Scared of legal hassles? In the Middle East, there’s an app for that

A group of entrepreneurs have developed Avocato, an online platform and mobile app that enables people in Egypt and Saudi Arabia to obtain reliable legal advice through their smartphones. (Supplied)
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Updated 30 May 2020

Scared of legal hassles? In the Middle East, there’s an app for that

  • An online platform enables people in Egypt and Saudi Arabia to obtain legal advice via smartphones
  • Avocato says it has 1,900 clients and 2,230 lawyers as verified service providers on its platform

CAIRO: As more people seek expert assistance to resolve the legal issues they run into in everyday life, there has been an exponential rise in the need for legal counseling.

Although free access to the judicial system and legal aid are basic constitutional rights in most countries in the Middle East and North Africa, exercising those rights continues to present challenges.

This is where a group of entrepreneurs hope to make a real difference to people’s lives.




A group of entrepreneurs have developed Avocato, an online platform and mobile app that enables people in Egypt and Saudi Arabia to obtain reliable legal advice through their smartphones. (Supplied)

They have developed Avocato, an online platform and mobile app that enables people in Egypt and Saudi Arabia to obtain reliable legal advice through their smartphones.

They believe this offers a more convenient alternative to the traditional route of choosing and retaining a lawyer, and helps to avoid some of the issues that people fear might arise as a result.

“More than 50 per cent (of people) give up their rights simply because they think that pursuing them means resorting to a lawyer, and that a lawyer means entering into problems and a (legal) case,” said Ahmed Maher, Avocato’s e-commerce manager.

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Nevertheless, he added, the number of people in need of legal advice is growing.

“The number of cases in Egypt has reached more than 60 million and more than 10 million cases are added annually, based on the latest judicial statistical reports issued by the Ministry of Justice and the results of the annual bulletin of the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics,” Maher said.




A group of entrepreneurs have developed Avocato, an online platform and mobile app that enables people in Egypt and Saudi Arabia to obtain reliable legal advice through their smartphones. (Supplied)

Avocato was launched in April 2018 by Maher, Abdul Rahman Al-Jazzar, Mohammed Omar and Abdul Rahim Osama.

The company, which is self-funded, offers a range of legal services, including remote legal consultations, legal-care subscription packages that cover consultations and legal representation for a monthly fee, and the option to book an in-person appointment at an affiliated lawyer’s office.

FASTFACT

60 million

Egypt has more than 60 million cases that require legal assistance, and more than 10 million cases are added annually.

While funding and talent acquisition remain common challenges for businesses in the region, Maher believes Avocato might be unique in that it has also taken on the particularly daunting task of allaying peoples’ fears and anxieties about the legal system, in an attempt to change a mindset that equates the simple act of obtaining legal advice with becoming embroiled in long-running court battles.

“The fundamental challenge was to create sufficient awareness of the importance of the services provided,” Maher said. “The general perception is that the law is equal to a case — but in reality, law means protection, law means counseling, law means rights.”




A group of entrepreneurs have developed Avocato, an online platform and mobile app that enables people in Egypt and Saudi Arabia to obtain reliable legal advice through their smartphones. (Supplied)

The Avocato team, said Maher, researched the issue for more than three years through an awareness campaign about the importance of legal counseling. They targeted young people in particular, for example at university events and conferences devoted to investment and intellectual development, and sent out questionnaires that helped gauge public awareness of legal advice and the potential demand for it.

Another area the company is attempting to streamline through its app is legal specialization.

Correctly matching a client with a lawyer who has the specialist knowledge needed to resolve a problem is not only to the mutual benefit of both parties, said Maher, it also gives the platform a competitive edge.




A group of entrepreneurs have developed Avocato, an online platform and mobile app that enables people in Egypt and Saudi Arabia to obtain reliable legal advice through their smartphones. (Supplied)

How? By reducing wait times and wasted effort, while providing a superior customer experience compared with the traditional approach to hiring a lawyer.

This raises the question of whether Avocato is a more cost-effective option.

“We are not in competition with the lawyer or legal institution,” said Maher.

“Rather, we create a competitive advantage for the customers so that they can choose between the most qualified experts according to their priorities.




A group of entrepreneurs have developed Avocato, an online platform and mobile app that enables people in Egypt and Saudi Arabia to obtain reliable legal advice through their smartphones. (Supplied)

“We are an intermediate electronic platform between legal services providers and customers with a legal need.”

Maher is satisfied with Avocato’s progress in the two years since launch. The company has attracted 1,900 clients and recruited 2,230 lawyers as verified service providers.

