River, road and rail: Egypt, Sudan move forward with joint projects

River, road and rail: Egypt, Sudan move forward with joint projects
Sudanese protesters walk along with two members of the security along the blocked railway track leading to the protest site in central Khartoum on May 12, 2019. (AFP)
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Updated 13 April 2021

River, road and rail: Egypt, Sudan move forward with joint projects

River, road and rail: Egypt, Sudan move forward with joint projects
  • The railway line between Egypt and Sudan is expected to be completed over a three-year period beginning next July

CAIRO: Egyptian Transport Minister Kamel Al-Wazir said that the railway connecting Egypt and Sudan will extend more than 450 kilometers and cost between 4 to 5 billion Egyptian pounds ($254.6 million-$318.73 million).

Al-Wazir, who is visiting Khartoum as head of an official delegation, said that the main purpose of his trip is to move talks with Sudan forward and begin implementation of the projects.

“My visit to Sudan comes within the framework of continuous cooperation and mutual visits between the two countries,” he added.

As part of the cooperation, several major transport projects will be implemented in Sudan, he said.

These include river constructions, roads and railways networks. Egypt has increased shipments of ceramics and iron to Sudan as part of the development of the Wadi Halfa port and the construction of a new dock.

The project has “full Egyptian participation and Egyptian financing,” in order to “maximize trade between the two countries,” Al-Wazir said.

He added that Egypt’s Ministry of Transport has completed preliminary studies regarding rail links between the two countries.

My visit to Sudan comes within the framework of continuous cooperation and mutual visits between the two countries.

Kamel Al-Wazir, Transport minister

Research is also being conducted in partnership with Cairo University to facilitate the movement and transfer of goods between the two countries.

The railway line between Egypt and Sudan is expected to be completed over a three-year period beginning next July.

Al-Wazir said there are also plans to link the two countries by land, and that officials are overseeing the completion of a road from Cairo to Aswan.

The road, which will reach the Egyptian border, will contain six lanes, he said, adding that more than 1,155 kilometers of roads are being developed elsewhere.

Al-Wazir also revealed plans for a central station in the Wadi Halfa region for the exchange of goods on two rail tracks.

The minister said that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi had directed authorities to “meet all the Sudanese demands” regarding the joint construction projects.


An Egyptian psychotherapy platform offers online help amid pandemic

Ashraf Bacheet (R), CEO and co-founder of the online platform O7, along with Nader Iskander and Ashraf Adel. (Supplied)
Ashraf Bacheet (R), CEO and co-founder of the online platform O7, along with Nader Iskander and Ashraf Adel. (Supplied)
Updated 44 min 14 sec ago

An Egyptian psychotherapy platform offers online help amid pandemic

Ashraf Bacheet (R), CEO and co-founder of the online platform O7, along with Nader Iskander and Ashraf Adel. (Supplied)
  • Three Egyptian entrepreneurs created O7 Therapy to help connect people with mental health professionals
  • Nearly all face-to-face interactions in different fields have shifted to online platforms over the past one year

CAIRO: Using their industry knowledge and the power of technology, three Egyptians have built an online platform designed to help people cope with mental health difficulties.

Talks about O7 Therapy had been continuing for almost a year before the pandemic started, according to Ashraf Bacheet, CEO and co-founder of the online platform.

However, as the world slowly started to close down and the pandemic spread widely, Bacheet, together with Nader Iskander and Ashraf Adel, were motivated to quickly launch their newly founded business venture.

Since the coronavirus pandemic started, nearly all face-to-face interactions have shifted to online platforms. Learning, grocery shopping and even attending events now lack the in-person intimacy of the past. Like everything else, psychotherapy sessions have become virtual, conducted behind a screen.

Following internationally acclaimed strict acceptance policies helped O7 Therapy attract some of the best psychologists and psychiatrists. (Supplied)

A recently released survey from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that in the last week of June 2020, adults in the US experienced “considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19.”

Using validated screening instruments, the CDC established that 40.9 percent of 5,470 respondents reported an adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, trauma-related symptoms, new or increased substance use, or thoughts of suicide.

While social anxiety may seem to be a temporary issue, experts warn that a sizable minority of people will experience mental health disorders that will long outlast the pandemic.

Being a pharmacist, Bacheet had spotted quite a few loopholes in Egypt’s health care industry long before it was hit by the coronavirus storm.

“Whether it was health care or education, people in Egypt are paying hefty amounts of money for mediocre quality in both sectors,” he said.

