Category Archives: Technology

Part 2: Is There Anyone Talking About Technology in the Middle East?

On October 9th, Contributor Technology Consultant, Ramy Ghaly, provided an overview of the technology system in the Middle East & North Africa region (MENA). In his second part, he will elaborate on the prevalent uses with key statistics. PITAPOLICY invites readers to comment and submit a response and/or perspective that relates to the technology ecosystem. Perhaps there are innovations that were missed in the first or second parts. PITA-CONSUMERS: Please review and participate!

By: Ramy Ghaly
Edited by Mehrunisa Qayyum

Intelligence is another area where ICT becomes even more intelligent. People’s behavior, individual preferences, and object interactions among other elements will be more easily stored, analyzed, and used to provide intelligent insights for action. The business intelligence global market is estimated to be $11 billion industry having text analytics (10% market share of BI) a major player growing on an average 15 to 25 percent year-on-year to continue till 2013. There are few IT vendors in MENA Region that specialize in artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language technology (NLP); however, this technology is still new not only to MENA region, but to the world’s market as well due to its complexity and very few specialists that specializes in computational linguistics technology.

Eric Schmidt recently stated, “Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003.” How can one understand it, measure it, and generate insight from it? 

List of High-Tech Vendors in MENA Region
~Sakhr: Is an exception because it is a US company located outside the region that specializes in “Arabic Natural Language Processing”.


~Kngine: Is a semantic search engine with Q&A application that was launched from Egypt, aiming to provide more meaningful search results to users.


~Pragmatech: Unlike traditional IT companies in the MENA region, which for the most part are companies that deliver customized enterprise IT solutions, Pragmatech was established with the vision of building an IT company that conducts applied research to develop state-of-the-art solutions and technologies – technologies that would have an impact on a global scale. To see this vision through, Pragmatech has assembled a Research and Development (R&D) team which is a blend of technical expertise, experience, talent and an unparalleled passion for making a difference. A wholly owned subsidiary of the United Development Company (UDC), Pramatech is based in Doha, Qatar. Also a development branch operates in Jounieh, Lebanon–just outside the capital, Beirut. 


Mobiles and Smartphones ring for attention. In particular, their calls have been answered in the Arab world. The wide adoption of the mobile phone has already brought ICT to the masses. Advances in hardware (the look and feel of the revolutionary iPhone) to software (e.g., natural language interfaces), and communications (e.g., broadband wireless) will continue to make computing more mobile and more accessible.

In MENA, people are infatuated with their mobile devices and Smartphones to the extent that almost 34 percent claim to own more than one Smartphone, thereby making MENA a hub for mobile applications. According to a study compiled by Real Opinions entitled: “Apps Arabia Mobile Report MENA”, here are some major highlights:
• The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Region has the highest incidence of multiple Smartphone usage with 41% of users (34% with 2 and 7% with 3 or more).
• Smartphones have a short shelf life. 70% of Smartphone users are likely to upgrade within the next 12 months.
• The industry is undergoing rapid growth in the region. Of those who do not own a Smartphone, 54 percent claim they will get one within 12 months.
• Nokia is the clear leader now, but faces fierce competition in the GCC nations from Apple and BlackBerry. 54 percent claim to use Nokia Smartphones, 45 percent consider their mobiles as their main phone for apps. Finally, only 22 percent would consider Nokia as their next Smartphone.

Application Category Highlights:

Top 15 Applications Used in MENA

• While ‘Communication’ apps are of most interest, in GCC ‘Social Networking’, Maps & Navigation’, ‘Business’, ‘Banking & Finance’ and ‘Travel are particularly appealing. In North Africa, ‘Music’, ‘Video’, and ‘Religion’ are particularly popular.
• Interest in apps isn’t being reflected in their regular use, issuing a challenge for developers to pick up the test.
• The top 5 gaps between interested in and use: ‘Maps & Navigation’, ‘Books’, ‘News & Information’, ‘Video’ & ‘Photography’.
• Convenience apps dominate the paid apps market in the Middle East, with ‘Banking/Finance’ (35%), ‘Travel’ (34%) & ‘Communication’ (33%) leading the paid categories.


In my final thoughts, asking the question on how the MENA Region can produce innovative products that will impact not only the Middle East, but the global market scale as well. Woopra is one company from the region that illustrates this category and warrants examination. Founded by Elie Khoury, 25, Woopra is a Lebanese website analytics start-up and began as a college project at the Lebanese American University.

Four years later, Woopra has an office in Silicon Valley where they are positioning themselves to compete with global players such as Google;
From those humble origins, Woopra is now one of the few Lebanese startups to be competing on the global stage.

“We got really negative feedback from one professor saying that the project was nice but we should be looking for a job instead of wasting our time on projects,” recalls Jad Younan, Khoury’s former classmate and current business partner.

“A few months after that, the computer science professors were citing Woopra as a success story for the students to urge them take the programming courses more seriously,” emphasizes Younan.

At the time, one of the founder’s IT professors, Haidar Harmanani, chairman of LAU’s Computer Science department at the Byblos campus, recounts that, “They [Younan and Khoury] would sometimes show up late or be sleepy in class. I later found out they were up late working on their project.” Soon after, Harmanani went on to help the two students secure funding to travel to Morocco for a regional competition.

With such determination, I can only say that Woopra is a true, innovative tech start-up that the region should consider. Woopra encapsulates an experience that innovates next generation products that competitively place MENA in the global technology market place.

