Middle East startups use internet’s social power to create business opportunities

Middle East startups use internet’s social power to create business opportunities
Kheddma seeks to replace housemaids with a more modern alternative. (Supplied)
Updated 14 September 2019

Middle East startups use internet’s social power to create business opportunities

Middle East startups use internet’s social power to create business opportunities
  • Preventive maintenance can save home and business owners up to 20 percent on total building upkeep costs
  • Digitizing the home-services market can help regulate a largely unregulated space in the MENA region

DUBAI: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a maxim that applies to many life situations — but not when it comes to keeping your car or home running smoothly.
Research shows that proactive and preventative maintenance can save home and business owners up to 20 percent on total upkeep costs.
Whether they need proactive or reactive maintenance, homeowners in the MENA region have historically had to hire service providers whose efficiency and honesty are largely untested, with word-of-mouth recommendations being their safest bet.
“For (the home-services) sector, there are many challenges that we fight every day in terms of getting the right technician and settling the best price and agreement with him,” said Faisal Alzahrani, co-founder of Ajeer, who realised the best way to reinvent the experience is to “regulate” this market and “simplify” the customer experience.
Ajeer
Ajeer, a digital Saudi-based home maintenance and services marketplace, is one of a handful of MENA startups helping clients by connecting them with validated home cleaning and service professionals.
These enterprises are harnessing the social power of the Internet to reshape the way homeowners request services.
When Alzahrani and his partners, Turki Alarjani and Abdul Aziz Al-Taleb, founded Ajeer in Apri, they struggled to prove they had a viable concept. The trio pitched their idea to more than 50 venture capital investors only to get feedback from three of them.
Now, the company operates a marketplace of more than 3,000 service providers and secured $500,000 in seed funding in December 2018. Part of the money came from an angel investor who is a previous customer.
Ajeer currently covers seven cities in Saudi Arabia and is yet to expand into the rest of the Kingdom and neighboring countries.

Kheddma
Cairo-based Kheddma is trying to replace the housemaid with a more professional modern alternative.
Launched in 2018 by Hashem Aly, co-founder of MENA crowd-sourced educational video platform Nafham, the company runs a team of vetted cleaning professionals.
The aim is to expand in the future by reaching out to current housemaids, professionally training them, and rehiring them through the service.

Maharah
Founded in 2015 by Mujahed Marghlani, Saleem Barnawi and Ahmed Mereyani, Maharah is a Flat6Labs Jeddah accelerator program graduate. It was featured among the Forbes 50 most promising Saudi startups in 2016.
Its mobile app enables homeowners in five Saudi cities to schedule maintenance appointments with a skilled worker they can choose from a catalogue which lists electricians, plumbers, and flooring specialists, among others.
Maharah has changed the public’s view of a skilled fixer. “We have Saudi nationals working with us,” Mereyani said in an interview with The Business Box podcast. “Some are government employees who are handy with a maintenance job, and they take job orders after finishing their full-time day job.”
B8ak
B8ak is another Saudi app for ordering home and IT maintenance services. Khalid Al-Hmili and Eyad Al-Shabaan started the company in 2017, receiving $2 million a year later in a seed fund-raiser led by Riyadh Taqnia Fund.
 “The home maintenance services market is a huge 25,000 job opportunity market,” said Al-Hmili in a video introducing the service.
B8ak partners with verified local service providers. The company also operates a community give-back initiative, donating one Saudi riyal to community-development initiatives for each order placed.
Digitizing the home services market is likely to regulate a largely unregulated space currently dominated by independent and, in many cases, undocumented workers in the MENA region. As more startups enter this sector, the stigma of working in home services will recede, creating opportunities for young skilled individuals to improve their income.


This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.


Italian politicians slam Libyan release of alleged human trafficker

Italian politicians slam Libyan release of alleged human trafficker
Updated 18 min 35 sec ago

Italian politicians slam Libyan release of alleged human trafficker

Italian politicians slam Libyan release of alleged human trafficker
  • UN considers Abd Al-Rahman Milad one of Libya’s most wanted human traffickers
  • His release is ‘disturbing news,’ says head of Sinistra Italiana party

ROME: Members of left-wing political party Sinistra Italiana expressed their dismay at Libyan authorities’ decision to release a man considered by the UN to be one of the country’s most wanted human traffickers.

