Iraqis find escape, success on a virtual battleground

Iraqis find escape, success on a virtual battleground
President of the Iraqi eSports Federation Hayder Jaafar plays on a mobile device during an interview in the capital Baghdad. (AFP)
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Updated 17 May 2021

Iraqis find escape, success on a virtual battleground

Iraqis find escape, success on a virtual battleground
  • Iraqis spend hours every day on the game’s virtual battleground
  • Some Iraqi parents have criticized the game as time-sucking

BAGHDAD: Bashar Abo Khalil’s PUBG character dashes around a wall in a pink dress and samurai helmet, thwacking an enemy with a frying pan — standard fare in the mobile game that is a mega-sensation in Iraq.
The online star, known as G2G, is one of many Iraqis hooked on PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds — a battle royale first-person shooter game that’s reminiscent of the book and film series “The Hunger Games.”
The mobile version of the game has become so popular in Iraq, where 60 percent of the 40-million-strong population is under 25, that the country’s youth have been dubbed the “PUBG generation.”
Iraqis across the country are spending hours every day on the game’s virtual battleground, socialising via its live chat, playing competitively or even falling in love.
Abo Khalil, 31, said he used to play for hours to “stop thinking about problems.”
“When you’re playing the game you can become closed off to the rest of the world. It can be like a drug,” he added.
Now based in Turkey, he earns a living streaming games and making videos.
Fan Dalya Waheed said she plays PUBG for an hour or two a day with friends she met on the game, and has even set up a gaming hub at the electronics reseller where she works.
“It’s really easy to meet people on PUBG,” said the woman in her thirties, who lives in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.
Some Iraqi parents have criticized the game as time-sucking or have expressed worry about the violence it portrays, with guns-a-plenty and explosives sending up blood spatter.
But Reshar Ibrahim, who plays PUBG Mobile competitively, said the game would never be as bad as what many Iraqis had experienced in real life over the decades of conflicts that have devastated the country.
“It’s just a game,” said the 19-year-old Iraqi Kurd, who has lived in Sweden for the past three years.
In 2019, the country’s parliament banned PUBG amid local reports it was leading to bankruptcy, suicide and divorce.
The move, which was easily circumvented, was criticized as being out of touch with the real challenges facing Iraqis.
Nearly 40 percent of Iraqi youth are unemployed, according to the World Bank, and the country’s poverty rate has doubled to 40 percent during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Later that year, thousands of young Iraqis — some dressed in PUBG outfits — filled the streets to protest endemic corruption and unemployment. Over the months that followed, some 600 demonstrators were killed in protest-related violence.
Abo Khalil and Ibrahim are just two of many successful Iraqi gamers outside the country, away from the additional challenges of poor Internet and unreliable electricity that players back home face.
Ibrahim, aka Freak, recently won Most Valuable Player in the PUBG Mobile Star Arabia Challenge, which doled out $100,000 in total prize money.
His team, GunZ Esports, won the competition despite one player in Iraq losing power mid-game and another having to travel from southern Najaf to the northern Kurdistan region — where Internet connectivity “is slightly better,” Ibrahim said.
Helmat Shiar, 23, who competed in the tournament with the Iraqi iKurd E-Sports team, said it wasn’t just that Iraqis “play against teams abroad who have much stronger Internet.”
There was also “no support” from private or governmental sponsors, he lamented.
Elsewhere in the Arab world, governments and major sponsors are pouring money into eSports.
In the Gulf, the gaming market is expected to reach $821 million this year, according to consulting firm Strategy&.
Hayder Jaafar said he had struggled for 10 years to register his non-governmental Iraqi Electronic Sports Federation as a full member of the international gaming body before succeeding in 2020.
“The youth ministry structure for eSports was last modified in 2009, and a lot has changed in eSports since then,” the 38-year-old told AFP.
Iraq suffers from war-ravaged infrastructure and poor electricity — most households only have a few hours of state-provided electricity per day.
But there are 40 million mobile phone connections in the country and 30 million Internet users, according to a 2021 DataReportal study.
Last year, PUBG was the 11th-most-searched term in Iraq on Google, and variations on the game’s name took several top spots on YouTube searches as well.
PUBG’s widespread popularity is in part due to the launch of a free-to-play mobile version by Chinese tech giant Tencent, which said in March that over one billion people had downloaded the app since 2018.
iKurd player Jiner Hekmat, 18, said he was hooked on the mobile version but wasn’t banking all his hopes on being a competitive player, saying he wanted to focus on his studies.
But, he added, “I’m also going to do everything I can to keep my level in PUBG, and keep playing as long as the game exists.”