About the Author
Ramy Ghaly is a Marketing Strategist with more than ten years in international markets experience. He held professional and managerial positions in various global markets in industries ranging from retail, wholesale, consumer goods, to technology product management with concentration in channel development. He holds a degree in International Marketing Management with a minor in International Relations and Middle Eastern studies from Daytona State College. He is interested in social media developments, next generation search technologies, semantic search engines, and text analytics. Needless to say, strategies in geopolitics, Middle Eastern Studies, and Environmental factors that affect global business growth are general interests that keen to always monitor and encourage writing about. He can be reached at Follow Ramy on Twitter @ConsultRamy

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Tunisia’s Test: POMED Releases “A Guide to the Tunisian Elections”

By: Mehrunisa Qayyum

This coming Friday, October 23rd, Tunisia will elect candidates for the 218-seat assembly: the National Constituent Assembly, which will write the new constitution and oversee the processes for both the presidential and parliamentarian elections. (Earlier on September 15th, one of the three interim committees, the High Commission, agreed to limit the National Constituent Assembly for one year. Yadh Ben Achour chairs the High Commission.) In the short term, a number of systemic changes will facilitate other reforms. These include Tunisia’s decision to: a) indict and find Ben Ali of corruption in absentia; b) dismantle his party, Constitutional Democratic Rally, as well as the Secret Police; and c) confiscate Ben Ali’s and his cronies’ assets. We will see the mid to long term results. Though this all snowballed from Tunisia, another round of activity will ensue for not only Tunisia, but for the 21 other Arab countries since the Arab Spring proved successful in some countries–and more challenging in others.

POMED’s Guide Forward
On October 14th, The Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), which is based in Washington DC, invited Chiheb Ghazouan, Mongi Boughzala, Stephen McInerney, and J. Scott Carpenter assembled to conjecture about the social and economic dynamics impact on the Tunisia’s parties’ participation in the first open elections. POMED also released its publication “A GUIDE TO THE TUNISIAN ELECTIONS”, which outlines the following points:

~Currently, over 100 political parties received legal accreditation to participate this Friday.

~Elections will comprehensively conclude in one round.

~Quotas will be calculated by counting the number of votes casted in a district (x), and then dividing ‘x’ by the number of seats allocated for that district (y).

~Gender parity among candidates is ensured by alternating between male and female candidates on each submitted list.

~Parties are required to list one candidate under the age of 30; however, many political parties do not include the face of the Jasmine Revolution–specifically 17 percent of voters between the ages of 18 to 35 have registered to vote.

Managing Expectations Between Civic & Political Levels
The youth element is more engaged at the civic-social level as opposed to the political and economic levels. In a similar vein, the speakers focused primarily on the Tunisian precedent for change or the economic conditions or the “liberal” versus “conservative” role in political participation. With the exception of Boughzala’s point, the focus on youth engagement was not as prominent, as referenced in POMED’s report. Boughzala said that the youth are involvement in NGOs and associations and think tanks.

Chiheb Ghazouani is an attorney and Vice President of the Tunisian organization Afkar, which acts as a watchdog for the main political parties. Ghazouani’s key point was that both “Islamists”, or as he recategorizes as conservatives, and secularists embrace market economy.

Mongi Boughzala described the economic situation upfront: Tunisia’s unemployment is around 15 percent. Boughzala is a processor of economics at the University of Tunis El-Manar and is a research fellow at the Economic Research Forum. He added that the challenge is not whether Islamist participation will present a burden. The bigger challenge is how to manage expectations when there will be a temptation to downplay fiscal discipline.

J. Scott Carpenter, who is a Principal with Google Ideas in New York, spoke broadly about how technology could play a role to improving governance in transitional economies.

Stephen McInerney, who serves as POMED’s Executive Director, contrasted Tunisian electoral politics with Egypt’s. For example, political parties are more cohesive in Tunisia than in Egypt and that “Tunisians are more cautiously optimistic than Egyptians.”

If McInerney’s assessment of “cautious optimism” is correct, then the youth factor might be the proxy for conjecturing the success of the October 23rd elections.

POMED: The Project on Middle East Democracy is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to examining how genuine democracies can develop in the Middle East and how the U.S. can best support that process. Through dialogue, research, and advocacy, we aim to strengthen the constituency for U.S. policies that peacefully support democratic reform in the Middle East.

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Technology Series Part 1: Is There Anyone Talking about Technology in the Middle East?

Investigating the evolution of ‘technology ecosystem’ in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)

By: Ramy Ghaly
Edited by: Mehrunisa Qayyum

The ongoing debate on the extent to which social media catalyzed the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, and Syria, another ‘technology’ subsector is taking off in MENA that is worth noting to help understand the current sector’s “ecosystem.” Moreover, this 3 part series will examine how technology is moving forward within the current political transformation in pursuing more democratic representation within MENA region.

The Middle East is home to more than 60 percent of its population is under 30 years old. Specifically, the 30 years and under happens to represent the group facilitating change in the political and economic sectors. We have seen examples of them playing a vital and influential part in the decision making process to increase democratic freedom and transform economies to accommodate their needs–thereby making MENA a competitive place in the digital economy market. Needless to say, the MENA region continues to be featured prominently in the ranking, with some notable observations. According to the Global Information Technology Report 2010-2011 produced by the World Economic Forum, there are four MENA countries scored in the top 30 countries out of 138, namely:
• Israel-22nd
• United Arab Emirates (UAE)-24th
• Qatar-25th
• Bahrain-30th

MENA Country Ranking Across Technology Factors

Also, for example, Lebanon entered at 95th place on the list for the first time since the report began analysis ten years ago. There is no doubt that the region is finding its way into the technology ecosystem. measuring and examining key components that is worth highlighting in the tables referenced in the report.

Middle East and North Africa (MENA)
For many young adults, the internet operates as a way of life that no one is willing to return to a twentieth century MENA. In particular, a McKinsey poll ranks communications technology in fourth place, which transformed the world. making as it ranks fourth most important sector according to a poll by Mckinsey. (The McKinsey poll surveyed 4,787 consumers around the world: INSEAD, Global Information Technology Report 2009-2010.)

McKinsey Survey

The region continues to prioritize development in ICT by economic diversification, enhance efficiency, and modernization pushing forward to advance ICT’s R&D in the region like Qatar’s 30 years plan focusing on transforming its economy into more knowledge based. Qatar exemplifies the sector impact:

“Qatar is devoted to develop its economy towards a knowledge-based economy enriching its level of human capital and improving its competitiveness. Knowledge, as it is applied in innovation and entrepreneurship, research and development, product design and Software, and in how people use their education and skills, is now considered to be one of the key sources of sustained growth in the global economy. In this context, the Planning Council of Qatar and the Qatar Foundation have in this context asked the World Bank to help them in carrying out a knowledge economy assessment of Qatar as well as in formulating a knowledge-based economy vision as part of Qatar’s National Vision 2025.”