Abd Al-Rahman Milad, known as Bija, was arrested on suspicion of being part of a criminal network operating in northwest Libya.

He was released less than four months after his arrest in Tripoli. The city’s military attorney general dropped the charges against him “for lack of evidence.”

Italian newspaper Avvenire reported that Bija and five other Libyans were placed under sanctions in 2018 by the UN Security Council for being directly involved in the sinking of migrant boats.

The newspaper reported that Bija had attended official meetings in Rome with Italian authorities during negotiations over illegal migrants. He was introduced there as “a commander of the Libyan coastguard.”

Bija’s release “is disturbing news,” Sinistra Italiana leader Nicola Fratoianni said in Italy’s Chamber of Deputies, asking the government to “clarify this obscure situation.”

He added: “This man is accused of torture and other cruel criminal acts on human beings. The relationship between Italian institutions and this man, who was freed only a few days after the visit to Tripoli of Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, must be fully clarified.” 

Fratoianni told Arab News: “In Libya, migrants live in inhumane and atrocious conditions, as confirmed by all international organizations. The Italian government must do something.”

Marco Minniti, Italy’s interior minister at the time of the meetings attended by Bija, has denied any wrongdoing, saying Rome was unaware of the allegations against the Libyan.

Nello Scavo, the Italian journalist who first reported for Avvenire on Bija’s presence in Italy, and Nancy Porsia, the freelance reporter who first wrote about the Libyan’s suspected criminal activities in 2016, were given police protection after receiving threats.

In recent years, the EU has partnered with Libya’s coastguard and local groups to try to halt the dangerous sea crossings via the Mediterranean to reach Italian shores.

Several NGOs, however, say those policies leave migrants at the mercy of armed groups or confined in squalid detention centers rife with abuse.

An Associated Press investigation in 2019 revealed that militias tortured, extorted and abused migrants for ransom in detention centers under the nose of UN officials, often in compounds that receive millions in European money, paid to Libya’s government to slow the tide of migrants crossing the Mediterranean.


Israeli media report Israeli-owned ship attacked off UAE coast

Israeli media report Israeli-owned ship attacked off UAE coast
Updated 50 min 8 sec ago

Israeli media report Israeli-owned ship attacked off UAE coast

Israeli media report Israeli-owned ship attacked off UAE coast

An Israeli-owned ship was attacked off the coast of the UAE, Israel's Channel 12 TV reported.

Unnamed Israeli officials told the channel that they blamed Iran for the attack. There were no casualties in the attack, the report said.

Ship tracking websites showed the Hyperion Ray was on its ways to Fujairah, on the UAE's Arabian Sea coast.

More to follow ...  


Iran to enrich uranium to 60%, highest level ever

Iran to enrich uranium to 60%, highest level ever
Updated 13 April 2021

Iran to enrich uranium to 60%, highest level ever

Iran to enrich uranium to 60%, highest level ever
  • Nuclear negotiator Abbas Araghchi's comments come after attack on Natanz nuclear facility, blamed on Israel
  • Iran had been enriching up to 20% – a short technical step to weapons-grade levels

DUBAI: Iran will begin enriching uranium to 60 percent purity, higher than the program ever has before though still short of weapons grade, after an attack on its Natanz nuclear facility, an Iranian negotiator said Tuesday.
The announcement marks a significant escalation after the sabotage, suspected to have been carried out by Israel. It could result in further action by Israel, whose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed never to allow Tehran to obtain a nuclear weapon, and further raise tensions across the Mideast.
Nuclear negotiator Abbas Araghchi’s comment, quoted by the state-run IRNA news agency, came after Iran’s foreign minister warned that the weekend assault could hurt ongoing negotiations over its tattered atomic deal with world powers. Those talks are aimed at finding a way for the United States to re-enter the agreement, the goal of which is to limit Iran’s enrichment of uranium in exchange relief on sanctions.
Iran had been enriching up to 20 percent. That is a short technical step to weapons-grade levels of 90 percent.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said it was aware of the media reports but had no comment at the time.
Press TV, the Iranian state television’s English-language arm, separately said that the IAEA had been informed of the move. It said the enrichment would begin as of Wednesday.

