How GCC countries are spurring entrepreneurship

How GCC countries are spurring entrepreneurship
Downtown Dubai. Changes in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are happening at a rapid pace as states seek to develop the business environment as part of a drive to diversify away from hydrocarbons. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 23 December 2019

How GCC countries are spurring entrepreneurship

How GCC countries are spurring entrepreneurship
  • GCC countries are seeking to diversify their economies away from oil by growing entrepreneurship ecosystems
  • Success will be measured by the creation and growth of start-ups and SMEs in the years to come

ABU DHABI: In recent years, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member countries have been trying to build robust entrepreneurship ecosystems as part of a common drive to diversify their economies away from hydrocarbons.

In practical terms, this means putting in place venture-friendly markets, friendly policies, funding vehicles, a stimulating culture and a range of support mechanisms.

But creating such an ecosystem is a complex process requiring careful planning and patience. Without universities, corporations, risk capitals and entrepreneurs to act as stakeholders, big ambitions will stay just that.


The rebirth of AlUla
Hegra, ancient city of the Nabataeans in Saudi Arabia’s historic AlUla Valley, is emerging from the mists of time to take its rightful place as one of the wonders of the world




The success of each country will be measured by the creation and growth of startups and small and medium-sized enterprises in the coming years.

The Saudi government in 2016 released Vision 2030, a comprehensive plan for long-term economic growth that aims to move the Kingdom away from state-led growth toward more open market policies. 

The objective is to foster entrepreneurship and allow the private sector to play a leading role in economic development and job creation.

The results so far of the efforts of Saudi Arabia and its neighbors were among the topics of discussion at the recent SALT Conference in Abu Dhabi.

“What I’ve witnessed in the past few months is significant,” said Abdulrahman Tarabzouni, CEO and managing director of Saudi Technology Ventures.

Abdulrahman Tarabzouni. (Supplied)

“You have societal, economic and regulatory changes. The pace and volume of what’s going on in the country is exhilarating.”

Although the changes being introduced across Saudi Arabia have been welcomed by entrepreneurs, they come with their own challenges. 

Tarabzouni said that one has to constantly change and be dynamic enough to embrace and keep up with changes.

“That’s where it becomes interesting because you have the new economy, and a lot of these entrepreneurs are well positioned to take advantage of many of these changes,” he added.

“Capital is coming in, foreign direct investment is steadily increasing, and a lot of large institutions and corporates are putting money to work in Saudi Arabia, even though venture investment was previously considered a risky asset class.”

Tarabzouni said while talent is starting to come in, attracting and integrating them within the ecosystem is still a challenge. 

He singled out Saudi Arabia for praise for its recent decision to open and pave the way for naturalization of top talent in different fields from all over the world.

“This is significant,” he said. “This is a country that’s literally telling the world, ‘I’m here, and I want to open up to anyone who’s going to be part of my transformation story and be a part of my platform’.”

Areije Alshakar. (Supplied)

Besides Saudi Arabia, Bahrain is one of the options people can look at, said Areije Alshakar, director and fund manager at Alwaha Venture Capital Fund of Funds in Bahrain.

“Each country in the GCC offers great opportunities for funds and startups. Bahrain has the right amount of population, the right size and the ability to access decision-makers,” she told the SALT Conference.

“We operate like a team so, ultimately, if you’re a startup looking to penetrate the region, Bahrain is a good testbed to expand in other markets as well because it has a good ecosystem.”

Oman is also emerging at the top of the list, said Abdullah Al-Shaksy, co-founder and CEO of Phaze Ventures, which specializes in energy disruption and logistics. 

Abdullah Al-Shaksy. (Supplied)

He added that the sultanate is going through a major transformation, similar to the one underway in Saudi Arabia, despite being a smaller market that does not get as much coverage.

“We have a very young demographic and a lot of educated young talent. And for the first time, that talent is now moving away from the state sector and into the entrepreneurship sphere,” he said.

“We finally have all the basic building blocks of the ecosystem, our accelerator programs and three venture funds, (which will be) almost four next year.”

Al-Shaksy said that the Oman developments happened in the last three years, in tandem with regulatory reforms and increased corporate interest and participation in ventures and technology investments.

“That has all come together to make Oman a bit of a dark horse in the race,” he said. “We’ve done four deals in Oman. All four are companies that operationalized in the last two years, and their average annual revenues are $10 million. All four companies are now expanding outside, and one of them acquired a company in Kuwait.”