Readiness Index

Moreover, 7 out of 15 MENA economies evaluated are considered in the high income levels have a cumulative average score below the world average in the same income category as per the table below; however, it is moving forward higher compared to the average of 138 economies evaluated. (Source: The Global Information Technology Report 2010-2011 produced by the World Economic Forum)

Looking at the region from a different perspective, one can determine the impact of ICT is widespread and will affect all key stakeholders: individuals, business, and government.) Evolving technology trends are pointing to the most likely directions they will take over the next few years as per these pillars: social, local, intelligence, and mobile (SLIM).

Social Impact:
ICT is becoming more interlinked to people’s behaviors and social networks. One can notice the future of ICT is expanding from traditional processes and automation themes to include a human and social focus. The popularity of social networks in MENA has grown tremendously in 1st quarter of 2011 driven mainly by the Arab uprising according to a study made by the Dubai school of Government; needless to say, MENA achieved the highest number new users’ in terms of percentage of country’s population compared to other markets as seen below.

Interestingly enough, this phenomenon has its impact on how the region utilizes social networks engaging with their audience and highlights an ongoing trend for business to leverage social networks and transforms information consumers into product consumers. For example, one startup, a pizza parlor in Lebanon has turned to inbound marketing techniques to launch their business opposed to traditional media. Through local bloggers, they made the place a popular one driving new customers to try out their pizza and talk about it freely in social networks creating a buzz and trend to see growing in popularity with small and medium size businesses in MENA Region. Here is a snapshot of what people are saying.
(Image Source: Moritz Stafner – a real time visualization of current tweets on twitter.)

Twitter Graphic

Stay tuned next Sunday for Part 2, the author’s conclusion, but the setup for the follow-up piece that will reflect on these trends regarding the impact on other developmental issues in MENA. PITAPOLICY invites readers to comment, or submit a piece for this Technology series.
Ramy Ghaly is a Marketing Strategist with more than ten years in international markets experience. He held professional and managerial positions in various global markets in industries ranging from retail, wholesale, consumer goods, to technology product management with concentration in channel development. He holds a degree in International Marketing Management with a minor in International Relations and Middle Eastern studies from Daytona State College. He is interested in social media developments, next generation search technologies, semantic search engines, and text analytics. Needless to say, strategies in geopolitics, Middle Eastern Studies, and Environmental factors that affect global business growth are general interests that keen to always monitor and encourage writing about. He can be reached at Follow Ramy on Twitter @ConsultRamy

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September 29th NAAP-DC & PITAPOLICY Roundtable: MENA On Media; Media on MENA

By: Ramah Kudaimi
Summary of Roundtable hosted by the Network of Arab-American Professionals-DC Chapter & PITAPOLICY Consulting

9/29/11: NAAP-DC & PITAPOLICY Joint Media Event

9/29/11: "Reflecting Not Forecasting"

For Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, the liberating power of social media is something which he experienced personally. The co-host of Al Jazeera’s “The Stream”- a show which taps into social media to uncover unheard voices and new perspectives- told the audience at last week’s media roundtable held by NAAP-DC and PITAPOLICY Consulting that for years after 9/11, Western media exclusively highlighted one narrative of Muslims and Arabs which focused on violence, extremism and terrorism. When he would search “Ahmed” on Youtube, the first video which would pop up was entitled “Ahmed the Terrorist” and had almost seven million views. But with the uprisings sweeping the Arab world, the power of social media to change this narrative has been on display. On a personal level, while Ahmed was traveling on a train in the United States a few weeks ago, he saw that #flagman was trending on Twitter. In a few clicks he learned that a young man had scaled the Israeli embassy in Cairo and replaced the Israeli flag with an Egyptian one, symbolizing the empowerment Egyptians felt in demanding their leaders represent their interests. And this flagman’s name was Ahmed, a stark contrast to Ahmed the terrorist.

On the macro level, social media has changed business as usual in the Arab world. Dr. Sahar Khamis, an expert on Arab and Middle Eastern media and author of Islam Dot Com: Contemporary Islamic Discourses in Cyberspace, explained that there have been two dangerous extremes in regards to analysis of recent events, especially those in Egypt. On one end the role of social media is underestimated by some who claim that the uprisings would have happened anyways. On the other end the role is overestimated as seen by those labeling what happened as the “Facebook revolution”

“Social media represent catalysts for change,” Dr. Sahar said. “It complements and supplements desires for reform.”

Egypt is unique amongst the countries experiencing upheavals because it had a vibrant and dynamic scene for change before January 25, the first day of major protests. This included opposition papers, alternative voices on private satellite channels and on the ground organizing such as the Keffiyeh (Enough) movement.

“But what failed in the past was being able to mobilize large numbers of people,” Dr. Sahar pointed out. “With the help of social media, larger numbers were able to be rallied and engaged with the protests. This was due to cascades of information which were facilitated by social media.” This is particularly significant for the Arab world due to the overall youthfulness of the region: 70 percent of people are under the age of 30. As Facebook statuses and Tweets were being shared and passed around, people were able to feel each other out and realized that their neighbors shared the same resentment and anger and were then encouraged to do something about it.

Social media also allows people to transcend borders, something which is particularly significant for Palestinian activism explained Will Youmans, founder of Kabobfest. Due to the deterritorialization of Palestinians, their struggle has been a transnational one, making social media an ideal platform for organizing. These tools have also led to the flattening of hierarchies, as new clusters of communication have developed amongst people, and the decentering of ideas and narratives. No longer do Western media hold an overall sway over information.

