UAE executive Hatem Dowidar to join board of Vodafone despite national security concerns

The chief executive of a UAE-backed telecoms group will join the Vodafone board next week despite concerns about national security.

Hatem Dowidar, chief executive of Emirates Telecommunications, will be a non-executive director from Monday, following a national security investigation into the relationship between the two firms.

Emirates, also known as E&, is 60 per cent-owned by the UAE government and has been building a stake in Vodafone since 2022, and is now the biggest shareholder, with 14.6 per cent.

The firms formed a strategic agreement, which included a board seat for Dowidar. But E& faces accusations of online censorship and alleged attempts to spy on citizens.

Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden warned in January the relationship posed a threat to Britain given Vodafone’s work with Government departments and its influence on the UK telecoms industry. 

Security concerns: Hatem Dowidar (pictured), who is chief executive of Emirates Telecommunications, will be a non-executive director at Vodafone from Monday

He said the arrangement would allow the state-controlled group to ‘materially influence’ the business and ordered Vodafone to establish a national security committee to oversee sensitive work that affects the UK.

Vodafone has agreed to tell ministers about any change or termination of the partnership, and meet requirements about who is on the board.

Dowidar has held leadership positions at Vodafone, including chief executive of Vodafone Egypt and Vodafone Malta. 

He said he was looking forward to supporting ‘the rapid transformation’ being undertaken by chief executive Margherita Della Valle.

But some analysts think shareholders may be frustrated. 

‘Shareholders calling for a break-up of the company to unlock shareholder value might feel that their cause is set back, with E& on the board, given E&’s ambition to become a global telecom and technology player,’ said Karen Egan, telecoms expert at Enders Analysis, who added that the appointment was unlikely to pose security risks.

The Government can review foreign takeovers under laws that were used to block the sale of semiconductor firm Newport Wafer Fab to Chinese-owned Nexperia.

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer has instructed regulator Ofcom to examine the sale of the Telegraph media group to a joint venture between a US firm and one owned by the UAE deputy prime minister.