GCC tech startups cautiously optimistic about post-pandemic future

Hamza Khan believes recent government reforms will boost the opportunities for entrepreneurs across the Middle East and North Africa. (Supplied/Let's Work)
Hamza Khan believes recent government reforms will boost the opportunities for entrepreneurs across the Middle East and North Africa. (Supplied/Let's Work)
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Updated 01 May 2021

GCC tech startups cautiously optimistic about post-pandemic future

Hamza Khan believes recent government reforms will boost the opportunities for entrepreneurs across the Middle East and North Africa. (Supplied/Let's Work)
  • Entrepreneurs have launched new ventures or adapted existing operations to prepare for life after COVID-19
  • New ventures appear to be surging globally as entrepreneurs in major economies react to altered market demands

DUBAI: Across the GCC bloc, fingerprint and facial recognition regulate entry into factories, ensure employee attendance, and even offer access to telephone records. But with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic making people recoil at the thought of touching public surfaces, biometric identification providers have had to rethink their business.

Zain Moosa and Syed Abrar Ahmed launched Liber Health around the time the first COVID-19 cases were surfacing, so had to go back to the drawing board.

“We saw the inability to use traditional fingerprint identification due to the risk of contagion from physical contact. Similarly, facial recognition also became useless because everyone was wearing masks,” says Moosa, a Pakistani national whose company is incorporated with the UAE’s in5 Tech platform.




A visitor examines a drone displayed during the Kuwait aviation show in Kuwait City on January 16, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

Liber Health’s patent-pending technology uses optical iris scans in combination with blockchain systems for identity control, privacy, health data transfers and coronavirus health checks. The company now wants to expand into Saudi Arabia, the US and Central Asia.

New ventures appear to be surging globally as entrepreneurs in major economies react to new market demands, and laid-off employees put their experience to work for themselves.

In the US, startup applications in the third quarter of 2020 were 82 percent higher year-on-year, with France and Germany registering similar increases. In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, entrepreneurs are launching new ventures or adapting existing operations in response to a pandemic-altered reality.

In June, Dubai tech experience company SmartCitti teamed with UK-based immersive map maker WRLD3D to launch the SafeDistance app. This office navigation and planning tool creates a 3D digital replica of the real world so people can get around work premises safely while adhering to social-distancing rules, says Smart Workplace Director Nigel Fox.

Using GPS tracking, the app supports indoor navigation systems that allow people to get around a building safely, being alerted to potentially dangerous congested areas, offering help and monitoring employees’ moods. This solution is arguably even more important in light of uneven vaccination levels.




People walk towards the Sustainability Pavilion, a week ahead of its public opening, at the Dubai Expo 2020 in Dubai on January 16, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)

“SafeDistance is a response to the pandemic, but at SmartCitti, our sights are set on enabling people (to) interact and communicate in a safer, smarter and happier environment with a new trillion-sensor economy around the corner,” Fox said.

Similarly bullish about future demand is Letswork, a provider of flexible co-working spaces bookable through its app.

“We do not expect things to regress to pre-pandemic situations. The future of work is up for redefining in the months to come,” says co-founder Hamza Khan.

It is difficult to predict a percentage increase in 2021 over 2020 given that conditions may change overnight, but flexible co-working industry estimates suggest a 90 percent surge in regional demand, he says.

According to Khan, enterprises will gravitate towards a hybrid between all-office occupancy and all-remote teams.




People have lunch in their cars outside a restaurant in Kuwait City on March 9, 2021. - This restaurant is the first to launch a car-in service as a way to continue receiving customers after the government banned dine-in venues due to the spread of COVID-19. (AFP/File Photo)

“This will see companies inject more flexibility into their commercial leases and will, in turn, increase the attractiveness of flexible workspace solutions.”

Khan believes recent government reforms will boost the opportunities for entrepreneurs across the Middle East and North Africa, benefiting flexible solutions in the process.

“Necessity is the mother of invention. We are excited to see new businesses flourish in the region as solutions to COVID-related problems, and also for the new way of life the world is getting used to,” he said.

Not only is a response to the pandemic not enough, but entrepreneurs must plan for a sustainable future. Moosa is among those thinking ahead, with a plan to connect biometric identification information across different system providers through distributed ledger technology, so a single scan can run through multiple databases securely.

He believes the platform could save thousands of lives currently being lost due to medical errors caused by a lack of auditable health data.

“Now more than ever, we need to break down data silos and solve the problem of citizen misidentification and data blocking,” Moosa said.