THENUMBER

* 40.9% - CDC respondents who reported adverse mental or behavioral health conditions.

After months of exploring the idea of merging tech and health care in one holistic solution, the trio were ready to roll up their sleeves and start working on O7 Therapy.

“At the time, two years ago, we barely had any competition. No one in the region was offering a customized tool that spoke directly to Arabs and addressed their problems, from age-old stigmas to cultural idiosyncrasies,” Bacheet said.

“Our main goal was to build a complete ecosystem for mental health services; a platform that connected people who really needed help with doctors who offered it.”

Following internationally acclaimed strict acceptance policies helped O7 Therapy attract some of the best psychologists and psychiatrists. “Doctors on the O7 Therapy platform undergo extensive screening before joining our team of therapists,” Bacheet said.

“Our 20 percent acceptance rate is proof that every doctor on our platform holds at least a master’s degree and has a clear understanding of modalities, psychometric tests and specific therapy techniques, which helps them in offering their service in the most efficient and professional manner.”

Patients seeking help on the O7 Therapy platform can gain access to art therapy, online counselling, e-prescriptions, drug management services, and more. (Supplied)

From peer reviews and case-management sessions to drug-review meetings, all the doctors on the platform offer each other praise, positive guidance and constructive criticism to ensure increased patient safety, updated modes of treatment and overall quality of care.

While O7 Therapy started its funding journey by bootstrapping, it is currently closing a pre-series A round of investment.

“We’re always looking for ways to improve the level of service we offer on our platform,” Bacheet said.

“We have designed a HIPAA and GRDP-compliant AI-powered novelty software that offers solutions to ensure personalized customer experiences and seamless patient engagement.

“By gaining insight into the patient’s journey, O7 Therapy aptly matches every patient with their respective doctor while providing comprehensive data security and data encryption features.”

Patients seeking help on the O7 Therapy platform can gain access to art therapy, online counselling, e-prescriptions, drug management services, and more.

“O7 Therapy has bridged location gaps, overcome cultural stigmas associated with seeking therapy, and created a safe space for people to openly face their problems and actively seek solutions,” Bacheet said.

“We’re constantly working on improving our platform, with bi-weekly updates that allow customer satisfaction within a user-friendly environment.”

  • 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.

Boom in MENA parenting and family startups defies pandemic pressures

Despite the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant boom in parenting and family startups in the MENA region. (Shutterstock)
Despite the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant boom in parenting and family startups in the MENA region. (Shutterstock)
Updated 13 May 2021

Boom in MENA parenting and family startups defies pandemic pressures

Despite the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant boom in parenting and family startups in the MENA region. (Shutterstock)
  • Funding for MENA startups is creating opportunities for more niche ventures to flourish, particularly in family and parenting 
  • Five MENA startups share their insights on how they adapted and remained profitable during the COVID-19 pandemic 

CAIRO: Entrepreneurship in the Middle East and North Africa region has been growing rapidly over the past decade, with a record $1 billion in funding pumped into local startups in 2020 alone, according to MAGiTT’s MENA Venture Investment Report.

This growth is creating opportunities for more niche ventures to flourish, particularly in the family and parenting spheres.

Five such startups share their insights, offering a glimpse into the reasons for their success.

As a PR professional, Shamim Kassibawi knows the value of market research. She did plenty of it and tested her concept before launching Play:Date in 2017. This app helps parents connect their children with like-minded friends.

“We’ve really taken the time to prove our concept,” Kassibawi said. “We’re three years old. The average startup at this point would be booming, but because we’ve been testing and perfecting it, we’re ready to use investment money the right way.”

Simona Agolini also relies on being customer and data-centric. She is the CEO and co-founder of QiDZ, an online marketplace for children’s activities in the UAE and Egypt.

“We speak with customers on a daily and weekly basis. We have data analytics, and we customize based on what customers are telling us,” Agolini said. “Some people fall in love with a concept, but it’s not validated.”

Clockwise from top: Ozlem Erbas Soydaner and Katerina Papatryfon, the founders of Sprout; Simona Agolini, the CEO at QiDZ; Dina Abdul Majeed, the founder and CEO of 360 Moms; and Karim Beidas, the founder and CEO of Kidzapp. (Supplied) 

Agolini advises startups to test their ideas to make sure they are viable, not only for customers, but also for financial resilience.

Kidzapp, an online family guide for activities in the UAE and Egypt, had to find ways to stay relevant when the emirates went into lockdown last year.