“These applications have helped the Palestinian cause spread outside of traditional media constraints,” Will said. “Being a part of an online community which is pro-Palestinian allows one to feel less of a target.” Increased Palestinian engagement and activism worldwide through social media platforms are encouraging alternative methods of mobilization away from the traditional political leadership and, Will hopes, will lead to the same type of empowerment other Arabs in the region are now realizing.
This recent and intense focus on social media though cannot take away from the continuing significant role more traditional media outlets play in the region, especially television. For example the Cairo News Company had 70 live broadcasts during the 18 days of protests which rocked Egypt. Several of its reporters were attacked and multiple times its offices were closed forcing reporters to work from various secret locations. Hanan El-Badry, the DC Bureau Chief, was responsible for making sure the stories and images being collected back in Egypt were reaching the international media. As the state run stations and newspapers were either completely ignoring the protests or claiming that protesters were committing acts of violence, it was the responsibility of El-Badry and other independent television reporters to counter such claims with their own reports. Traditional media also help verify information posted online. While in Egypt there were actual reporters on the ground, said Anar Virji, Deputy Program Editor at Al Jazeera English, in other places like Yemen and Syria there have been major restrictions on the freedom of journalists to travel and report. Thus it becomes more difficult to confirm videos and stories posted online and then pass them on to viewers and readers.

Regimes have also learned from the experience of Egypt and have made it more difficult to make use of social media as a mobilizing tool.

“While in Egypt the government was taken by surprise and not prepared,” Dr. Sahar said, “Syria realized its people’s lack in technological savvy and prepared themselves to hack websites and take actions against protesters in the online realm.”

There is still much to be accomplished in the Arab world but whatever difficulties protesters must overcome towards achieving their goals, it cannot be denied that social media has expanded civic engagement and further eroded media exclusivity. And this means many more, like Ahmed, will experience the invigorating power of social media.

Ramah Kudaimi is a Master of Arts Candidate in Conflict Resolution at the Department of Government at Georgetown University. She may be reached at Tweet Ramah @ramahkudaimi.


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September 29th @ 6:30: Media Round Table~4 Outlets Review MENA Coverage

PITAPOLICY Co-sponsoring Media Round Table with the Network of Arab American Professionals, DC Chapter

MEDIA ‘FUN’-A-TICS: PITAPOLICY & The Network of Arab American Professionals, DC chapter’s Media & Public Relations Committee is excited to present its event of the year!

We’ve invited 5 panelists that represent print, TV, radio, and online media for a 1 hr discussion. NAAP-DC is pleased to present:
1) TV-Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, Al Jazeera English,”The Stream”
2) Anar Virji, Al Jazeera English, Deputy Progam Editor
3) Academic-Samar Khamis, University of Maryland, Communications Professor
4) Radio-Mohamed Wafa, Radio Sawa, Washington Correspondent
5) Online-Will Youmans, Founder of

NAAP-DC will be patroning a wonderful Arab-owned business that faclitates a forum for the arts, media, politics, and informed activism. Although the panel is industry specific, the audience need not be to participate! $5 at the Door.

For questions, please don’t hesitate to contact: Mehrunisa Qayyum, 224-406-4218 or at

PITAPOLICY is co-sponsoring the Round Table and is LOOKING for a volunteer to write an Op-Ed about the NAAP-DC media event to POST on both the NAAP-DC Newsletter and 2 Blogs! Interested? Email

Visit Busboys & Poets Website:

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9/20 Event Report: Women & Democratic Transition in the Middle East

Women and the Democratic Transition in the Middle East

Photo by Mehrunisa Qayyum

By: Mehrunisa Qayyum

Not all the political and economic policy action on gender has completely escaped to New York for this week’s United Nation’s General Assembly meetings. Yesterday in Washington, DC, September 20, 2011, the Women’s Learning Partnership (WLP) collaborated with The Middle East Program at The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars to concentrate on “Women & Democratic Transition in the Middle East.” The Middle East Program’s Director, Haleh Esfandiari, journalist and Irani cultural intellectual, opened the program by welcoming WLP’s founder, Mahnaz Afkhami, who served as Minister for Women’s Affairs in Iran. Esfandiari and Afkhami facilitated the larger Middle East & North Africa dialogue by focusing the discussion on issues, rather than ideologies, to address two themes: (1) perspectives from the region; and (2) Arab Spring’s influences and outcomes. (Follow WLP’s ongoing work to leverage women’s social capital @WLP1.)

WLP and WWICS invited representatives from Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, and Turkey. Leading women in journalism, grassroots activism, and government, represented the women’s movement in the larger scope of improving socio-economic and socio-political opportunities for both genders—a more encompassing and inclusive approach. National Public Radio veteran, Jacki Lyden, moderated the first panel; Jacqueline Pitanguy, Brazilian founder and director of CEPIA (NGO focusing on public policy research and development in Brazil), facilitated the public policy discussion for the second panel, which contrasted the Arab Spring experiences with non-Arab countries comprising the MENA region.

The following representatives presented at the two panels:
• Yakin Erturk commented on democracy and gender as a leading Turkish scholar and as the UN Rapporteur on Violence Against Women. Erturk also served as the director of the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women. She conducted research in Saudi Arabia.

• Farida Naqash serves as the Chairperson of Forum for Women in Development and is the first female Egyptian Editor-in-Chief of a political newspaper. As such Naqash provided both political and media analysis regarding Egypt’s revolution/evolution before and after Mubarak’s demise.

• Asma Khader represented Jordan in her work as a human rights activist. Recently, she served on the UN Human Rights Council’s inquiry into human rights abuses in Libya as well as served as the Minister of Culture in Jordan. Also, she is the Secretary General for the Jordanian national Commission for Women. Asma Khader highlighted how the women in the MENA region are succeeding in obtaining higher levels of education and literacy rates but the pace of employment opportunities does not match. National Public Radio interviewed Asma Khader regarding the Arab Spring and its potential impact to improve women’s lives.

• Rabea Naciri exemplified the regional NGO perspective since she is a founding member of the Association Democratique des Femmes du Maroc, which is a leading Moroccan NGO advocating for women’s rights. Her work extends further into the Maghreb region in dealing with poverty reduction strategies by partnering with researchers from Algeria and Tunisia.

• Massouma Hassan represented Pakistan as a former Cabinet level leader who specified that Pakistan has made progress as women hold positions in the army, law enforcement and government. This is crucial since Pakistan faces both economic and security crises.