Mideast airlines 'will need 3,000 new planes by 2040'

Mideast airlines 'will need 3,000 new planes by 2040'
Updated 5 sec ago

Mideast airlines 'will need 3,000 new planes by 2040'

Mideast airlines 'will need 3,000 new planes by 2040'
  • Boeing says regional aviation industry likely to generate 223,000 new jobs

DUBAI: As regional and international travel and cargo demand recover, airlines in the Middle East will require 3,000 new aircraft valued at $700 billion and aftermarket services such as maintenance and repair worth $740 billion, Boeing predicted in a report on Wednesday.
In its 2021 Commercial Market Outlook — a forecast of 20-year demand for commercial airplanes and services — the aerospace company said more than two-thirds of airplane deliveries to the Middle East will accommodate growth, while one-third of deliveries will replace older airplanes with more fuel-efficient models such as the 737 MAX, 787 Dreamliner and 777X.
The report expects the Middle East passenger traffic and commercial fleet to more than double over the forecast period.
“The Middle East’s role as a global connecting hub continues to be important for developing markets to and from Southeast Asia, China, and Africa,” said Randy Heisey, Boeing managing director of commercial marketing for the Middle East. 
“The region has been a leader in restoring confident passenger travel through multi-faceted initiatives that aid international travel recovery.”
Airfreight represents an ongoing area of opportunity for Middle East airlines, with the freighter fleet projected to nearly double from 80 airplanes in 2019 to 150 by 2040. 
Air cargo traffic flown by Middle East carriers has increased since 2020 by nearly 20 percent, with two of the world’s top-five cargo carriers based in the region.
According to the report, regional airlines are expected to grow their fleets to 3,530 jets through 2040 to accommodate increased passenger and cargo traffic.
“The region will continue to see robust wide-body demand, with 1,570 deliveries supporting a growing network of international routes,” it added.
The report estimates the current single-aisle fleet of 660 airplanes to nearly triple to 1,750 jets.
Boeing’s 2021 Pilot and Technician Outlook forecasts that the region is estimated to require 223,000 new aviation personnel by 2040, including 54,000 pilots, 51,000 technicians, and 91,000 cabin crew members. 


Crisis-hit Lebanon hikes fuel prices in de facto end to subsidies

Crisis-hit Lebanon hikes fuel prices in de facto end to subsidies
Updated 20 min 47 sec ago

Crisis-hit Lebanon hikes fuel prices in de facto end to subsidies

Crisis-hit Lebanon hikes fuel prices in de facto end to subsidies
  • Subsidies were gradually phased out over the past few months to shore up diminishing foreign currency reserves at the central bank
  • A revised price list published by the energy ministry set the cost of 20 litres of 95-octane petroleum at 302,700 Lebanese pounds [$15 at the black market rate]

