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.


Syria says fire erupts in main Homs refinery

Syria says fire erupts in main Homs refinery
Updated 09 May 2021

Syria says fire erupts in main Homs refinery

Syria says fire erupts in main Homs refinery
  • The fire erupted in a distillation unit due to a leak in a pumping station
  • There was a large fire and blast at Homs in January this year
AMMAN: Syrian authorities are working on extinguishing a fire that erupted in its main Homs refinery in the west of the nation, state media said on Sunday.
The fire erupted in a distillation unit due to a leak in a pumping station, it said without elaborating.
State television showed live footage of fire engulfing parts of the refinery with black smoke plumes in the distance as firefighters tackled the flames.
There was a large fire and blast at Homs in January this year involving a nearby crude oil loading station and dozens of trucks that transport petroleum products across the country.
Both Homs refinery and Banias on the Mediterranean coast have faced supply shortages in recent months due to erratic supplies of Iranian crude oil to the sanctions-hit country that relies mainly on Tehran for its energy needs.
Syria has over the past year two years faced months of gasoline and fuel shortages, forcing it to ration supplies distributed across government-held areas and to apply several rounds of steep price hikes.

UAE administers over 11 million COVID-19 vaccine doses

UAE administers over 11 million COVID-19 vaccine doses
Updated 09 May 2021

UAE administers over 11 million COVID-19 vaccine doses

UAE administers over 11 million COVID-19 vaccine doses
  • UAE announced 1,735 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of recorded cases to 534,445

DUBAI: The UAE has administered 11,126,889 COVID-19 vaccine doses so far with an additional 78,342 jabs provided to residents overnight, bringing the country’s distribution rate to 112.50 doses per 100 people.

Health officials have embarked on a rapid vaccination campaign to stem the spread of coronavirus, and the country has one of the highest proportions of the population inoculated

The Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) said the vaccination program was in “line with plan to provide the COVID-19 vaccine to all members of society and efforts to reach acquired immunity resulting from the vaccination,” a report from state news agency WAM said.

This will help reduce the number of cases and control the COVID-19 virus, the reported added.

Meanwhile, the UAE announced 1,735 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of recorded cases to 534,445, as well as three new deaths overnight.

The number of coronavirus-related fatalities is now at 1,610.

The MoHAP also noted that an additional 1,701 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries to 514,769.


Algeria remembers victims of French rule

Algeria remembers victims of French rule
Algerian youths pose beneath a street name plaque honouring an Algerian lawyer killed by the French during the 1954-1962 Algerian war of independence in Algiers. (AFP file photo)
Updated 08 May 2021

Algeria remembers victims of French rule

Algeria remembers victims of French rule
  • The crackdown led by French General Raymond Duval left as many as 45,000 dead, according to Algerian official figures

ALGIERS: Algeria on Saturday honored thousands killed by French forces in 1945, as the North African country waits for Paris to apologize for its colonial era crimes.
Pro-independence protests broke out after a rally on May 8, 1945 marking the allied victory over Nazi Germany.
The rioting triggered two weeks of bloody repression in which French troops massacred thousands of mostly unarmed Muslim civilians, a key chapter in Algeria’s long independence struggle.
On Saturday, thousands of people took part in a march of remembrance following the same route through the northeastern city of Setif as the May 8 rally 76 years ago, official media reported.
Led by scouts, participants laid a wreath at a monument to Bouzid Saal, a 22-year-old man shot dead by a French policeman in 1945 for refusing to lower his Algerian flag — the first casualty of the violence.
The crackdown led by French General Raymond Duval left as many as 45,000 dead, according to Algerian official figures.
French historians put the toll at up to 20,000, including 86 European civilians and 16 soldiers killed in revenge attacks.
The killings had a transformative impact on the nascent anti-colonial movement, setting the scene for a full-blown independence war nine years later that finally led to independence in 1962.
Algerian officials have continued to call for a full apology from France for its colonial era policies, and President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has described the 1945 killings as “crimes against humanity.”
Government spokesman Ammar Belhimer repeated that demand on Saturday, calling for “the official, definitive and comprehensive recognition by France of its crimes (along with) repentance and fair compensation.”
He also called for help dealing with the toxic waste left behind by 17 nuclear tests France carried out in the Algerian desert in the 1960s.