(The webcast maybe viewed here:

Also, discussion tackled controversial solutions, such as implementing quotas for women in the political realm. Keen observers pointed out how quotas sometimes limit the “glass-ceiling” for women. Gender equality does not mean women simply focus on women’s issues. As Erturk stated, women may partner with others on “all issues rather than binary ideologies” to more successfully build civil society coalitions. Moreover, WLP and WWICS designed the forum to showcase best practices and “South-South” experiences, the exchange of resources, technology, and knowledge between developing countries.

In a related note, Monday night showcased an exciting moment for the Woodrow Wilson Center because they will now house the esteemed Council of Women World Leaders, a global network of 46 female political leaders. The Council of Women Leaders used to be housed at the Aspen Institute. MENA is represented in this elite group by Reem Al-Hashimy, Minister of State in the United Arab Emirates.

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Top 100 Arab Women Lead Mainly in Culture/Society, Not Technology

by: Mehrunisa Qayyum

According to Arabian Business.Com, the 100 Most Powerful Arab Women List includes those in both public and private sector. Moreover, the increasing role of the “Third Sector” (Non Governmental Organizations) includes women who have transformed their business entrepreneurial skills into social entrepreneurship, like Leila El Solh. Leila works with the Alwaleed Bin Talal Humanitarian Foundation, based in Lebanon, to address humanitarian and social needs.

The list reflects a global trend that women are more represented in industries related to the social sciences and humanities. Likewise, Arab women are less represented in the industries of research, science and technology. The specific categories include, in order of most represented:

• Culture/Society – 31
• Media – 21
• Banking & Finance – 15
• Construction/Industry – 13
• Retail -8
• Government – 5
• Science & Technology – 4
• Logistics – 1
• Telecommunications- 1
• Sport – 1

For 2011, the number one ranked woman is the United Arab Emirates Minister of Foreign Trade, HE Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi. She represents the first female to hold a ministerial post in the UAE when she was appointed to the UAE’s Minister of Economics & Planning. Before entering government service, Sheikha founded Tejari, (which means ‘commerce’ in Arabic) a business to business private venture for online purchasing. As a result of Tejari, “70 percent of the Dubai’s government purchases are made online.” However, only four other Arab women in government comprise the top 100. Tunisia’s current Minister of Women’s Affairs, Laila Labid, is ranked #84. Although only 5 percent of the top 100 represent women in the public sector, optimists may argue that this small number hold ministerial positions. I still see a mismatch: I expected more public sector representation in the top 100 since most—if not all—the Arab nations employ women more than any other sector.

The category with the highest mode is ‘Culture & Society’, with about one-third of Arab women representing power and influence in their industry. The subgrouping reflects the diverse influential interests of the Arab world: from #68, famous Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram to #95, Fatima Shawqi. Fatima is a Bahraini educator and activist teaching children about the importance of environmentalism. Also, this category represents an interesting mix of social entrepreneurs. Social entrepreneurs range from #22, Haifa Fahoum Al-Kaylani, who established the Arab Women’s International Forum, to Salma Hayek, a Mexican-Lebanese actress and philanthropist.

In 2001, Al-Kaylani founded the Arab Women’s International Forum (AWIF) to function as an umbrella organisation. Specifically, AWIF convenes 1,500 associations, individuals, corporation and partnerships based in 45 nations and six continents of the world.

Geographically, the Arab nations of the Gulf (Bahrain, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, and Yemen) represent over half of the top 100 women—55 to be exact. Gulf nations lead in the most representative category of ‘Culture & Society’ as well. Saudi Arabia leads with 7 women influencers, yet, most of them live abroad or hold dual citizenship. When it comes to influencing culture and society within their respective countries—or simply innovating social entrepreneurship—change usually is most effectual and effective when operating from the home base because it takes more than financial capital to cultivate influence, and later derive influence.

In summary, the leading three categories of female influence are 1) ‘Culture & Society’, 2) ‘Media’, and 3) ‘Banking & Finance’; the bottom three categories are: 1) ‘Science & Technology’, 2) ‘Telecommunications’, and 3) ‘Sport.’ On the one hand, it is exciting and inspiring to see that the top 100 Arab Women list boasts a strong ‘Culture & Society’ presence. On the other hand, the same category lacks female representatives from Jordan, Iraq, Libya, Tunisia, and Oman. (Note: Prominent architect and design-firm founder, Zaha Hadid is of Iraqi descent but falls within the ‘Construction’ category.) Hopefully, social entrepreneurial influences will traverse the Arab borders as envisioned by the Arab Women’s International Forum.

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Iran Fires 14 Missiles in 2nd Day of War Games

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15 Middle Eastern Startups You Should Know About


The startup landscape in the Middle East may be quieter than much of the rest of the world, but don’t let that deceive you. Behind the scenes, there are countless talented developers working on services, applications and websites, some of which not only cater to a Middle Eastern audience, but to the entire world. From sites built on the Groupon model, to video sharing sites, to browser extensions, there is no stone that has been left unturned.

That’s not to say that Middle Eastern startups aren’t working in the face of some pretty intimidating obstacles. The Middle East is still on the hunt for its Silicon Valley, and internet usage in the region is significantly lower in comparison to the rest of the world. But that number is slowly increasing, along with the number of awesome startups in the region.

There are a few startups that have been around for several years now, and they have demonstrated just how successful they can be. Maktoob was one of the first Middle Eastern success stories, bought by Yahoo to the tune of USD 80 million. Others such as Yamli, Bayt and many others have gained a strong following in the region over time.

We’ve put together a list, in no particular order, of 15 startups coming out of the Middle East which you should definitely keep an eye on.

Jordanian based Istikana, an Arabic version of Hulu, offers full length video content in Arabic that is one hundred percent legal. As we’ve mentioned before, Istikana is not the first site of its kind catering to an Arabic viewership, but it sets itself apart by providing older content. With on-demand videos in a variety of genres from Cartoons and Theatre, to Comedy and Religion, take a trip down memory lane with some great Arabic classics or discover some shows you’re too young to remember.