Al-Shaksy said that the transformations have a lot to do with the talents that had hitherto remained untapped because they used to be drawn toward the government sector, but are now empowered to create their own opportunities.

Overall, the GCC region holds a lot of promise and is currently undervalued, underestimated and greatly misunderstood, said Fahad Al-Sharekh, co-founder and general partner of Kuwait’s Techinvest Corp. 

Fahad Al-Sharekh. (Supplied)

“We have a lot of potential and added value that we can bring to any asset class,” he said. “This is the reason many international investors want to come in and set up funds in the region. But it’s still in its infancy and growing, and (still) not enough.”

Al-Sharekh said that the most important building block of the infrastructure of a technology ecosystem is the human talent that makes up the workforce, which these days is likely to consist of coders, programers, software engineers and architects.

“We unfortunately don’t have this (building block) in the region (to the extent needed), because there aren’t enough schools and programs that teach coding,” he added. 

“That’s the impediment, but with more attention, the next thing (governments) will do is try to expedite education initiatives in coding, which will lead to more innovation, ideation and not just mimicking.”

That being said, opportunities in the region are tremendous, with the panelists at the SALT Conference saying the surface has barely been scratched. 

Tarabzouni pointed out that the gross domestic product (GDP) of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is $6 trillion, compared to $30 trillion for the US.

The US has 150 unicorns — a tech startup that reaches a $1 billion market value — compared with 25 in the Middle East. 

“But the region only had one Careem to date, so there are (still) 24 missing unicorns that the region, from a GDP and economic-activity perspective, can absorb,” Tarabzouni said.

“It goes back to this circular argument of needing capital but also talent and open markets. Plus you need to fix fragmentation and get the MENA collective bloc to act as a single market for entrepreneurs to be able to address.”

On the upside, Tarabzouni said, changes in the GCC are happening at an incredible pace, and governments’ interest in helping spur entrepreneurial activity and talent inclusion is amazing.

“A lot of this is government-backed, but this industry is all about really long feedback cycles,” he added. 

“But these companies take 10-15 years to create value, and you need patient investors, so I’m optimistic.”

The hope is that going forward, entities from the GCC’s private and public sectors will design and implement initiatives to speed up the evolution of the bloc’s entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Greece arrests Moroccan Daesh suspect

Greece arrests Moroccan Daesh suspect
Updated 45 min 49 sec ago

Greece arrests Moroccan Daesh suspect

Greece arrests Moroccan Daesh suspect
  • Greek police sources told AFP the 28-year-old man was arrested in Thessaloniki
  • Morocco's MAP news agency said he was detained on Tuesday for alleged involvement in terror actions

RABAT: Greek security services have arrested a Moroccan suspected of belonging to Daesh in Syria who had appeared in one of their propaganda videos, police and security sources said Thursday.
Greek police sources told AFP the 28-year-old man was arrested in Thessaloniki on the basis of an international warrant issued in 2017 by Rabat, and that a decision would be taken on his possible extradition to Morocco.
Morocco’s MAP news agency, quoting a security source, said he was detained on Tuesday for alleged involvement in the planning of “terrorist” actions in Morocco.
The suspect, known as Abu Mohamed Al-Fateh, had joined the extremist group in Syria in 2014 and held “positions of responsibility,” it said.
He had appeared in a video showing the body of a Syrian fighter being mutilated.
About 1,600 Moroccans joined extremist groups in Syria, Iraq and Libya, of whom 137 were killed, according to official figures in Morocco.

Forest fires rage near Turkish resorts, killing three

Forest fires rage near Turkish resorts, killing three
Updated 29 July 2021

Forest fires rage near Turkish resorts, killing three

Forest fires rage near Turkish resorts, killing three
  • At least 122 people have also been injured in the fires
  • President Erdogan announced that an arson investigation has already been initiated