It is still too early, he said, to speculate about whether Avocato is beginning to usher in the wider societal change in attitudes about legal representation that its founders hope for.

In the meantime, he added, they are looking forward to breaking even as the app gains more traction, and are considering more nations in the Gulf Cooperation Council region and North Africa for possible expansion opportunities.

  • 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 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.


Tensions between Turkey, France pose threat to NATO alliance, warn experts

Updated 07 July 2020

Tensions between Turkey, France pose threat to NATO alliance, warn experts

  • Turkey ‘challenging’ international norms by breaking arms embargo on Libya, invading northern Syria, claims analyst

JEDDAH: Increasing tensions between France and Turkey were posing a threat to the cohesion of the NATO alliance, experts have warned.

Paris’ recent decision to suspend its involvement in the NATO Sea Guardian maritime security operation in the eastern Mediterranean following an incident between a French frigate and Turkish vessels, has highlighted the organization’s difficulties in maintaining order and harmony among its members.

Months of escalating dispute between France and Turkey came to a head on June 10, when Paris claimed that its La Fayette-class Frigate Courbet was targeted three times by Turkish Navy fire control radars while it was trying to approach a Tanzanian-flagged civilian cargo ship suspected of trafficking arms to Libya.

The cargo ship was under the escort of three Turkish vessels, but Ankara denied harassing the Courbet and demanded an apology from France for disclosing “improper information,” saying the ship in question had been carrying humanitarian aid.

The incident resulted in France pulling out of the NATO operation, partly aimed at enforcing a UN embargo on arms supplies to Libya, and accusing Turkey of importing extremists to Syria.

French President Emmanuel Macron said: “I think that it’s a historic and criminal responsibility for a country that claims to be a member of NATO. We have the right to expect more from Turkey than from Russia, given that it is a member of NATO.”

The classified report on the Courbet incident is expected to be discussed soon by member states of the alliance.

Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system has also angered some NATO members over concerns it could undermine Western defense systems and led to Turkey’s expulsion from the alliance’s F-35 stealth fighter jet program.

Seth J. Frantzman, executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, told Arab News: “NATO faces increasing challenges from its member state Turkey which behaves contrary to NATO’s mission and values.

“Turkey’s government has begun to violate international norms by breaking an arms embargo on the Libyan conflict and invading northern Syria, backing extremist groups, and bombing northern Iraq.

“Ankara has tried to strong-arm NATO into supporting it through threats to hold up a Baltic defense plan and also through threatening and insulting other NATO members.

“Turkey insinuated to the US that Turkey would brush US forces aside in Syria in 2019 if the US didn’t leave, it has escalated conflicts rather than reducing them, and threatened to send refugees to Greece while staking counter claims to the Mediterranean against Greek claims,” he added.

Frantzman pointed out that the controversy with France was a byproduct of this.

“NATO increasingly looks like it is being called upon to appease Ankara’s monthly crises that involve new military operations in several countries. Once a key and helpful ally of NATO, Turkey looks increasingly like it seeks to exploit its NATO membership, using it as a cover for military operations that undermine human rights, democracy, and international norms,” he said.

Turkey is seen as an important and strategic member of the military alliance. On its website, NATO says that all the organization’s decisions are made by consensus, following discussions and consultations among members. “When a ‘NATO decision’ is announced, it is therefore the expression of the collective will of all the sovereign states that are members of the alliance.”

However, recent disagreements within NATO led Macron to say that the alliance was “suffering brain death” over Turkey’s cross-border military offensive into northern Syria last year.

On Turkey’s unilateral behavior, Frantzman said: “This is part of a global rising authoritarian agenda but appears to be counter to the NATO mission that once ostensibly was about defending Western democracies from the Soviet totalitarian threat.

“This calls into question the overall NATO mission and whether NATO is now enabling Ankara’s authoritarian trend. NATO countries are generally afraid to challenge Turkey, thinking that without Turkey and with a US disinterested in global commitments, NATO would become a European club with an unclear future. For Russia that is good news as it supplies S-400 systems to Turkey, further eroding NATO,” he added.

Aaron Stein, director of research at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, felt NATO would be able to manage the spat between France and Turkey.

“Libya isn’t really a NATO issue. It is out of the area for the alliance. I see this more as a bilateral dispute between two rival powers in the Mediterranean.

“What I worry more about is how NATO members, including both Turkey and France, are letting these bilateral squabbles seep into the North Atlantic Council. They should keep their fights to themselves.”