MENA’s Digital News, Week #42

A weekly round up of the top headlines from the digital sector in MENA, covering startups, corporate and the public sector.

Investments & Acquisitions

SOS Credit, Casablanca-based fintech startup, has received an undisclosed investment from the SEAF Morocco Growth Fund (SMGF) http://bit.ly/2Y9hgFb

CODED, Coding education platform, raises $1.3M Pre-series A funding led by KISP, and joined by 500 startups, Sijam Ventures, Sirdab Lab, Sharq Capital and Abdullah Al-Zabin http://bit.ly/2GoYGmo 

Zid, Saudi-based eCommerce infrastructure provider, raises $2M led by Elm Ventures and joined by Arzan VC & MSA Capital http://bit.ly/32Mk9PJ

PushBots, Saas add-ons provider for startups, sells two SaaS API products to Apilayer from Austria for undisclosed amount http://bit.ly/2GqeQfh

Mubadala Ventures, joins investors in funding InCountry, US based data-residency startup, in a series A round of $15M https://tcrn.ch/2XVlwI9 

Sector News

Swvl, Egypt’s on-demand shuttle service, expands into Pakistan’s Lahore http://bit.ly/2Y9O05b

Huobi and CASHU, crypto-payment platforms, announce partnership and expansion to North Africa http://bit.ly/2GiRKHe 

Careem launches new service in Dubai in joint-venture with the Road and Transportation Authority (RTA) called ‘Hala’ which further integrates RTA Taxis into Careem’s app http://bit.ly/32ALZOJ (the partnership was announced in Dec, 2018)

Property Finder and the Dubai Land Department (DLD) sign a partnership to launch an official sales and rental price index for Dubai available through Data Finder platform, and Mo’asher http://bit.ly/2SyLqQR

Iflix, Mayalsian VOD service, halts operations in the Middle East. They had just closed a $50M investment round. https://tcrn.ch/2yfGV4h 

BIGO, Singapore holding company of IMO messenger and BIGO Live, to establish an office in Jordan (BIGO Live is a popular live streaming platform in SEA) http://bit.ly/2MdR2Ps 

SoftBank Vision Fund II has commitments from Apple, Goldman Sachs Group, and Kazakhstan’s government https://on.wsj.com/2YwXVSJ 

UAE x China

SenseTime, Chinese AI startup, to open an EMEA R&D center in Abu Dhabi http://bit.ly/2GvB0g5 

Jollypay, online payment arm of China’s Jollychic, receives license to operate in the UAE http://bit.ly/2M3lhse (Alipay, Alibaba’s payment service, has been operating in the UAE since 2018) 

Fang, China’s #1 real-estate platform, launches in the UAE http://bit.ly/2Y2blBO

Didi, China’s leading ride-hailing service, signed a joint-venture with Symphony Investors and other unnamed investors to establish a regional presence http://bit.ly/2OaulOP 

Neolix, Chinese autonomous vehicle company, signs agreement with Noon.com to trial their vehicles in Saudi Arabia and UAE http://bit.ly/2Z7C691 

Further Readings (Economic)

CooperFitch publishes salary guide for Saudi Arabia (AR) http://bit.ly/32MDzE0 

Lebanon issues New Commercial Law to improve ease-of-business, clauses are very positive for startups. Unofficial english translation is here: http://bit.ly/2Z2k5ZS and full draft (much longer) in official gazette here (AR) http://bit.ly/2SpE5D4 

Worldbank releases new report “Promoting a New Economy for the Middle East and North Africa” http://bit.ly/30SgP3L 

Investcorp, Bahrain-based “alternative investment manager”, announces a $142M for its Private Equity Fund for India http://bit.ly/2SEmUxR 

AJ Capital and Investment LLC (AJCI), Al Jallaf Family Office, acquires a 51% stake in Kenyan micro-insurer, Insurance For All (IFA) Ltd http://bit.ly/2OhHu8Q

Long Reads

Saudi authorities issue a “Fintech Access Guide” that includes: regulations and frameworks for companies that wish to setup or expand into the kingdom http://bit.ly/2MhJriI 