The content has primarily come from Jordan, but from Egypt, Kuwait, Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia is on its way. With 3 to 4 new titles released on a weekly basis, you can constantly come back to Istikana and get your fix of Arabic videos. Istikana can also be accessed on the go from your iOS or Android devices.

Still in private beta, Cashbury is definitely one Middle Eastern startup you have to keep an eye on. Loyalty cards are still a popular marketing method to create brand loyalty in the Middle East. The guys behind Cashbury have come up with an environmentally friendly alternative, which will also come in handy for those of us who tend to accumulate several loyalty cards, and never end up using them, because we forget them at home.

Cashbury provides a smartphone app that ensure that your loyalty card comes with you no matter where you go. Business owners who want to get in on the action will have to pay a monthly fee of $9, which is likely less than what is paid to print loyalty cards themselves.

With Groupon leading the way in the group buying phenomenon, it’s no surprise that several Middle Eastern specific group buying websites have made their way to forefront of the region’s market. A few have stood out, one of which is Cairo-based Offerna, whose name literally means “Our Offers” in Arabized English. Originally slated to launch in January 2011, Offerna’s doors officially opened in March, offering deals in its home town, there are plans to expand throughout the Middle East.

The site has already met with resounding success in Egypt, with offers selling out in a matter of hours, despite the fact that e-commerce is a niche concept in the country. The success is atributed to knowing the Egyptian consumer and givng them what they want. Available in both Arabic and English, the site offers a daily deal, with purchases including restaurant, spa and workshop discounts.


The first company in the Middle East to cash in on the group buying craze, Gonabit started out in Dubai and has now expanded into several other cities across the region. Gonabit has several firsts to its name, including being the first to break into certain markets, including Kuwait, Lebanon and Jordan, as well as being the first site of its kind to offer an Arabic interface. Like Offerna, Gonabit offers a daily deal for each of the cities it caters to.

E-commerce has finally come into its own in the Middle East with several major online retailers that have Middle Eastern consumers turning to the Web instead of the mall for their shopping needs, such as and Otlob Mall. Nahel entered the e-commerce scene in 2009, and looks to be a true contender for Souq, offering a variety of products to online shoppers from electronics to books to health and beauty products. The sheer volume of brand names, including Apple and Blackberry, is bound to make Nahel a huge success in the region. The UAE based site caters to a local audience, while also offering international shipping on all products via Aramex.

Marginize is a browser extension that gives you a space to interact with other users who visit the same sites as you. Taking a page from location-based social networks, you can “check in” to a site, and leave a comment about it. Like FourSquare’s Mayor incentive program, the most active Marginize participant for each site becomes its ‘curator’.

In addition to Marginize user comments, you will also see what is being said about the site on Twitter. Based in the US, with a Lebanese developer at its helm, Marginize is one of the Middle Eastern startups which has gone beyond the region and has been met with resounding success throughout the world.

Based in Israel, Genieo is a great news app that studies the stories that you read and generates a personalized website, or as they put it, newspaper, just for you. Genieo’s accuracy is impressive, and not only gives you an interesting way to keep up with your favourite sites, it also allows you to discover new sites you may have overlooked.

After downloading and using the browser extension for a while, you’ll find a wealth of articles and information waiting to be read, without having to lift a finger. Genieo is Windows and Mac compatible and works with Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari and Opera.

Edufina is a Jordan-based bilingual hybrid site, providing a forum, news updates, and basic information on universities in the Middle East. The site aims to become the one-stop shop for all university-related information from the region, for students, parents and educators.

Prospective students can compare up to 3 different universities at a time when choosing the right college. The site, however, isn’t without its glitches. The search function doesn’t seem to be working, and the profiles of many of the listed universities are far from complete. If these kinks are worked out, the site could become an invaluable tool for students throughout the region.

Still in its early stages of development, Mimix, the winner of the 2010 Global Startup Battle, is a Lebanese startup which, once launched, could aim to bridge a language barrier that we don’t often think of. A desktop application, Mimix translates both spoken and written words into international sign language. To begin with, Mimix is focusing on translating the English language into sign language, with the ambitious plan of expanding into translating other languages into various sign languages and dialects.

Nakhweh is a community service website which makes it easy for volunteers to find an organisation to get involved with. NGOs and civil service societies can sign up for free, putting out a call for volunteers, telling people exactly what they’re looking for. So far, the Jordan based website only has listings from Jordanian organisations, but there is an amazing amount of potential in the site to really make a difference throughout the region. Nakhweh has also launched a blood drive in order to link blood donors with those in need.

Kngine is an Egypt-based search engine which does things a little differently. Rather than yield search results based on rank, Kngine is a semantic search engine which tries to understand what you’re looking for by analyzing your search terms and how they relate to each other. Kngine has met with great success despite having some pretty stiff competition from other similar sites around the world, such as DuckDuckGo.

One of Istikana’s main competitors in the market is Shofha, which was the first site of its kind to launch in the Middle East. The site, available both in English and Arabic, offers a variety of full length films, both old and new, with most if not all of them Egyptian in origin. However, unlike Istikana, you do have to pay to download or stream the films. You can buy, rent or stream movies on Shofha, but in order for the site to work, you have to have Microsoft Silverlight installed.

Mustalahatak is a recent addition to the Arabic web, and if it receives enough contributions, it has the potential to become the leading authority in Arabic tech terminology. Any Arabic speaker knows how English technology or Internet related terms are simply Arabized. Rather than twist an English word to suit an Arabic accent, Mustalahatak (which literally means ‘your expressions;), uses crowd sourcing to translate these words into Arabic.

While the interface certainly leaves something to be desired, this can be overlooked (for now) because of the site’s potential. To contribute your own translations, you can either sign up for a free account, or connect the site to your Facebook account.

MawalyMawaly is a site that any Arabic music buff should have bookmarked. The site is pretty much your one-stop shop for everything you need to know about your favourite Arab singers. With Mawaly, You can stream thousands of songs, watch music videos, and keep up with the latest industry gossip and news. Mawaly is 100% legal, but in order to take advantage of the site’s features, you will have to sign up for a free account.

Available only in Arabic, our hope is that they will eventually launch an English version of the site, so non-Arabic speakers can get a taste of the latest in what Arabic pop music has to offer.

