been truly enriching and rewarding. Being a member of this select group of global experts has offered me a unique opportunity to appreciate the commonalities and differences in the principles and practice of construction law and arbitration in diverse jurisdictions. This has also given me a better understanding of the Chinese construction law and arbitration landscape.
You have had a very distinguished career to date. What would you like to achieve that you have not already?
My legacy is to help build a generation of solid world-class practitioners, and to assist younger practitioners in developing jurisdictions in Africa, the MENA region and beyond find their deserved place within the arbitration community. Diversity and inclusion call for talent scouting in underrepresented regions within the global arbitration community.
Mohamed Abdel Wahab "is at the top of the market" and "a very well-prepared, exceptional arbitrator".
Professor Dr Mohamed Abdel Wahab is the chair of private international law, and professor of international arbitration, at Cairo University; founding partner and head of international arbitration, construction, and oil and gas at Zulficar & Partners; vice president of the ICC International Court of Arbitration; vice chair of the IBA Arab Regional Forum; dean and member of the Africa Arbitration Academy’s advisory council; associate fellow of the Centre of Private International Law at Aberdeen University; and fellow of the Center for Technology and Dispute Resolution at the University of Massachusetts, and the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law. He is also a member of Africa Arbitration’s advisory council; the CIMAC Court of Arbitration; the AAA-ICDR’s international advisory committee; CIArb’s board of trustees; the CRCICA’s advisory committee; the ICODR’s governing board; Arbitrator Intelligence’s board of advisors; and the SIAC African Users’ Council committee. Former roles include member of the LCIA Court (2014–2019); president of LCIA’s Arab Users’ Council (2016–2018); and vice president of the IBA arbitration committee (2015–2018).
He is also an international expert member of the Permanent Forum of China Construction Law; and editorial board member of the ClArb’s Arbitration Journal, the IBA Journal of Construction Law International and the Journal of Enforcement of Arbitration Awards;
Professor Dr Abdel Wahab is recognised as a world-leading arbitrator and arbitration practitioner on international investment and commercial arbitration; international construction; telecommunications, and oil and gas disputes; Arab and African laws; Islamic shariah law; and online dispute resolution. He regularly publishes articles in on issues of private international law; international commercial and investment arbitration; construction law; oil and gas; and project finance. Professor Dr Abdel Wahab is listed on the rosters of many arbitral institutions including the ADCCAC (Abu Dhabi), AIAC (Malaysia), BCDR-AAA (Bahrain), CIETAC (China), CRCICA (Egypt), DIAC (Dubai), KCAB (South Korea), and the Arbitration Center of the Russian Institute of Modern Arbitration.
Professor Dr Abdel Wahab has served as sole arbitrator, presiding arbitrator, co-arbitrator, legal expert and counsel in more than 190 cases, including complex, high-value institutional and ad hoc arbitral proceedings involving parties from the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Canada and the US. He has featured in cases under the auspices of the AAA, AAA-BCDR, CRCICA, DIAC, DIFC-LCIA, ICC, ICSID, LCIA, LMAA, SCC and SIAC, as well as ad hoc UNCITRAL proceedings. . His expertise spans construction, oil and gas, telecommunications, finance, and hospitality disputes involving cross border multi-jurisdictional and highly complex contracts and transactions. He has featured in disputes governed by the laws of Bahrain, Egypt, England and Wales, France, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, New York, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi, Spain, Switzerland, Syria, Italy and the UAE, as well as the general principles of law.
Professor Dr Abdel Wahab has successfully negotiated, reviewed and drafted numerous construction contracts including design agreements, civil engineering works, turnkey contracts, contracts for mechanical works, etc, for both contractors and employers, and has handled high-value complex construction disputes and claims involving multiple parties in ad hoc and institutional contexts. His expertise spans disputes involving multiple and cross-claims; variation orders; concurrent delays; time extensions; liquidated damages; defects and completion certificates; force majeure; hardship; warranties; financing; insurance; and security.
He has taught construction law and practice courses, and has conducted trainings on FIDIC forms of contracts and disputes arising thereunder. Professor Dr Abdel Wahab has contributed to the GAR Guide to Construction Arbitration (2017 and 2018), and co-authored Practicing FIDIC in Civil Law Jurisdictions: Application of Time and Additional Payment Provisions (2018). He is recommended for construction disputes in Chambers and Partners (2016).
Professor Dr Abdel Wahab is regularly ranked as a world-leading dispute resolution practitioner in all leading legal directories. He features in I-ARB's list of 100 leading African arbitration practitioners; was named Africa Arbitration's first "African Personality of the Month" (June 2018); and was selected by the Lagos Chamber of Commerce International Arbitration Centre as its Arbitration Personality (May 2019). He won the ASA International Arbitration Advocacy Prize (2018); was nominated for the GAR Award for the Best Arbitration Lecture (2013, 2014 and 2018); and was voted the top legal practitioner of 2017 by Law magazine. He also accepted the GAR Award for Zulficar & Partners’ work as the leading North African and Mediterranean arbitration practice (2017).
In June 2019, Professor Dr Abdel Wahab received the AYA Hall of Fame Award for African Arbitrator of the Year. The leading treatise he co-edited, Online Dispute Resolution: Theory and Practice, received the 2013 CPR Award for Best Published Dispute Resolution Work.