IBM’s Cost of Data Breach Report is out and MENA (UAE & Saudi as per their research) remain the second highest regions for average cost of breaches for entities at $5.97M! The average cost per breached record in MENA is $173. Full Report here: https://ibm.co/2YiJxx7 and a more interactive cost calculator can be found on their website here: https://ibm.co/2YahdZF 

Visa’s eCommerce in the UAE Report on the state and projections of eCommerce in the UAE. Market is estimated at $8.3B in 2018 and growing 23% annually, UAE consumers spend per transaction is one of the highest globally at $100+ per transaction http://bit.ly/2YqClyS

Global Innovation Index (GII) 2019 is out, MENA countries don’t rank very high globally, but are on par in some categories. Excerpt is 20 pages, Full report is 400+, pick your weekend read! both can be found here http://bit.ly/2M9QVnX 

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MENA’s Digital News, Week #22

A weekly round up of the top headlines from the digital sector in MENA, covering startups, corporate and the public sector.

Investments & Acquisitions

Mile, Dubai-based delivery and logistics management platform, raised seed funding (amount undisclosed) in round led by Riyad Taqnia Fund http://bit.ly/2SHnnTf 

Feel22, Lebanon’s beauty eCommerce platform, raises series A funding by Equitrust, Choueiri Group’s investment arm http://bit.ly/2S86FHE 

Golden Scent, Saudi perfume and scents ecommerce, raises an undisclosed funding round from existing investors http://bit.ly/2XhILNx

Nalbes, Kuwait’s local online fashion-centric, raises $2M in series B http://bit.ly/2E34HmI

LUNCH:ON, Dubai-based lunch subscription, closes $3M series A round, led by Wamda Capital, EATventure, Arzan VC and Abu Nayyan Holding (for expansion in UAE + to Saudi) http://bit.ly/2GtO1bB 

GoodsMart, Egypt-based grocery startup, secures funding from Algebra Ventures in pre-series B http://bit.ly/2GL548y 

Mad’a Investment Company, Saudi-based private equity & venture capital firm, invests in Dubai based Family Souk Ventures and its online retail subsidiary Babysouk.com http://bit.ly/2ImOqyy 

SEED Group, The Private Office of Sheikh bin Ahmed Al Maktoum, names INVAO as “exclusive” intl. blockchain investments partner http://bit.ly/2BDv5Di (this marks the second foray in crypto-assets publicized by SEED Group, scroll to last Wednesday for the first)

Haute Hijab, NY-based eCommerce startup co-founded by ex-MarkaVIP’s Ahmed Zedan, raises $2.3M in seed funding led by Cue Ball Capital with Ludlow Ventures, Sinai Ventures, Maveron, Muse Capital, AngelList and The Helm http://bit.ly/2EgXQYo 

Sector News (sectioned)

Aramex sells India unit to logistics startup Delhivery http://bit.ly/2GvKGZG

OSN officially launches low-cost Saudi offering El Farq http://bit.ly/2T5JYbo 

DMS announces the launch of its new digital ad performance product “DMS Perform http://bit.ly/2Sdfksn 


Skiplino, Bahraini digital queue service, expands into Kuwait http://bit.ly/2SNCISj 

Deliveroo launches in Kuwait with 900 restaurants http://bit.ly/2SUkLSh 

Hepsiburada, Turkey’s Amazon.com, launches it’s first foray into global markets with it’s first Arabic and English website editions http://bit.ly/2SGib24

If you lose me you know where to find me!