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How ‘The Family’ Controlled Tunisia

Ousted Tunisian President: Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali

Source: The Wall Street Journal

TUNIS—Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s deposed president, goes on trial Monday on charges of abusing state funds and drug trafficking, providing the first public accounting of the practices of a ruler whose autocratic style first triggered the Arab Spring revolution that has swept the Middle East.

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Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali
Over his 23 years in power, Mr. Ben Ali—who is being tried in absentia—and his relatives amassed a fortune in banks, telecommunications firms, real-estate companies and other businesses, giving them control over as much as one-third of Tunisia’s $44 billion economy, according to anticorruption group Transparency International. The family displayed its wealth by throwing extravagant parties and jet-setting among several mansions in Tunisia and overseas.

An examination by The Wall Street Journal of Tunisian criminal court papers, as well as interviews with dozens of businessmen, Ben Ali family members and politicians, reveals fresh accusations that the Ben Ali clan—known as “The Family” here—squeezed out some business rivals by exerting political pressure to win lucrative state contracts.

Mr. Ben Ali “always acted in what he considered the Tunisian people’s best interest,” Jean-Yves Le Borgne, a French lawyer for the former president said in a statement.

The Ben Ali family “had the power and the law on their side,” says Moncef Mzabi, a Tunisian businessman who says he was forced in 2008 to sell his 3% stake in Tunisia’s largest bank to one of Mr. Ben Ali’s nephews. “A request amounted to an order,” he says.

Some Relatives of Tunisia’s President Saw Their Fortunes Rise. Marouane Mabrouk, left, controls national cellphone interests. Belhassen Trabelsi emerged as a deal-maker. Sakher El Materi bought and sold government businesses. The nephew, who is in exile in Canada, couldn’t be reached for comment. Stock-market filings show that, by late 2008, the nephew had amassed a more than 10% interest in the bank.

To stop an entrepreneur who wanted to open a new French car dealership in Tunisia, the Ben Ali government blocked some of his cars at customs for months and slapped him with 17 tax inspections, according to people familiar with the matter, including the entrepreneur, Bassem Loukil. Another businessman, Mohamed El Boussaïri Bouebdelli, says he wanted to build a new pharmacy university in Tunisia, but in a meeting at one of Mr. Ben Ali’s palaces, Mr. Ben Ali said that the proceeds should be shared “50-50” with him. Mr. Bouebdelli says he abandoned the project.

At the time he was deposed in January, Mr. Ben Ali was having a $250 million Airbus long-haul aircraft fitted out in France as an official state plane with lavish interiors, according to Tunisian government officials.

Bloody protests that broke out in Tunisia in December, after a 26-year-old street vendor immolated himself to defy Mr. Ben Ali’s regime, were the catalyst for the revolutionary wave across North Africa and the Middle East. Mr. Ben Ali’s term ended on Jan. 14 when he was hurried into a plane by his wife, according to a person present, and fled to Saudi Arabia.

Tunisia’s former president is the first deposed leader to face trial in the wake of the uprisings, but others are likely to follow. Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is due to stand trial in August on charges of murder and corruption, which he denies.

Syrian Refugees in Turkish Camp Libya’s Rebels Run Out of Cash Fresh Call for Reform in Bahrain Rebels Try to Stave Off Gadhafi Forces The evidence that will be brought against Mr. Ben Ali during the trial includes stashes of cash, weapons and narcotics found at two of his mansions in Tunisia, according to officials at Tunisia’s justice ministry. In addition to abuse of state funds and drug trafficking, the former president will also face charges of illegal arms possession and illegal possession of precious artifacts, the officials said.

In his statement, Mr. Ben Ali’s lawyer in France, Mr. Le Borgne, didn’t address the specific allegations, and didn’t respond to emails seeking comment. In the statement, he said the trial is “a travesty of justice aimed only at creating a symbolic break with the past.”

Mr. Ben Ali’s trial will be presided over by judges from Tunis’s criminal courts and could take several months. Mr. Ben Ali, who remains in Saudi Arabia, won’t be present for the trial.

Tunisia’s Justice Ministry says it has sought Mr. Ben Ali’s extradition but hasn’t yet received a response. Officials in Saudi Arabia didn’t respond to requests for comment on extradition.

Officials from the Justice Ministry said Mr. Ben Ali will also face a future military trial for high treason, torture and murder, which can carry the death penalty in Tunisia, for having ordered police to shoot on protesters during the country’s recent uprisings. No date has been set for the military-court proceedings, and charges haven’t formally been brought.

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Public fury and claims of corruption helped fire street protests and a revolution in Tunisia that ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January and later spread to neighboring states and the Middle East.
Mr. Ben Ali is also the target of a probe in France. Last week, Paris prosecutors said they had launched an investigation into alleged money laundering by the former president and would examine whether Mr. Ben Ali owned assets in France acquired with state funds.

Before the probe was launched, Mr. Ben Ali’s lawyer said his client “owns no real estate, no money in bank accounts in France or in any other foreign country.”

The former president’s trial is part of Tunisia’s halting attempt to create a modern democracy following a month of protests. Despite the fall of their leader, many Tunisians are still taking to the streets daily to push for better job opportunities and social benefits. One Tunisian interim prime minister has already resigned in the face of popular protest.

Administrators who are freezing assets of more than 100 Ben Ali family members say they are uncovering an economic network so vast that untangling it too quickly could disrupt Tunisia further. Instead of closing down businesses owned by Mr. Ben Ali’s relatives, for example, authorities are in most cases allowing them to operate under court-appointed managers.

“No crime will be left unpunished,” Tunisia’s new interim Prime Minister Béji Caïd Essebsi said in a recent television speech. “But Tunisians must be patient.”

When he took power in 1987 through a bloodless coup, Mr. Ben Ali, a graduate of the U.S. Army Intelligence School in Fort Holabird, Md., inherited a country where the state controlled much of the economy, from agriculture to tourism and textiles. Privatization of these formerly state-controlled businesses formed the base of Mr. Ben Ali’s and his relatives’ future wealth.