ANKARA: Three people were reported dead Thursday and more than 100 injured as thousands of firefighters battled huge blazes spreading across the Mediterranean resort regions of Turkey’s southern coast.
Officials also launched an investigation into suspicions the fires that broke out Wednesday in four locations to the east of the tourist hotspot Antalya were the result of arson.
Turkey’s disaster and emergencies office said three people were killed — including an 82-year-old who lived alone — and 122 injured by the fires.
“Treatment of 58 of our citizens continues,” it was quoted as saying by the Anadolu state news agency.
The fires first emerged across a sparsely populated region about 75 kilometers (45 miles) east of Antalya — a resort especially popular with Russian and other eastern European tourists.
But they were creeping closer Thursday to sandy beaches dotted with hotels and resorts.
Images on social media and Turkish TV showed residents jumping out of their cars and running for their lives through smoke-filled streets lit up by orange flames.
The heavy clouds of smoke turned the sky dark orange over a beachfront hotel complex in the town of Manavgat.
Agriculture Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said a hotel was also being evacuated near the tourist city of Bodrum — some 300 kilometers west of Antalya — as new fires broke out across the southern coast.
Pakdemirli said 150 cows and thousands of sheep and goats had perished in the flames.

The fires were raging with temperatures approaching 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and wind gusts of 50 kilometers (30 miles) an hour.
But Antalya mayor Muhittin Bocek said he suspected foul play because the fires started in four locations at once.
“This suggests an arson attack, but we do not have clear information about that at this stage,” Bocek said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said an investigation had already been launched.
The Russian embassy said Moscow had sent three giant firefighting aircraft to dump fire retardant on the burning forests to contain the flames.
More than 4,000 Turkish firefighters had been dispatched across the region to help contain the damage and search for people needing help.
They rescued 10 people on Thursday who were stranded on a boat in a lake that was surrounded by burning forest.
“All of the state’s means have been mobilized,” Environment Minister Murat Kurum said. “All our teams are in the field.”

Syrian rebels attack army outposts in southern Syria

Syrian rebels attack army outposts in southern Syria
Updated 29 July 2021

Syrian rebels attack army outposts in southern Syria

Syrian rebels attack army outposts in southern Syria
  • This is the biggest flare-up of violence since government forces retook the restive region three years ago
  • The widespread attacks at army outposts near the border crossing of Nassib with Jordan also disrupted passenger and commercial traffic

AMMAN: Syrian rebels waged a spate of mortar attacks on Syrian army checkpoints in the southern province of Daraa, rebels, residents and the army said on Thursday.
This is the biggest flare-up of violence since government forces retook the restive region three years ago.
The widespread attacks at army outposts near the Damascus-Daraa highway leading to the border crossing of Nassib with Jordan also disrupted passenger and commercial traffic at the main gateway for goods from Lebanon and Syria to the Gulf.
Multiple army checkpoints around key towns and villages from the town of Nawa north of the province to Muzarib near the border with Jordan were also seized, they said.
The army has sent reinforcements from its elite Fourth Division, run by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s brother Maher, senior military defectors said, confirming army leaks.
The attacks came after the army launched a dawn operation against the rebel-held old quarter of the city of Daraa, where peaceful protests against decades of autocratic Assad family rule began in 2011 and were met by deadly force before spreading across the country.
The army has sought to reassert its control after the collapse of talks earlier this week to get local elders and former rebels to allow the army to extend its control inside the old quarter, known as Daraa al Balad.
The Syrian army, aided by Russian air power and Iranian militias, retook control of the strategic province that borders Jordan and Israel’s Golan Heights to the west in the summer of 2018.
Russian-brokered deals at the time forced rebels to hand over heavy weapons and return state institutions in the enclave but kept away the army from entering their neighborhoods.
“The rebels have waged a counter offensive after the army operation against Daraa whose intensity has taken the regime by surprise,” said Zaid al Rayes, a political opposition figure in touch with local groups in Daraa.
State media said terrorists had fired at the main hospital in Daraa and the army had evacuated hundreds of fleeing families from rebel held neighborhoods.
Thousands of former rebels had chosen to stay with their families rather than head to remaining rebel-held areas in northern Syria, where tens of thousands of others displaced from recaptured areas had gathered.
The province saw a widespread boycott of last May’s polls that extended Assad’s presidency in what officials saw as a defiance of state authority.
Western intelligence sources say growing dissent is aggravated by the presence of Iranian-backed local militias who now hold sway and act with impunity since the central government is too weak to impose its authority on the area.

