Saudi entrepreneurs and technology enthusiasts flourish in a tech-developing society

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Saleh Al-Mohsin, right, of Marn Tech.
Updated 11 November 2018
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Saudi entrepreneurs and technology enthusiasts flourish in a tech-developing society

  • Initiative supports entrepreneurs and helps them develop their technical projects
  • Platforms include online grocery shopping, 3D printing and social media analytics

DUBAI: The next Steve Jobs could soon emerge in Saudi Arabia as young minds are being nurtured through an initiative aimed at fostering talent across the Kingdom.
Misk Innovation, which launched at GITEX Future Stars in Dubai last month, supports Saudi entrepreneurs to develop technical projects.
“It has been created because of all the inspiring talent that we have back home and the great opportunities,” said Deemah Al-Yahya, executive manager of Misk Innovation.
“Given the profound (impact) of digital and economic transformation the region is experiencing, the importance of innovation is growing. For the past 40 years or so, the region has achieved new levels of economic growth and modernization, transforming itself into one of the world’s dynamic economies.”
By focusing on innovation and collaboration, Al-Yahya said the region has become a technological advanced society with a highly motivated and educated workforce.
Misk Innovation was set up to help young Saudis to embrace the technological revolution. It aimed to provide a comprehensive framework to discover, develop and empower young Saudis.
“When you read about highly successful innovators such as Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, it’s easy to think that they have something the rest of us don’t have,” Al-Yahya said.
“They changed business, industries and the world itself. Each one of us can be one of them by learning some of these tactics, including not discounting any crazy idea — there were no thoughts of limitation based on age, experience, level or how the world operates but, as adults, many of us too quickly shut down our ideas.”
She explained such ideas are the root of the world’s most successful innovations. “The people who realize these revolutionary advancements let themselves believe that a crazy idea is always a reality,” she said.
She added that how you cope with fear is also key. “A lot of people believe that to be a leader in innovation, you have to be fearless,” she said. “In fact, successful innovators let their fear exist without letting it dictate their decision-making.
“Never think you know it all — even though we might think that successful people are truly the biggest experts in their fields, the ones that stay innovative never operate under that assumption.”
Entrepreneurs should surround themselves with heroes, she added, as successful innovators know that they cannot do it alone. “Innovation comes from hunger,” Al-Yahya said. “You can do something new that has never been done before or something that has, but in a new way.”
For Salem Alghanem, a near-failure proved to be a boon. Almost failing his first year at university led him to create Faheem, a platform connecting students with qualified tutors in the Kingdom. “The only way to get a tutor in Saudi is by word of mouth or by seeing posters around malls,” he said. “I faced this problem myself when I struggled in maths and that pushed me to create something that was needed.”
He launched the company last year, based in Riyadh. “The majority of our population is young and creating businesses gives them more experience and knowledge,” he said. “It will solve problems in the economy, while benefiting us and allowing us to shape our own future.”
Redwan Sulaimai, a 30-year-old data analyst from Jeddah, works at Lucidiya, which was created two years ago in Jeddah to help fill a gap in the field of social media. “It’s about social media analytics in the Arabic language,” he said. “There’s a lack of tools focusing on Arabic, which allow us to find public sentiment and the volume of interaction with certain topics in Saudi Arabia. We prepare reports for our clients or annual subscriptions.”
The company is a rare operator in this market. “Twitter is probably the most popular platform in Saudi Arabia and the easiest one for people to express their feelings on any topic,” Sulaimai said. “There’s a huge lack in this field. Data is the future of the region, and it’s one of the biggest motivations for me to dig deeper and explore more.”
3D printing led Omar Abuhabaya, from Jeddah, to create Shakl3d.com two years ago. The company provides printing services, converting ideas into physical products. “We do architectural models, spare part protection, characters and solutions,” said the 26-year-old mechanical engineer.
The startup allows designers to upload their 3D model, select the material and scale of their design, and receive instant pricing, production and shipment. Abuhabaya explained: “I bought the printer as a student and used it at home so every time I’d leave my house, I’d come back to a gift with products popping out of the machine. In this industrial revolution, technologies, such as the internet of things, 3D printing and artificial intelligence, are disrupting markets and economies and we should capitalize on this now. Small and medium-sized enterprises can make a difference in the region and startup communities can dictate the coming years.”
Noura Alzoman, a 27-year-old nutritionist, was a founder of ZadFresh, an online grocery shopping platform. “We’ve become the biggest company in Saudi Arabia for grocery shopping,” she said. “We want to help young Saudis’ lifestyle.”
Saleh AlMohsin created Marn Tech in 2016 to provide SMEs with their own cash register, integrated with banks and the tax authority in the Kingdom. “Saudi Arabia is starting with VAT this year so most shops don’t have a cash register,” said the 33-year-old. This is low-cost, easily accessible and digital.”
For Misk Innovation, providing challenges to the startups, linked to the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and the United Nations’ Sustainability Goals, opens up a window to the youth to start coming up with ideas and problem-solving.
“Once they do, we support them in creating their ventures,” Al-Yahya said. “We’re moving from an oil-based to a diversified economy.”
Misk Innovation believes that looking at the whole value chain with startups is vital. “We provide the opportunity to incubate startups, bring great resources from the world, from experts and mentors to programs, to our Saudi start-ups to support and help them grow,” Al-Yahya added.
“We connect the dots and create a one-stop-shop. We (must) come together with absurd ideas and ‘what ifs,’ support and help each other, think together and believe that we can do it together. We have curious innovative minds, which will push us all to the edge of innovation where we can make a global leap of faith together.”


