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.
What did you find most challenging about entering arbitration practice?
The three things I found most challenging when entering arbitration practice were the indispensability of having an edge and unique areas of expertise; making the right choices about the cases to work on and the people to work with; and being liberated from the shackles of profiling, as an African and Arab practitioner, to be able to break through into the world of international arbitration.
What are the primary differences between investment and commercial arbitrations, and what skills are key for success in said proceedings?
Investment and commercial arbitration proceedings do have some commonalities, but they remain different creatures. Books could be written on the nuances and differences between commercial and investment arbitrations. Simply put, they, inter alia, differ in terms of the applicable legal framework and norms; jurisdiction-related issues; case management techniques; tribunals’ and counsel’s approach to legal issues; and their impact on perceptions towards investment policies. Among the key skills to succeed in these proceedings are: the ability to choose the most suitable arbitrator for the particular set of proceedings; mastery of international law when it comes to investment arbitration and adequately addressing issues of the applicable laws in both commercial and investment arbitration; in-depth knowledge of the facts; the ability to read arbitral tribunals’ reactions, and to adapt and react accordingly; the ability to distil the core issues in dispute and to furnish tribunals with helpful submissions; maintaining credibility as counsel, neutrality as tribunal and sensibility as parties; and the careful articulation of the relief sought and avoiding frivolous applications.
The African, Latin American and Asian markets continue to see an increasing amount of construction disputes going to arbitration. What is driving this trend? What impact is it having on your practice?
Africa and Latin America are indeed witnessing an increase in construction disputes and this is simply a function of the upsurge in construction projects and development activities in both markets. Law firms with an interest in both markets have to tailor their services to adapt to the needs of both markets and we are no exception. Our construction arbitration practice is very solid, and is continuously evolving and hiring talented practitioners to cater for the needs of our clients with projects in many countries across Africa and Latin America.
How has your experience with comparative law and applicable law issues in arbitrations enhanced your practice?
My expertise in private international law has had a profound, positive impact on dealing with all legal issues, including applicable law questions that arise in construction, oil and gas, telecommunications, insurance and finance-related disputes. Mastering comparative law and applicable law issues gives one an edge and enables drawing parallels from other legal systems as appropriate. This is undoubtedly important when considering issues of fact and law. Moreover, this expertise offers a unique perspective and an edge when prosecuting cases or rendering arbitral awards; it allows one to appreciate the commonalities and differences between legal systems without being biased or wedded to a specific jurisdiction or system.
What do clients look for when selecting arbitration counsel?
Clients select counsel to win. However, seasoned and sophisticated clients aim to win in style. They select a counsel who is a capable and experienced strategist; is sharp, ethical and responsive; understands clients’ business and dispute-related needs; offers candid and honest advice; and is a team player, as well as being pleasant, efficient and effective.
An increasingly hot topic in arbitration at the moment is the use of AI in proceedings. What impact is this technology having on arbitration practice?
Technology is not simply having an impact on the practice of arbitration; it is transforming it. ICTs are no longer confined to offering virtual media for communications; they are having an impact on every aspect of the arbitration process from conclusion of contracts (and arbitration agreements) to commencement and prosecution of proceedings, and from document management techniques to rendering arbitral awards. The era of AI and its applications in smart contracts, automated agents and predictive justice has arrived. Moreover, online (virtual) platforms are deployed and created much more frequently than before and the movement to a wholly automated arbitration process is gaining momentum. This will undoubtedly require us to rethink existing principles and practices, and data protection, processing and security are now at the forefront of issues to be considered. Furthermore, predictive justice applications, and the use of AI and multivariable resolution optimisation programmes and potentially electronic exequaturs, will play a greater role in the decision-making process and enforcement of arbitral awards.
What impact has your membership of, and various roles within, a number of international arbitration institutions had on your perspective and knowledge as an arbitration specialist?
My membership of, and various roles within, arbitral institutions and professional organisations have had an extremely positive impact on my practice, perception and knowledge. This has been (and continues to be) a very rewarding and enriching experience, which I wholeheartedly appreciate and cherish as arbitrator and counsel. I have learnt a lot and I have come to know how institutions function. This has given me a unique opportunity to interact and exchange experiences with leading scholars and practitioners from across the globe; participate in institutional decision-making; contribute to the drafting of arbitration rules; and enhance my knowledge of comparative law and best practices in dispute resolution.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own firm?
Starting a new firm is a prodigious task. If you are up for it and have what it takes, then go ahead, but be smart in carefully considering market forces, trends and competition.
I invite you to consider the following questions. Why do you need to start a firm? What is your vision? What are your short- and long-term plans? What edge or expertise would this firm bring to the market? What resources (human, financial and legal) are you able to allocate or amass? How much time can you devote to establishing, managing and building the practice? Do you have the client base needed to start? Do you have the requisite legal knowledge, expertise and experience to build clients’ trust and confidence?
It is only upon careful consideration of the above questions can one decide whether starting a new firm is a sound decision or not. I would also caution that, first, continuity and growth are the biggest challenges to new firms; and second, one does not need to establish his or her own firm to build a name or be appreciated professionally. One can still be part of a successful firm and practice, and be recognised as a go-to professional whose name adds much value to the firm and its practice.
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.