“We believe there is an amazing opportunity for secure and auditable data transfer which will allow the world to be ready for the next pandemic.”

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* The Middle East Exchange is one of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Global Initiatives that was launched to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai in the field of humanitarian and global development, to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region. The initiative offers the press a series of articles on issues affecting Arab societies.


Hezbollah official Ali Barakat killed in clashes south of Beirut: Reports

Hezbollah official Ali Barakat killed in clashes south of  Beirut: Reports
Updated 6 min 18 sec ago

Hezbollah official Ali Barakat killed in clashes south of Beirut: Reports

Hezbollah official Ali Barakat killed in clashes south of  Beirut: Reports

LONDON: Hezbollah official Ali Barakat has been killed in clashes in Khalde, a town south of Beirut on Sunday, Lebanese media reported. 
At least five people were killed in an ambush on Shi'ite mourners in the town, a day after a revenge killing of a member of Lebanon's Hezbollah group, a senior source in the group said.
The five were shot in Khaldeh, where sectarian tensions have long flared between its mixed Shi'ite and Sunni residents.
A statement from Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati called for restraint after the clashes.


Egyptian chief of staff calls on southern region’s military unit to be vigilant, combat-ready

Egyptian chief of staff calls on southern region’s military unit to be vigilant, combat-ready
Updated 01 August 2021

Egyptian chief of staff calls on southern region’s military unit to be vigilant, combat-ready

Egyptian chief of staff calls on southern region’s military unit to be vigilant, combat-ready
  • The chief of staff discussed the unit’s various combat missions and methods of confronting emergencies
  • Farid stressed the need to develop the field skills of fighters and improve those of officers

CAIRO: Egyptian Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Mohammed Farid called on the personnel and officers from one of the southern region’s military units to be “vigilant and combat-ready to carry out the tasks of securing the country’s borders.”

During a meeting with personnel from the unit, Farid conveyed the greetings and appreciation of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi for their efforts and sacrifices in the fight to maintain the security of the country’s southern border against smuggling, illegal immigration and hostilities.

The chief of staff discussed the unit’s various combat missions and methods of confronting emergencies, praising their combat readiness and high morale.

Farid stressed the need to develop the field skills of fighters and improve those of officers to enable them to make quick decisions under various circumstances.

He inspected the unit’s procedures for raising combat efficiency, beginning with the presentation of a report that included the technical and administrative status of the unit following improvements to weapons and other areas.


Israel says it has evidence linking Iran to deadly tanker attack; Tehran denies

Israel says it has evidence linking Iran to deadly tanker attack; Tehran denies
Updated 39 min 45 sec ago

Israel says it has evidence linking Iran to deadly tanker attack; Tehran denies

Israel says it has evidence linking Iran to deadly tanker attack; Tehran denies
  • Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he has ordered the nation’s diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism”

JEDDAH/DUBAI: Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday Israel had “evidence” Iran was behind the deadly tanker attack off Oman despite its denials, and warned his country could “send a message” in retaliation.

Bennett’s statement came after Iran rejected Israel’s “baseless accusations” it was responsible for the attack that killed two crewmen, and Tehran vowed to defend its interests after its arch-foe pushed for UN action against it.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh made comments on the attack from Tehran and denied any involvement, saying Israel “must stop such baseless accusations,” and noting “it is not their first time to direct such accusations at Iran.”

The MT Mercer Street, managed by prominent Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer, was struck Thursday off the Omani coast.

“The intelligence evidence for this exists and we expect the international community will make it clear to the Iranian regime that they have made a serious mistake,” the Israeli premier said at the weekly cabinet meeting in remarks conveyed by his office.

“In any case, we know how to send a message to Iran in our own way.”

From Jerusalem, Bennett slammed Iran’s “cowardly” denial, saying he could “determine with absolute certainty that Iran carried out the attack against the ship.”

“Iran’s aggressive conduct is dangerous not only to Israel, but also harms global interests, freedom of navigation and international trade,” he said.

Two crewmen, one British and one Romanian, died in Thursday’s attack on the oil tanker, which was on its way from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Fujairah in the UAE.

The US military said that early indications “clearly point” to a drone strike on the Mercer Street.

“US Navy personnel are on the Mercer Street, assisting the vessel’s crew,” the US military’s Central Command said. “US navy explosives experts are aboard to ensure there is no additional danger to the crew, and are prepared to support an investigation into the attack.”

The maritime industry analysts Dryad Global said the attack had “the hallmarks of the ongoing Israel/Iran ‘shadow war’.”