90-year anniversary: How the Arab world came to know Tintin and Popeye

Updated 18 January 2019
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90-year anniversary: How the Arab world came to know Tintin and Popeye

  • Middle Eastern fans fondly look back at two comic icons who share a birthday this year, although they’re not without controversy
  • An Egyptian publisher printed Tintin in Arabic, while Popeye was broadcast on Saudi Channel 2 and Spacetoon

Popeye, the scruffy sailor who remains one of the most loveable characters of all time, has been a popular fixture in Middle Eastern pop culture since the early 1980s. In addition to mountains of merchandise, particularly stuffed toys, being available in local shops, the cartoons were broadcast on Saudi Channel 2 (in their original English) and on Spacetoon (with Arabic dubbing). 
“I remember the first time I watched Popeye,” Zainab Basrawi, a 36-year-old insurance lawyer and self-professed Popeye enthusiast, told Arab News. “I learned to love spinach just from watching him save Olive every time. I believed him. I think he was a great influence on children to subtly ease them into eating their greens.”
Just one week after Tintin first appeared in “Le Petit Vingtieme,” Popeye made his debut on Jan. 17, 1929 as a side character in the daily King Features comic strip “Thimble Theatre.”
Created by the American cartoonist Elzie Crisler Segar, the one-eyed sailor with bulging forearms quickly grew in popularity, becoming the star of his own strip, an animated TV cartoon and a 1980 movie starring
Robin Williams. The theme song from the cartoon, “I’m Popeye the Sailorman,” is one of the most recognized pieces of music in pop culture history.
Compared to boyish, clean-cut, good- natured Tintin, Popeye is his polar opposite.
The sailor is rough, gruff and extremely tough, famous for the super-strength he gets from eating canned spinach, and his never-ending love triangle with his girlfriend Olive Oyl and rival Bluto.
Like Tintin, as a relic from another era, Popeye has also been criticized for racial stereotypes. In “Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba and His Forty Thieves,” he is shown beating up poorly made caricatures of Arab men. In “You’re a Sap, Mr. Jap,” the Japanese characters in the cartoon get the same treatment.
However, literary critic Sophie Cline said the comic strip is reflective of the time it was created in, almost a century ago. “I think it’s important not to ignore these pieces of our history, or hide them away, but rather to own up to our mistakes and learn from them,” she told Arab News.
She alluded to the new disclaimer that now precedes old Looney Tunes cartoons, informing viewers that their outdated “racial prejudices” no longer reflect Warner Bros. values but are “products of their time.”
“Popeye cartoons reflect the common view of the era,” she said. “A disclaimer should be enough.”