Iranian hackers posed as aerobics instructors to target defense workers

A fake Facebook page that was controlled by an Iranian hacker, according to reports. (Screenshot)
A fake Facebook page that was controlled by an Iranian hacker, according to reports. (Screenshot)
Updated 29 July 2021

Iranian hackers posed as aerobics instructors to target defense workers

A fake Facebook page that was controlled by an Iranian hacker, according to reports. (Screenshot)
  • They sent “flirtatious” videos to build rapport and later delivered malware to targets’ devices
  • It is unclear whether any sensitive information was stolen

LONDON: A group of Iranian hackers posed as aerobics instructors from Liverpool, UK, and sent flirtatious messages in an attempt to steal sensitive information from defense and aerospace industry personnel.

The hackers’ false identities were exposed by Facebook and the cybersecurity company Proofpoint, which said the operation proves the effort that Iran is putting into targeting individuals of interest.

The hackers have been identified as part of the TA456 group, which also goes by the name of Tortoiseshell — a group widely believed to be aligned with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Proofpoint described the group as “one of the most determined Iranian-aligned threat actors” that it tracks, due to tactics of spending months or years building up a relationship with targets across various platforms, as well as its “general persistence.”

The operatives created fake Facebook, Instagram and email accounts for a woman named Marcella Flores. She was depicted as a smiling, tanned and dark-haired Spanish woman working as a fitness instructor in Liverpool. They created a fake education and work history for her.

Proofpoint said that Flores would target people who publicly identified themselves as employees at defence contractors on social media accounts, befriending them before starting up a conversation.

In one case, she sent the target benign messages and photographs, as well as a “flirtatious” video to build a rapport, before later sending a link to a dietary survey but that in fact contained a malware download that would steal usernames, passwords and other data.

Proofpoint did not say whether the attacks were successful, but if they were, the stolen information could be used to gain access to larger aerospace companies that the original target was a subsidiary or contractor for.

Facebook banned her account and that of several others earlier this month, saying that they were all fake online personas created by the Iranian operatives to “conduct espionage operations across the internet.”

Facebook said: “Our investigation found them targeting military personnel and companies in the defence and aerospace industries primarily in the US, and to a lesser extent in the UK and Europe.”

When the comprehensive campaign was revealed, Amin Sabeti, an expert in Iranian cyber-operations, told Arab News that the strategy — which he dubs “social engineering” hacking — is a go-to tactic for Iranian operatives, or those working on behalf of the state.

“It’s the same pattern that Iranian state-backed hackers have been following for years,” he said.

Sabeti explained that they rely on manipulating targets into providing sensitive information or account details that can then be exploited for their gain — and, since they are operating from Iranian soil, “they have the consent of the regime.”

Sabeti said: “It’s easy, cheap, there’s plausible deniability and it works, it’s effective.”

Delta variant drives Mideast virus surge: WHO

Delta variant drives Mideast virus surge: WHO
Updated 29 July 2021

Delta variant drives Mideast virus surge: WHO

Delta variant drives Mideast virus surge: WHO
  • WHO said the highly transmissible strain has been recorded in 15 out of the region’s 22 countries
  • Tunisia has been struggling to contain the outbreak

CAIRO: The World Health Organization said Thursday the Delta variant has led to a "surge" in coronavirus outbreaks triggering a "fourth wave" in the Eastern Mediterranean region, where vaccination rates remain low.
The global health body said the highly transmissible strain, first detected in India, has been recorded in 15 out of the 22 countries of the region under its purview, stretching from Morocco to Pakistan.
"The circulation of the Delta variant is fuelling the surge in Covid-19 cases and deaths in an increasing number of countries in WHO's Eastern Mediterranean Region," it said in a statement.
"Most of the new cases and hospitalised patients are unvaccinated people. We are now in the fourth wave of Covid-19 across the region," said Ahmed al-Mandhari, director of WHO's Eastern Mediterranean region.
Infections have increased by 55 percent, and deaths by 15 percent, in the last month compared to the month before. More than 310,000 case and 3,500 deaths have been recorded weekly.
Countries such as Tunisia, which has suffered the biggest number of Covid-19 deaths in North Africa, have been struggling to contain the outbreak.
Critical shortages of oxygen tanks and intensive care beds have stretched the capacities of healthcare systems regionally.
WHO noted the rapid spread of the Delta variant was quickly making it "the dominant strain" in the region.
According to a recent paper in the journal Virological, the amount of virus found in the first tests of patients with the Delta variant was 1,000 times higher than patients in the first wave of the virus in 2020, greatly increasing its contagiousness.