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The broadcaster also quoted the negotiator as saying Iran would introduce another 1,000 centrifuges at Natanz, without elaborating.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had threatened to go to 60 percent enrichment in February if the country needed.
“We are determined to develop our nuclear capabilities in line with the needs of the country,” Khamenei said then, according to a transcript of his speech published by his website. “For this reason, Iran’s enrichment will not be limited to 20 percent, and we will take whatever action is necessary for the country.”
Iran previously had said it could use uranium enriched up to 60 percent for nuclear-powered ships. The Islamic Republic currently has no such ships in its navy.
Details remained scarce about the weekend attack at Natanz. The event was initially described only as a blackout in the electrical grid feeding above-ground workshops and underground enrichment halls — but later Iranian officials began referring to it as an attack.
The US has insisted it had nothing to do with Sunday’s sabotage. Instead, Israel is widely believed to have carried out the assault that damaged centrifuges, though it has not claimed it.
But earlier Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif still issued a warning to Washington.
“Americans should know that neither sanctions nor sabotage actions would provide them with an instrument for talks,” Zarif said in Tehran alongside visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. “They should know that these actions would only make the situation difficult for them.”
Zarif separately renewed his earlier warning to Israel over the sabotage, saying that if Iran determines its archenemy was behind it, “then Israel will get its response and will see what a stupid thing it has done.”
Kayhan, the hard-line Tehran newspaper, urged Iran to “walk out of the Vienna talks, suspend all nuclear commitments, retaliate against Israel and identify and dismantle the domestic infiltration network behind the sabotage.”
“Despite evidence that shows the role of the US as main instigator of nuclear sabotage against Iran, unfortunately some statesmen, by purging the US of responsibility, (aid) Washington’s crimes against the people of Iran,” the paper said in Tuesday’s editions.
While Kayhan is a small-circulation newspaper, its editor-in-chief, Hossein Shariatmadari, was appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and has been described as an adviser to him in the past.
Such a walkout remains unlikely as the administration of President Hassan Rouhani, whose main diplomatic achievement was the 2015 accord, hopes to get the US to rejoin it and provide desperately needed sanctions relief. However, pressure does appear to be growing within Iran’s theocracy over how to respond to the attack.
The talks in Vienna — among Iran, world powers still in the deal and the US — are aimed at reviving America’s role in the agreement that former President Donald Trump abandoned and lifting the sanctions he imposed. Iran, in turn, would return to the limits set by the deal and dilute its growing stockpile of uranium — some of which has been enriched up to a short step away from weapons-grade levels.
Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful, though the West and the International Atomic Energy Agency say Tehran had an organized military nuclear program up until the end of 2003. However, the deal prevents it from having enough of a uranium stockpile to be able to pursue a nuclear weapon.
Rouhani met later Tuesday with Lavrov and stressed the importance of all parties returning to the deal. Russia is a member of the nuclear deal.
“We are neither ready to accept less than that, nor are we after achieving more than that,” he said.


Iran sees record spike in COVID cases after holiday travels

Iran sees record spike in COVID cases after holiday travels
Updated 13 April 2021

Iran sees record spike in COVID cases after holiday travels

Iran sees record spike in COVID cases after holiday travels
  • Authorities blamed the surge on millions travelling across the country for Iranian New Year last month
  • Health ministry said on Tuesday 24,760 new daily cases were identified, taking the total to 2,118,212 cases