The UK on Sunday denounced Iran's “deliberate, targeted” attack on an oil tanker in the Sea of Oman after assessing Tehran was behind the attack.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called the attack “unlawful and callous” and said the UK was working with its international partners on a concerted response to what he called an “unacceptable” strike.

It said the attack was the fifth against a ship connected to Israel since February, and two ships linked to Iran had been attacked in the same period.

Iran’s Arabic-language Al-Alam state TV channel, citing “informed regional sources,” said the attack was a “response to a recent Israeli attack” targeting an airport in central Syria where Iran is backing the regime.

On Saturday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and agreed to work with other allies "to investigate the facts, provide support, and consider the appropriate next steps", a State Department statement said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid ordered his country’s diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism.”

He said: “I’ve instructed the embassies in Washington, London and the UN to work with their interlocutors in government and the relevant delegations in the UN headquarters in New York.

“Iran is not just an Israeli problem, but an exporter of terrorism, destruction and instability that are hurting us all.”

Lapid said he had also spoken to British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, stressing “the need to respond severely to the attack on the ship in which a British citizen was killed.”

HIGHLIGHT

Several Iranian drones appear to have carried out the attack, crashing into living quarters under the ship’s command center.

The strike on the tanker comes as European powers meet with Iran in an effort to shore up a 2015 agreement to curtail the Islamic republic’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions.

The accord was strained when in 2018 former US President Donald Trump withdrew the US unilaterally and reimposed sanctions.

Negotiations in Vienna, where the US is indirectly taking part, have stalled ahead of next week’s inauguration of newly elected ultra-conservative Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi.

Retired Israeli Brig. Gen. Shlomo Brom, a senior research fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, said the attack appeared to copy elements of an Israeli exploding drone strike on a centrifuge manufacturing site in Iran in June.

Israel “started developing drones and was among the first to develop the concept of a kamikaze,” Gen. Brom said.

“The Iranians are imitating us and adopting the same techniques.” Iran’s strike was “a certain escalation but aimed at avoiding a full-scale war,” he said. “They are not interested in a wider escalation, just as we are not interested in a wider escalation.”

In June, Iran said it had foiled a sabotage attack on an atomic energy agency building near the city of Karaj west of Tehran.

But aerial photographs obtained by private Israeli intelligence firm The Intel Lab revealed damage to the site.

(With AFP and AP) 


Rescuers pull 394 migrants from dangerously overcrowded boat off Tunisia

Rescuers pull 394 migrants from dangerously overcrowded boat off Tunisia
Updated 01 August 2021

Rescuers pull 394 migrants from dangerously overcrowded boat off Tunisia

Rescuers pull 394 migrants from dangerously overcrowded boat off Tunisia
  • It was not clear if there were any deaths or injuries among the migrants
  • Migrant boat departures have increased in recent months as weather conditions have improved

ABOARD SEA-WATCH 3, Mediterranean: Two humanitarian rescue ships pulled 394 migrants from a dangerously overcrowded wooden boat in the Mediterranean overnight on Sunday in an operation lasting about six hours, a Reuters witness said.

The German and French NGO ships Sea-Watch 3 and Ocean Viking rescued the migrants in Tunisian waters 68 km (42 miles) from the North African coast, near oil facilities and other ships.

Sea-Watch 3, which assumed command of the operation, took 141 of the survivors while Ocean Viking took the rest. The yacht Nadir, from the German NGO ResQ Ship, later gave support.

It was not clear if there were any deaths or injuries among the migrants who were in the wooden boat, which was crammed with migrants on deck and inside the hull.

The craft was taking in water and its engine was not working, the Reuters witness said.

Migrant boat departures from Libya and Tunisia to Italy and other parts of Europe have increased in recent months as weather conditions have improved.

According to the UN-affiliated International Organization for Migration, more than 1,100 people fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa and the Middle East have perished this year in the Mediterranean.

Many of the migrants in this latest rescue were seen jumping off the boat and trying to swim to Sea-Watch 3, the Reuters witness said.

The migrants were mainly men from Morocco, Bangladesh, Egypt and Syria.


Haniyeh re-elected as chief of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas

Haniyeh re-elected as chief of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas
Updated 01 August 2021

Haniyeh re-elected as chief of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas

Haniyeh re-elected as chief of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas

GAZA: Ismail Haniyeh has been re-elected as chief of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which controls Gaza, two Palestinian officials told Reuters on Sunday.
Haniyeh has led Hamas since 2017.