“We knew that our core business was mostly going to have to be on hold for a while,” said Karim Beidas, CEO and founder of Kidzapp. “So, we thought about how we could help and engage parents, and also strengthen our relationship with our partners.”

As a result, the company decided to develop its digital content arm. “Because of the lockdown, we ended up building much stronger digital content capability in video, and we’re now heading in that direction,” Beidas said.

Jordanian interactive parenting platform 360 Moms is another startup that had to make lasting changes in its business.

“We turned our workshops into webinars,” said Dina Abdul Majeed, CEO and founder of 360 Moms. “Our webinars covered everything — from parenting to dealing with stress and marriage.”

THENUMBER

* $1bn - Funds invested in MENA startups in 2020.

To date, the company has organized 40 such events, making the format an integral part of its platform.

Sprout, a producer of ready-to-heat, nutritionally rich foods for children and families in the UAE, launched its website during lockdown, which forced the team to make changes quickly.

“We had to rethink our marketing in no time,” said Sprout co-founder Katerina Papatryfon. “We launched at a time when people were wary about ordering in, so we just had to jump at things that made sense to us as parents.”

Instead of using a third-party service, the founders decided to deliver the food themselves.

“We would be in the kitchen cooking all day, and then, on weekends, we would be going door to door to do the deliveries. It was exhausting, but it added an element of trust,” Papatryfon said.

This trust helped the company establish a solid relationship with its customers.

In 2020 alone, some $1 billion was invested in MENA startups. (Shutterstock)

Attracting the right backers is essential for successfully expanding any startup. Play:Date recently secured funding from an investor providing financial support and expertise to help the business grow.

“This is absolutely amazing because they give you money and services, so they are going to be giving it their all,” Kassibawi said.

The timing of investments is equally important. While Beidas is ready for Kidzapp to enter Saudi Arabia, he is cautious about scaling up too soon.

“Many investors encourage startups to grow quickly, which is great, but if you grow too quickly and need the next round of funding and don’t get it, you die,” Beidas said, adding that growing sustainably is key.

“There are these two tensions, and you have to be somewhere in the middle,” he said.

  • 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.

Lebanon spends Eid Al-Fitr under strict quarantine

Lebanon spends Eid Al-Fitr under strict quarantine
Updated 13 May 2021

Lebanon spends Eid Al-Fitr under strict quarantine

Lebanon spends Eid Al-Fitr under strict quarantine
  • Authorities allow only 30 percent capacity at mosques for the Eid prayers as worshippers spread out in the open-air squares in central Beirut
  • Religious leader raps errors of government and warns of ‘revolt of the hungry’ during holiday sermon

BEIRUT: Eid Al-Fitr celebrations in Lebanon were very scarce on Thursday as the country was in the middle of a two-day total closure and curfew to combat the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

As people avoided gatherings in homes and public places during what is supposed to be a joyous time, one prominent religious leader expressed fear during his Eid sermon.

“People will starve as a result of the errors and sins of the government, and from an explosion or social violence, which will lead to the revolt of the hungry,” said Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian, grand mufti of Lebanon.

“When this happens, remorse will not be helpful.”

He also accused “political officials of regressing to low levels of violating the constitution, striking the judiciary, resorting to sectarian delusions, and dividing citizens.”

The joy of Eid could not be seen on the faces of the Lebanese people as living conditions continue to deteriorate in a country gripped in financial and political turmoil. 

Authorities allowed only 30 percent capacity at mosques for the Eid prayers as worshippers spread out in the open-air squares surrounding the Al-Amin Mosque in central Beirut.

The prayers were led by Sheikh Derian as Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab were among the many who participated in the prayer.

The Israeli-Gaza violence and unrest dominated the Eid sermon, but the political reality and the poor living conditions within Lebanon were also addressed in the sermon from Sheikh Derian.

“The collapse and devastation that we are living through it can only be stopped by the birth of a government that addresses the corruption and decay that Lebanon has seen for the first time in decades,” Mufti Derian said. “We need a government that carries out the required reforms. Anything else counts as deception.”

He also criticized “those working in public political affairs for failing their citizens when they indulged in corruption and prevented the formation of a government capable of stopping the collapse, beginning reconstruction, and seeking help from the international community.”

It was noticeable that the Arab and Islamic diplomatic presence was absent from the central Eid prayer in downtown Beirut.