DUBAI: Iran on Tuesday reported a record 24,760 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, as the worst-hit country in the Middle East faced a fourth coronavirus wave.
Authorities have blamed the latest surge on millions traveling across the country for Iranian New Year last month and taking part in family gatherings in defiance of health precautions promoted by the government.
Health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari told state TV on Tuesday that 24,760 new daily cases were identified, taking the total to 2,118,212 cases. The daily death toll rose to 291, the highest since Dec. 9, to bring the total to 65,055.
Lari said 295 counties have been classified as very high-risk “red” zones, and 99 as high-risk “orange” areas, while 45 counties were rated “yellow” and just 9 as low-risk “blue” zones.
On Saturday, Tehran imposed a 10-day lockdown across most of the country affecting 23 of the country’s 31 provinces.
Non-essential businesses, schools, theaters and sports facilities have been forced to shut and gatherings are banned during the holy fasting month of Ramadan that begins on Wednesday in Iran.


Iran warns sabotage affects Vienna talks over nuclear deal

Iran warns sabotage affects Vienna talks over nuclear deal
Updated 13 April 2021

Iran warns sabotage affects Vienna talks over nuclear deal

Iran warns sabotage affects Vienna talks over nuclear deal
  • Kayhan, the hard-line Tehran newspaper, urged Iran to walk out of the Vienna talks
  • Mohammad Javad Zarif’s made his remarks alongside visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: Iran’s foreign minister warned Tuesday that an attack on its main nuclear enrichment site at Natanz affects ongoing negotiations in Vienna over its tattered atomic deal with world powers.
Mohammad Javad Zarif’s remarks, alongside visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, come as the US has insisted it had nothing to do with the sabotage Sunday at the Natanz nuclear facility. While not claiming the attack, Israel is widely believed to have carried out the still-unexplained assault that damaged centrifuges there.
“Americans should know that neither sanctions nor sabotage actions would provide them with an instrument for talks,” Zarif said in Tehran. “They should know that these actions would only make the situation difficult for them.”
Kayhan, the hard-line Tehran newspaper, urged Iran to “walk out of the Vienna talks, suspend all nuclear commitments, retaliate against Israel and identify and dismantle the domestic infiltration network behind the sabotage.”
“Despite evidence that shows the role of the US as main instigator of nuclear sabotage against Iran, unfortunately some statesmen, by purging the US of responsibility, (aid) Washington’s crimes against the people of Iran,” the paper said in Tuesday’s editions.
While Kayhan is a small-circulation newspaper, its editor-in-chief, Hossein Shariatmadari ,was appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and has been described as an adviser to him in the past.
Such a walkout remains unlikely as the administration of President Hassan Rouhani, whose main diplomatic achievement was the 2015 accord, hopes to get the US to rejoin it and provide desperately needed sanctions relief. However, pressure does appear to be growing within Iran’s theocracy over how to respond to the attack.
Details remained scarce about what happened early Sunday at Natanz. The event was initially described only as a blackout in the electrical grid feeding above-ground workshops and underground enrichment halls — but later Iranian officials began referring to it as an attack. Israeli media, which has close ties with the military and intelligence services of that country, have described the sabotage as a cyberattack, without offering evidence or sourcing to support that.
The extent of the damage at Natanz also remains unclear, though Iran’s Foreign Ministry has described it as damaging Iran’s first-generation IR-1 centrifuges, the workhorse of its nuclear program. A former Iranian Revolutionary Guard chief said Tuesday that the assault set off a fire while a civilian nuclear program spokesman mentioned a “possible minor explosion.”
In remarks aired late Monday by state television. the former head of the country’s civilian nuclear arm offered his own description of the attack, calling its design “very beautiful.” The attack appeared to target both the power grid at Natanz, as well as the facility’s emergency backup power fed by separate batteries, Fereydoun Abbasi said.
Abbasi said a similar attack targeted Iran’s underground Fordo facility in 2012 with two explosions: one 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) away at a power station and the other at Fordo’s emergency battery system.
“We had predicted that and we were using a separate power grid,” Abbasi said. “They hit but nothing happened for our machines.”
It remains unclear on which power source Natanz in central Iran relies. Satellite photographs appear to show an electrical substation at the facility’s northwest corner.