Among the examples: Marouane Mabrouk, one of Mr. Ben Ali’s son-in-laws, won a public auction in 2000 to acquire a controlling stake in Le Moteur, a state company that distributes Mercedes cars in Tunisia. He also won a government license to set up Tunisia’s first broadband-cellphone network.

Mr. Mabrouk’s assets have been frozen by Tunisia’s interim authorities, pending judicial investigation into their origin. A person familiar with Mr. Mabrouk’s situation said the businessman, who still lives in Tunisia, was confident he would prove that all his investments had been lawful and that there is “no such thing as a crime of being a relative.”

The Ben Ali family expanded when the Tunisian president, who had divorced from his first wife, in 1992 married his long-time mistress Leila Trabelsi, the daughter of a shopkeeper and an employee of a Turkish bath in Tunis’s medina. Ms. Trabelsi’s 10 siblings are also considered part of “The Family.”

Soon after the nuptials, Belhassen Trabelsi, one of the first lady’s brothers, emerged as a deal-maker. In particular, Mr. Trabelsi bought acres of previously state-owned land along the Mediterranean coast and later sold property to developers, according to relatives and Tunisian government officials. With the money, he invested in hotels and launched a charter airline called Karthago.

Three years ago, Mr. Trabelsi turned to the financial world. Banque de Tunisie, one of the country’s largest private-sector companies, had made a name for itself throughout the Maghreb for its rigorous lending policy and independence from the Tunisian government.

In March 2008, the bank’s then-chairman disclosed that he was terminally ill and that he was working on a long-term strategic plan aimed at keeping the bank independent after he had passed on. Before the plan materialized, however, the bank got a sudden change in management. Alia Abdallah, wife of Mr. Ben Ali’s then-foreign-affairs minister, came to the bank’s headquarters in central Tunis and informed staff that she was the new boss, according to several executives who were there.

The bank’s board had no say, and three members who voiced their opposition were sidelined. A new board was formed, and its members included Mr. Trabelsi and two of his business associates. “They took control of the bank and there was no possible resistance,” says Ilyès Jouini, a board member who says he was pushed out.

Taoufik Baccar, head of Tunisia’s central bank at the time, says the decision to name Ms. Abdallah was Mr. Ben Ali’s. Mr. Trabelsi, who has fled to Canada where he has filed an asylum claim, couldn’t be reached. Ms. Abdallah couldn’t be reached for comment. Messages left on her husband’s cellphone and questions passed on to relatives, were unanswered.

The Ben Ali family widened again in 2004, when Nesrine Ben Ali, one of the presidential couple’s daughters, married Sakher El Materi.

Mr. El Materi, the son of a general who kept a tiger in his villa, saw his business wealth increase considerably after the nuptials. He first made money by investing in and reselling companies that were being privatized. In 2006, he used some of the proceeds to invest in the Tunisian unit of Swiss food group Nestlé SA, buying a 41% stake in the dairy company from state-controlled Banque Nationale Agricole SA for 3.6 million Tunisian dinars ($2.6 million at current rates), according to legal filings.

Nestlé says it didn’t get a say in the deal. “This transaction was conducted without our knowledge and in violation of our rights of first refusal,” said Nestlé spokesman Robin Tickle. A BNA official declined to comment. Mr. El Materi, who has left Tunisia, couldn’t be reached for comment.

About 18 months later, Mr. El Materi sold the Nestlé-Tunisie stake to Nestlé for 35 million Tunisian dinars, according to legal filings. Nestlé declined to comment on the purchase.

Since then, Mr. El Materi has founded a bank, bought a 25% stake in Tunisia’s second-largest telecom operator, started construction of a port for cruise ships, gotten elected to parliament and acquired a media group. “One may envy his status as son-in-law of the president, but no-one can denigrate him by implying that he only owes his success to his stepfather,” reads a biography of Mr. El Materi posted on his website.

In the mid-2000s, several changes were introduced in Tunisia’s constitution to allow Mr. Ben Ali to seek re-election and to grant him lifetime judicial immunity. Meanwhile, the wealth and influence of the Ben Ali family made it difficult for others do business in the country, according to a number of people who knew them.

In 2005 for example, Mr. Loukil, the car importer, began negotiating with French auto company PSA Peugeot Citroën SA to distribute cars in Tunisia. Mr. Loukil says Mr. Trabelsi wanted to join forces with him in the Citroën partnership, but Mr. Loukil refused. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Loukil says he faced 17 inspections from Tunisia’s tax authorities and his cars were blocked at customs for having 10 seats.

“There is no such thing as a ten-seat car,” Mr. Loukil said in a recent interview in Tunis.

Around the same time, Mr. Bouebdelli, head of a private foundation that runs several schools in Tunisia, went to the Carthage Palace to see Mr. Ben Ali and discuss his plans for a new pharmacy university. “Ok,” Mr. Ben Ali said, knocking on the table with the back of his hand, according to Mr. Bouebdelli. “But it’s 50-50.” Mr. Bouebdelli says he shelved the project.

Some of Mr. Ben Ali’s relatives got into trouble abroad. In 2007, a French investigating magistrate issued an international arrest warrant for Imed Trabelsi, one of Ms. Trabelsi’s nephews, on charges that he ordered the theft of a 54-foot yacht that belonged to a Lazard Frères investment banker.

Tunisia has denied the extradition to France of Mr Trabelsi, who has denied the charges. The case was dropped after Tunisian authorities returned the yacht to the banker.

“The yacht was in perfect shape,” the banker, Bruno Roger, said in an interview. “Only the dinghy was missing.”

In addition to Mr. Ben Ali’s coming trial, Tunisia’s interim government is now sifting through corruption accusations filed by Tunisians against Mr. Ben Ali and his relatives. Every weekday in central Tunis, hundreds of people queue in front of a bank building that hosts Tunisia’s special anticorruption committee. Among the recent complaints: a group of teachers claimed they had to pay bribes to get a job, and a group of shop owners claimed they had to pay commissions to get their goods through customs.

—Margaret Coker contributed to this article.

Write to David Gauthier-Villars at

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