BEIRUT: Lebanon raised fuel prices on Wednesday in a de facto end to state subsidies, pushing the cost of filling a vehicle’s tank to more than the monthly minimum wage in the poverty-stricken nation.
Subsidies were gradually phased out over the past few months to shore up diminishing foreign currency reserves at the central bank, which could no longer fund fuel imports.
A revised price list published by the energy ministry set the cost of 20 liters (5.3 gallons) of 95-octane petroleum at 302,700 Lebanese pounds, or around $15 at the black market rate.
This is around five times the price of 61,100 pounds set at the end of June, adding to the economic pain in a country where power cuts are common and basic goods including medicine have become scarce.
The revised price “marks a complete lifting of petroleum subsidies,” Fadi Abou Chakra of the country’s fuel distributors’ association told AFP.
“The fuel price hike will cause the cost of services to also increase, especially transportation,” he added.
The energy ministry on Wednesday also raised the price of diesel and cooking gas following a drop in the value of the Lebanese pound against the dollar on the black market.
The nose-diving pound was selling for around 20,500 pounds to the greenback, its lowest value in months, money exchangers told AFP.
An energy ministry official said that the “latest petroleum prices were calculated on the basis of a currency exchange rate of 20,000 pounds to the dollar as per a central bank request.”
The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to comment on the issue.
The price increases have mostly erased massive queues at gas pumps that clogged streets across the country during the summer when importers and gas station owners severely rationed supply.
To fill a medium-sized vehicle’s tank, Lebanese would now have to pay more than the monthly minimum wage of 675,000 pounds, at a time when nearly 80 percent of the population is estimated to live below the poverty line.
The International Monetary Fund and France are among creditors demanding an audit of the central bank as part of urgent reforms to unlock financial support for Lebanon.
The World Bank has called the country’s economic crisis one of the planet’s worst since the mid-19th century.
Officials said the audit by a New York-based firm resumes on Thursday.


UAE-based digital shipping platform Palletpal raises $200K

UAE-based digital shipping platform Palletpal raises $200K
Updated 35 min 43 sec ago

UAE-based digital shipping platform Palletpal raises $200K

UAE-based digital shipping platform Palletpal raises $200K

RIYADH: UAE-based digital shipping platform Palletpal has raised $200,000 in a pre-seed round from US venture capital firm Draper Associates.

The startup gives companies across the Middle East better control over their shipments whether they are transported by air or sea, allowing them to keep an inventory of the entire shipping process from purchase to delivery.

The company plans to use the newly raised funding to grow its brand, expand its team and fine-tunie its minimal viable product (MVP).

Palletpal caters to small businesses using an extensive independent network of 50 freight forwarders and carriers, according to founder Adel Hamwi.

“These businesses are moving a large volume of products, and they're being out-priced by large players because the amount of volume that they provide is not enough for them to affect the margins on the forwarder side. We're giving the power back to the customer. You come to us and fill out a request, and then we will find you the best deal,” Hamwi said.


Luxury chain St. Regis Hotels & Resorts outlines Middle East and North African expansion by 2025

Luxury chain St. Regis Hotels & Resorts outlines Middle East and North African expansion by 2025
Updated 49 min 46 sec ago

Luxury chain St. Regis Hotels & Resorts outlines Middle East and North African expansion by 2025

Luxury chain St. Regis Hotels & Resorts outlines Middle East and North African expansion by 2025

CAIRO: High-end hotel chain St. Regis Hotels & Resorts plans to open new sites in the Middle East and North Africa over the next four years as it boosts its global presence.

The Marriott International-owned brand is set to open The St. Regis Marsa Arabia Island, The Pearl, in Qatar in early 2022.

Further openings are scheduled in Oman with Al Mouj Resort in Muscat in 2024, and the Marrakech Resort in Morocco slated for 2025.

The chain already operates hotels across the region in such countries as Egypt, the UAE and Qatar.

Marriott International said in a statement: “St. Regis has 49 open hotels and resorts today, with 29 hotels and resorts in its pipeline, representing expected growth of nearly 60 percent over the next five years in both urban and leisure destination.”

Other hotel openings are planned in the US, Caribbean and Asia Pacific regions over the period.


Economic growth in the UAE will peak next year: Beltone forecast 

Economic growth in the UAE will peak next year: Beltone forecast 
Updated 55 min 38 sec ago

Economic growth in the UAE will peak next year: Beltone forecast 

Economic growth in the UAE will peak next year: Beltone forecast 

Abu Dhabi: The UAE's main economic indicators will achieve their highest growth rates in a decade during 2022 with the support of Expo 2020, Egypt-based investment bank Beltone has forecast.

It predicts growth in private spending, non-oil GDP, tax and tourism revenues, with additional expenditure on consumer goods and services during the Expo months, Asharq news reported.

Beltone expects that the total number of visitors to the UAE from around the world will reach 10 million in the period from October 2021 until the end of March 2022.

However, this is less than the pre-pandemic target of 18 million visitors.