A Middle East coronavirus web resource has global resonance

One of the most popular websites for monitoring activity relating to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus comes from the Middle East region. (AFP/File Photo)
Short Url
Updated 26 September 2020

A Middle East coronavirus web resource has global resonance

  • Corona Meter is a free resource that attracts tens of thousands of visitors every day from across the world
  • Building the coronameter.co website took the team of developers a few days from conception to launch

DUBAI: One of the most popular websites for monitoring activity relating to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus comes from this very region. Launched in March, coronameter.co is a free resource that attracts tens of thousands of visitors every day, getting traffic from as far afield as Argentina and India.

Using daily data from the renowned Johns Hopkins University in the US, the website displays a vast array of statistics presented for easy comprehension.

Data includes the total number of confirmed cases, mortality rates and infection doubling time in the preceding seven days, all broken down by country. A time-lapse graph shows how the disease initially struck China, Iran and Italy before the US, Brazil and Britain became the worst affected nations.

There is also a globe that enables users to click on any country and see its COVID-19 statistics.

“It all started when the (World Health Organization) classified the coronavirus as a pandemic because, at that point, I knew it was going to be something for the long run. We had this urge to stay on top of it,” said Paris-based entrepreneur Amr Sobhy.




Paris-based entrepreneur Amr Sobhy who founded wesbite Corona Meter. (Supplied)

The 31-year-old talked with his friend and Corona Meter co-creator Mohamed Reda Eldehiry about their approach. Building the website took the team a few days from conception to launch, although the original idea has been expanded steadily, with more data points and graphics added.

“It’s a perpetual work in progress,” Sobhy said. “We wanted to provide something reliable in Arabic. Once we had enough data, we wanted to use (it) to answer the questions we thought were important.

“I wanted to see how the pandemic was developing over time in order to understand the gravity of the situation. Once we had things up and running, I started adding interesting visualizations.”

Initially available in Arabic and English, the website is now also in Russian, Hindi, French, Italian and Spanish.

“It’s an automated data stream although we have to keep on updating the software because inevitably there are bugs due to it not being designed to run on every device,” Sobhy said.

------

READ MORE: Egypt fitness startup eyes new market in coronavirus protective gear

------

As the demands grew, another engineer, Osama Sayed, joined the team to help manage the website.

What sets this product apart from other international ones is that it is accessible in the region. “Once you get the data, the next step is to use it to give people something meaningful,” said Sobhy, who is also the founder and CEO of PushBots, which sold two software-as-a-service (SaaS) products to an Austrian company last year.

IPtrace gives applications users’ geolocation data, while CurrencyStack provides real-time exchange rates for over 150 currencies.

“There are a lot of ways to make digital products, and we from the MENA region can compete globally,” he said. “Code is a building block to solve problems. It’s not an end but a means.”




Corona Meter co-creator Mohamed Reda Eldehiry. (Supplied)

He believes the success of Corona Meter shows that the people of the Middle East can create products and services that will resonate globally.

“What I could see us do more in MENA is to use existing technologies to answer our own questions because otherwise, we’re just hoping that someone else does it for us,” Sobhy said.

“With technology comes the empowerment that we don’t have to wait. We can actually do it ourselves.”

-----------------------

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.


Leader of banned charity leader seeks asylum from Turkey amid Macron-Erdogan row

Updated 30 min 45 sec ago

Leader of banned charity leader seeks asylum from Turkey amid Macron-Erdogan row

  • Sihamedi, the founder of the BarakaCity NGO, claimed that he no longer felt safe in France

ANKARA: The prospect of granting asylum to Idriss Sihamedi, the founder of a Muslim charity that has been shut down in France over his alleged ties to the “radical Islamist movement,” stirred debate about the potential repercussions amid the already escalating French-Turkish spat.

The Turkish interior ministry announced on Oct. 29 that Ankara will assess Sihamedi’s request for himself and his team after receiving his official application.

Sihamedi, the founder of the BarakaCity NGO, claimed that he no longer felt safe in France. His NGO was closed officially on Oct. 28 on the grounds that it “incites hate, has relations with the radical Islamist movement and justifies terrorist acts.”

He posted his asylum request on his official Twitter account in both French and Turkish, tagging Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He also alleged he had received death threats.

His post received a quick reply from the Turkish interior ministry’s migration management department: “Hello Sihamedi. If you and your colleagues were to personally apply to our institution with your surname, first name, identity information, petition for an asylum request and your passport number, your request will be assessed.”

However, experts think that proceeding with the asylum request of such radicals means playing with fire.

“I think Erdogan is continuing to play a dangerous game by courting relationships with radical figures and in some cases jihadists,” Colin Clarke, senior research fellow on terror-financing networks at the Soufan Center, told Arab News. “Turkey is already viewed as a hot spot for jihadists given its proximity to Iraq and Syria.”

Sihamedi is accused of inciting hatred, encouraging people to violent acts, maintaining relations within the radical Islamist movement, money laundering in the name of Salafi organisations and expressing support for Hitler and the Nazis. He is also blamed for organizing suicide attacks and supporting Daesh.

According to Clarke, if Turkey grants asylum to Sihamedi and his team, it may create trouble, both domestically but also with NATO allies.

“Moving forward with actions like this could easily backfire on Turkey and cause considerable blowback. I find these overt flirtations with radical Islamists counterproductive and short-sighted,” he said.

Sihamedi was deported from Turkey last year in May at France’s request and his passport was confiscated at Istanbul airport.

BarakaCity was founded in 2010 in Evry-Courcouronnes (Essonne). The Islamic humanitarian NGO has been closely monitored by French intelligence since 2014. Its buildings were raided several times in 2015 and 2017, and it was investigating for “terrorist financing” and “terrorist criminal association” for three years.

The NGO has said it wants to move its headquarters to another country. At a time when relations between Paris and Ankara are more strained than ever, the Turkish branch of the NGO is headed by a Franco-Turkish national known for his Salafi credentials.

“The French government dissolved BarakaCity also because in the past the NGO received money from Samy Amimour, a member of the Bataclan terrorist commando group in  2015, and from Larossi Abballa, who in 2016 killed a policeman and his wife in Magnanville,” said Matteo Pugliese, associate research fellow at Milan-based think tank ISPI.

“According to the French government, BarakaCity provides a sort of ideological justification for violent radicals, especially when it calls for the punishment of those who publish cartoons or criticize Islam. I think that we are talking about a grey zone, where non-violent extremism meets violent radicalization.”

Sihamedi was released under judicial supervision and is due to face trial in December.

French government also announced plans to dissolve other associations suspected of supporting extremist ideologies.

“If Turkey grants asylum to Sihamedi, France will use this to accuse the country of sheltering Islamists who radicalize people with online propaganda,” Pugliese said. “This is part of the verbal escalation between Macron and Erdogan and will be used by both for political internal goals.”