The Saudi ambassador to Lebanon, Walid Bukhari, performed Eid prayers in the garden of his residence in the Yarze district while a number of ambassadors of Arab and Islamic countries and embassy staff joined him. The embassy took the initial precautionary measures related to the coronavirus.

Measures to remove subsidies on more subsidized food commodities, fuel and medicines added even more concern to a continuing list of hardships experienced by the Lebanese people even before Ramadan.

Many pharmacies closed their doors because owners did not receive the minimum needs of medicine and baby milk from agents and warehouses.

Despite the complete closure, petrol stations remained busy as people fear more fuel shortages.

“The ships that produce power will stop on Saturday, and the factories will follow suit,” Abdo Saadeh, president of the Association of Private Generator Owners, said on Thursday.

“This means that the rationing of electric current in Lebanon may exceed 20 hours. In parallel, there is a shortage of diesel that feeds private generators, which means we are on the verge of a big problem.”

The fuel crisis affects vital sectors in Lebanon, as the secretary-general of the Lebanese Red Cross, Georges Kettaneh, announced that the Red Cross “has prepared a plan to fill its cars with fuel, and there is no crisis yet.”

The head of the Syndicate of Private Hospital Owners, Suleiman Haroun, said: “If Lebanon enters darkness as a result of not providing the funds allocated for the purchase of fuel, many patients in need of oxygen and dialysis machines will be affected.”

Haroun warned that private hospitals have generators, but it is impossible to ask hospitals to supply themselves with electricity 24 hours a day because “these generators are there to support the network and be a substitute for any malfunctions that occur.”


Three rockets fired from Lebanon towards Israel

A patrol unit of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is stationed in the southernmost Lebanese town of Naqura by the border with Israel. (AFP/File Photo)
A patrol unit of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is stationed in the southernmost Lebanese town of Naqura by the border with Israel. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 13 May 2021

Three rockets fired from Lebanon towards Israel

A patrol unit of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is stationed in the southernmost Lebanese town of Naqura by the border with Israel. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Lebanese security forces also confirmed that at least three rockets were fired from south of country

JERUSALEM: Three rockets were fired from southern Lebanon towards Israel on Thursday, a Lebanese military source said.
Israel's army said the rockets landed in the sea.
Lebanese military and security sources said the rockets were launched from near the Palestinian refugee camp of Rashidiyeh.
A source close to Israel's arch-enemy Hezbollah said the Lebanese Shiite group had no link to the incident.
Israel's army said in a statement: "A short while ago, three rockets were fired from Lebanon into the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of the Galilee."
"According to protocol no sirens were sounded".
The rocket fire comes as Israel has deployed additional troops to the border of the Gaza Strip, following several days of deadly air strikes on the Palestinian enclave.
In 2014, during a previous Israeli military assault on Gaza, rockets were also fired from south Lebanon towards northern Israel.


Egypt receives 2.2 mln AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccine doses

Egypt receives 2.2 mln AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccine doses
Updated 13 May 2021

Egypt receives 2.2 mln AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccine doses

Egypt receives 2.2 mln AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccine doses
  • The country received its first COVAX delivery of 854,000 AstraZeneca doses at the start of April
  • Some 2.7 million people have registered online with the health ministry to receive a vaccine Some 2.7 million people have registered online with the health ministry to receive a vaccine

CAIRO: Egypt has received a batch of over 1.7 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses through the COVAX initiative and a separate shipment of 500,000 Sinopharm vaccine doses from China, the health ministry said on Thursday.
The country received its first COVAX delivery of 854,000 AstraZeneca doses at the start of April. It has also received several shipments of the Sinopharm vaccine, bringing the total number of vaccine doses delivered to 5 million, the health ministry said.
Egypt has an agreement for the supply of 20 million Sinopharm doses, and has been allocated 4.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through COVAX.
It is preparing to produce the Sinovac and Sputnik vaccines locally.
Egypt, with a population of just over 100 million, is trying to contain a third wave of COVID-19 infections and the government has put in place some restrictive measures until May 21, shortening opening hours and banning large gatherings.
Some 2.7 million people have registered online with the health ministry to receive a vaccine. Authorities opened a mass vaccination center in Cairo this month capable of vaccinating 10,000 people per day.
Egypt had officially confirmed 240,927 coronavirus cases including 14,091 deaths as of Wednesday.
Officials and experts say the real number of infections is far higher, but is not reflected in government figures because of low testing rates and the exclusion of private test results.