 


Militias briefly take over Tripoli government headquarters

Militias briefly take over Tripoli government headquarters
Members of the Tripoli Protection Force, an alliance of militias from the capital city, patrol an area south of the Libyan capital. (AFP file photo)
Updated 09 May 2021

Militias briefly take over Tripoli government headquarters

Militias briefly take over Tripoli government headquarters
  • The takeover underscored the tough road ahead for the interim government, which has been tasked with steering Libya through general elections due at the end of the year

CAIRO: In a show of force, armed militiamen briefly took over a hotel in the Libyan capital of Tripoli that serves as headquarters for the interim government, officials said Saturday.
Friday’s development came after the three-member presidential council earlier this week appointed a new chief of the intelligence agency, Libya’s version of the CIA. The militias, which control Tripoli, were apparently unhappy with the choice of Hussein Khalifa as the new spy chief.
Presidential council spokeswoman Najwa Wheba said no one was hurt in the takeover of Hotel Corinthia, in the heart of Tripoli. The hotel was mostly empty on Friday, the Muslim weekend.
After a while, the militias left the hotel, according to an official at the Interior Ministry who spoke on condition of anonymity under regulations. Khalifa and the militia leaders were not immediately available for comment on Saturday.
The takeover underscored the tough road ahead for the interim government, which has been tasked with steering Libya through general elections due at the end of the year. The government has struggled to unite the conflict-stricken nation ahead of the vote.
Wheba said the presidential council has no permanent headquarters and that the hotel is one of the places where the council convenes. Videos circulating on social media show militiamen at the entrance of the hotel.
On Monday, Najla Al-Manqoush, the foreign minister of Libya’s interim government called for the departure of all foreign forces and mercenaries, including Turkish troops, from the oil-rich North African country. That was seen as a rebuke to Turkey and angered pro-Turkey factions in western Libya.
UN Security Council diplomats say there are more than 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya, including Syrians, Sudanese, Chadians and Russians.
Libya was plunged into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled longtime ruler Muammar Qaddafi, who was later killed.


Israeli violence against Al-Aqsa worshippers condemned

Israeli violence against Al-Aqsa worshippers condemned
Israeli security forces clash with Palestinian protesters at the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, on May 7, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 08 May 2021

Israeli violence against Al-Aqsa worshippers condemned

Israeli violence against Al-Aqsa worshippers condemned
  • The UN Security Council Resolution 2334 considers all settlements, including those in Jerusalem, illegal

JERUSALEM: Israel braced for more protests on Saturday after clashes at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound left more than 200 people injured.

The unrest followed Friday prayers when Israeli riot police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades at Palestinians as violence erupted outside Islam’s third holiest site.

At least three people were seriously injured when Israeli troops used rubber bullets to disperse worshippers at the UNESCO world heritage site.

Israeli forces stormed the mosque’s plaza and fired sound grenades inside the building, where throngs of worshippers, including women and children, were praying on the last Friday of Ramadan.

The clashes came amid soaring tensions over Israeli restrictions on access to parts of the old city during Ramadan and the threat of eviction hanging over four Palestinian families in East Jerusalem to make way for Jewish settlers.

The Israeli violence drew worldwide condemnation.

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that the Kingdom “rejects Israel’s plans and measures to evict dozens of Palestinians from their homes in Jerusalem and impose Israeli sovereignty over them.”

The UAE “strongly condemned” the clashes and potential evictions, and a statement by Khalifa Al-Marar, the foreign affairs minister, urged Israeli authorities to reduce tensions.

The UAE stresses the need for Israeli authorities to assume their responsibilities in line with international law to provide protection to Palestinian citizens, a statement carried by state news agency WAM said.

Wasfi Kailani, executive director of the Hashemite Fund for the reconstruction of Al-Aqsa Mosque, told Arab News that there was no excuse for the Israeli action.

“What happened on Friday night is inexcusable. Violating the mosque’s sanctity during the last 10 holy days of Ramadan is illegal and a clear violation of the right to worship. Its status quo must be protected.”

Kailani, a member of the Jerusalem Waqf Council, said Israeli forces not only violated the peace of worshippers but also destroyed mosque property, including its clinic and gates.

Hijazi Risheq, head of the Jerusalem Merchants Committee, told Arab News that attacks by Israeli forces were meant to intimidate Palestinians following threats by Jewish extremists of a large-scale infiltration into Al-Aqsa on what they call Jerusalem Day.

“However, the people of Jerusalem have broken the barrier of fear and are no longer afraid of Israeli soldiers or Israeli prisons,” he said.

Risheq called on Arab and Islamic countries to help Palestinians defend the mosque.

The late-night clashes in the old city of Jerusalem followed days of tension in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, where Israelis are trying to evict an entire Palestinian community and hand over their properties to ultra-extreme Jewish settlers.

The Waqf Council, Jordan, the US, EU, and European and Arab countries issued statements denouncing the violence in the city.

The US called on all parties to avoid actions that could damage final status talks between Israel and Palestinians, including settlements.

The UN Security Council Resolution 2334 considers all settlements, including those in Jerusalem, illegal.

Israeli police issued a statement saying officers were attacked with stones and firecrackers and had to restore order.

A police statement claimed that 17 officers were injured, with at least half requiring further attention.

Palestinian citizens of Israel traveled in at least six buses to show their support for worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque, but were barred entry near the village of Abu Ghish.

After they disembarked and began to walk the remaining 20 km distance to the site, local residents came to pick them up in private cars.