Tintin, one of the world’s most famous fictional journalists, traveled the world seeking stories and adventure, so he naturally spent a good amount of time in the Middle East.
Created by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, better known by his pseudonym Herge (say his initials in reverse out loud in a French accent), Tintin travels the region in four of his books: “Cigars of the Pharaoh,” “The Crab with the Golden Claws,” “Land of Black Gold” and “The Red Sea Sharks.”
Tintin gained more of a foothold in the region when Egyptian publisher Dar Al-Maarif began printing the comics in Arabic in 1971. Renaming him “Tantan,” Dar Al-Maarif continued to publish the comics weekly
until 1980.
“Tintin has been one of my idols for as long as I can remember,” said Haytham Faisal, a journalist from Cairo. “I literally became a journalist because I wanted to be him. My dad used to take me to buy the comics from the local bookstore. I remember them being so expensive, so they were a rare treat. I’d always think twice before buying them, but I couldn’t always wait for the next comic to see what new story they have next. I still have some of them, they were that precious to me.”
Before appearing in book format, Tintin and his constant companion, the dog Snowy, were first introduced to audiences in “Le Petit Vingtieme,” or “The Little Twentieth,” a supplement to the Belgian newspaper “Le Vingtieme Siecle” (The Twentieth Century) on Jan. 4, 1929. Herge, however, maintained that Tintin was actually “born” on Jan. 10, when “Tintin in the Land of the Soviets” began its serialization in the paper.
Despite the fact that he never seems to hand in any stories, the loveable and quirky Tintin is portrayed as talented at his profession, so much so that he is shown to be in high demand, with many press agencies offering him bribes for his dispatches.
Over the years, Tintin’s face has been used to advertise quintessentially French items such as Citroen cars and La Vache Qui Rit cheese. Enthusiasts of Tintin lore, known as Tintinolo- gists, have written entire books devoted to him.
Since 1929, more than 250 million copies of the Tintin comic books have been sold. His adventures have been translated in more than 110 languages, and the books are sold in almost every country in the world.
Tintin continues to grow in popularity, even 90 years on. He was the star of a full-length feature film, directed by Steven Spielberg, in 2011 and of an animated television series. The latter was broadcast on Saudi Channel 2 between 1991 and 1992 and a dubbed version has been on MBC 3 since 2003.
However, the history of Tintin has not been without its hiccups. Over the years, critics have argued that, like many of the comics of the era, it should undergo censorship or even outright banning from bookstores and libraries. One of the more troublesome ones is his second adventure, “Tintin in the Congo.”
The natives Tintin visits are crude stereo- types of African people, who are portrayed as ignorant and uneducated, and the references to slavery, such as when the natives refer to Tintin as “master,” make the comics hard to stomach.
Similarly, “Land of Black Gold,” which takes place in a fictional Red Sea state named Khemed, is also banned in several Middle Eastern countries today for its stereotypical portrayal of Arabs.
While some argue the comics are simply byproducts of their era, they are nonetheless somewhat difficult to revisit in the modern era. Attempts have been made to soften some of the references, with edits being made to “Tintin in the Congo” in 1975, but is that enough?
Not according to the London-based human rights lawyer David Enright, who wrote in the Guardian newspaper that “Tintin in the Congo” shouldn’t be sold to children. “Books are precious, but so are the minds of young children. It is vital that our children learn and explore the grotesque history of slavery, racism and anti-Semitism, but in the proper context of the school curriculum.”