Professor Dr Abdel Wahab is ranked as a Star Individual in Egypt by Chambers Global (2016–2019). He is also highly recommended by WWL: Construction (2017–2019) and The Legal 500 (2017–2019).
Mohamed Abdel Wahab is "very experienced" in construction disputes. He is hailed as "the leading commercial arbitrator in Egypt and arguably the MENA region".
Professor Dr Abdel Wahab is chair of private international law and professor of international arbitration at Cairo University; vice president of the ICC International Court of Arbitration; member of the ICCA governing board; vice chair of the Academic Forum on Investor-State Dispute Settlement; vice chair of the IBA Arab regional forum; court member of the Casablanca International Mediation and Arbitration Centre; and dean and member of the Africa Arbitration Academy’s advisory council.
He is also a member of: the CRCICA advisory committee; the AAA-ICDR international advisory committee; the SIAC African Users’ Council committee; the CIArb board of trustees; Arbitrator Intelligence’s board of advisers; the International Council on Online Dispute Resolution’s governing board; and the Mauritius International Arbitration Centre’s advisory board.
Former roles include: court member of the LCIA (2014–2019); president of the LCIA’s Arab Users’ Council (2016–2018); and vice chair of the IBA arbitration committee (2015–2018).
Professor Dr Abdel Wahab is also: fellow of the National Center for Technology and Dispute Resolution at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, USA; associate fellow of the Centre for Private International Law at Aberdeen University, UK; director of CIArb’s flagship international arbitration diploma at Oxford University; and international expert member of the Permanent Forum of China Construction Law.
Professor Dr Abdel Wahab regularly serves as arbitrator, expert and counsel in high-value construction disputes. He chairs arbitral tribunals in mega-construction-related proceedings. He has acted in construction claims, worth several hundred million dollars, in institutional and ad hoc arbitration proceedings in Egypt, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UK.
He has taught construction law and practice courses, and conducted training on FIDIC forms of contracts and disputes arising thereunder. He is the MENA-exclusive contributor to the Global Arbitration Review Guide on Construction Arbitration (2017–2019), and was named co-author of the monograph Practicing FIDIC in Civil Law Jurisdictions – Application of Time and Additional Payment Provisions (2018). Chambers and Partners acknowledges Professor Dr Abdel Wahab’s significant experience in construction disputes in its 2016 and 2020 editions. WWL: Construction (2019) calls Mohamed Abdel Wahab “a leading heavyweight construction law specialist whose analytical skills are second to none”.
Professor Dr Mohamed S Abdel Wahab has served as Arbitrator, counsel and expert in more than 195 cases involving parties from the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Canada and the USA. He has featured in cases under the auspices of the AAA, the AAA-BCDR, the CRCICA, the DIAC, the DIFC-LCIA, the ICC, ICSID, the LCIA, the LMAA, the SCC and SIAC, as well as ad hoc UNCITRAL proceedings, and those governed by the laws of Bahrain, Egypt, England, France, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, New York, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Italy and the UAE, along with international law and the general principles of law.
Professor Dr Abdel Wahab is listed on the rosters of many arbitral institutions including the ADCCAC (Abu Dhabi), AIAC (Malaysia), BCDR-AAA (Bahrain), CIETAC (China), the CRCICA (Egypt), the DIAC (Dubai), the EODID (Athens), the KCAB (South Korea), the SCIA (China) and the Arbitration Centre of the Russian Institute of Modern Arbitration (Russia).
Professor Dr Abdel Wahab is recognised as a world-leading arbitrator and arbitration practitioner. He has featured in every edition of WWL Thought Leaders: International Arbitration (2017–2019), and is listed in all major legal directories as a leading practitioner, including WWL: Arbitration, WWL: Construction, WWL Future Leaders: Arbitration (2017) and WWL Thought Leaders: Construction (2019–2020).
Professor Dr Abdel Wahab features in I-Arb Africa’s list of 100 leading African arbitration practitioners. He was named by Africa Arbitration as Personality of the Month (June 2018) and by the Lagos Chamber of Commerce International Arbitration Centre as Arbitration Personality of the Month (May 2019). He is the winner of Law magazine’s 2017 Award for Best Egyptian Legal Practitioner; ASA International Arbitration’s 2018 Advocacy Prize; the Association of Young Arbitrators’ 2019 Hall of Fame Award for African Arbitrator of the year; and Lexology’s 2020 Client Choice International Award for Construction.
The Legal 500 (2019) describes Mohamed Abdel Wahab as “an arbitration expert with a global reputation” and “one of the best in the world”. WWL: Arbitration (2019) calls him “a leader in the space” who is “at the top of the market” and “a very well-prepared, exceptional arbitrator”. Chambers and Partners Global (2019) states, “Mohamed Abdel Wahab is consistently described by clients as a ‘superstar in arbitration’. He is praised as ‘a good strategic thinker’ and is acknowledged for his ‘deep understanding of the issues surrounding disputes in the construction and oil and gas sectors’.
Professor Dr Abdel Wahab read law in Egypt and the UK. He speaks Arabic, English and French.