LEGO opens offices in Dubai to support expansion http://bit.ly/2X9bqUX 

All Egypt

Noon confirms expansion to Egypt http://bit.ly/2SMlh4A

TBWA expands to Egypt through partnership with AB Group http://bit.ly/2GtnVWd

Uber agrees to pay VAT in Egypt https://reut.rs/2Sd1uGa 

Financial Technology and Blockchain

Apple activates Apple Pay services in Saudi Arabia ahead of official launch http://bit.ly/2Gw2J1T 

STC Pay launches international remittance service in partnership with Western Union http://bit.ly/2T2TmwD 

Dubai Caesars Bluewaters will start using Lucid Pay blockchain wallet technology (already in use by Atlantis Hotel and Resort) http://bit.ly/2V5wIRy 

TradeAssets, the blockchain-powered e-marketplace for trade finance assets, is now live with 25 banks http://bit.ly/2TZLzNh 

Further Reading

Flexport, a software-focused freight forwarder, raises $1B in funding led by Softbank Vision Fund http://bit.ly/2E53Th9

Mubadala to launch a $400M fund for EU tech investments with Softbank as an investor http://bit.ly/2BFhT0F 

Dubai Ports World extends acquisition of P&O, the British freight firm, to include subsidiaries: P&O Ferries and P&O Ferrymasters http://bit.ly/2twNGMY

The re-birth of blockchain

I have along anticipated that the hype over blockchain would die off and we’ll get a more mature applicable understanding of how the technology can be used to simply make transactional, verification or contractual ledgers work more seamlessly.

Well it seems we’re finally getting there. Less over-hype and more business-as-usual.

From hotels using crypto-based wallets for on-premise transactions (above), blockhain powered trading (also above), cross border remittances powered by Ripple and custom clearance at ports (Week#15), as far as even developing a single use crypto-coin to settle cross border trade (Week#12), blockchain powered POS systems (Week #4), Islamic Digital Sukuk (Week#3), and all of Week#13‘s crypto-section.

While popular coins like Bitcoin and Ethereum, and Ripple have slipped in market valuation, that’s not a indication of it’s practical value as a technology.

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2018 Christmas Gift Guide

I used to publish this on facebook and other platforms in the past. I aggregate this list because buying local products or services is a gift to both those you receiving your love and making it. 

The rules to making the list are:

  • Locally made
  • Can be ordered online, through instagram (or any social media) or via an online shop
  • A plus if it supports a cause

The below post includes the following categories:

  1. Tried, tested and loved
  2. Locally (mostly Lebanese) made products or bundles
  3. In Print
  4. Gifts supporting refugees
  5. Fashionable pieces from around

Tried, tested and loved

Waste Studio

My passport bag and gym duffle from Waste have been with me for years. I adore their fresh designs and collabs; they have something for everyone from beanbags to cardholders

You shop them online here: https://waste.studio/shop/ 
Or find them in any of the following outlets: https://waste.studio/all-the-shops/ (across Lebanon and in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)

Green Glass Recycling Initiative (GGRIL)

This project started as a way of preserving the tradition of glass blowing and supporting the last few families that hold this tradition in Lebanon, as well as getting glass bottles out of landfills. I am cheating on this one as they don’t have an online store, but I love this project so much I’m giving it an exception (live with it!) 

They have lots of options, from lamps to decanters, bowls and shot glasses, all naturally colored glass and made with love. 

You can find their products at all the outlets listed on their facebook post
I personally recommend you check them out at Souk Al Tayeb or other exhibitions as they’ll have a bigger collection

Roadie Tuner

Is your friend or loved one a guitar, bass or string instrument lover? This is the PERFECT gift for them: a state of the art tuner! Best of all it’s designed and produced by the amazing Band Industries team in Lebanon. 

You can shop them online on their website: https://www.roadietuner.com/ or on amazon and it ships worldwide. 

Anghami Subscription

The gift of endless tunes. I have sent this to friends before and it’s often an instant win (knowing that my friend was sick of ads and their subscription was approaching end). This works as an add-on gift or stand alone, depends on your needs. 

Grandma would love the everlasting oldies on replay all day while she makes your favorite treats 😉 

You can buy the subscription through the app on iOS or Android or online https://www.anghami.com/giftland – and it plays on all your devices.

While you’re at it check out my favorite playlist “Saba7ak Moustaqel (Your Independent Morning)” صباحك مستقل and get inspired to support some amazing regional independent artists

Tania Saleh store: http://www.taniasaleh.com/store 
Mashrou3 Leila store: https://mashrouleila.tmstor.es/index.php 
Or the wonderful Mostakell مستقل (Supported by Eka3) website for more artists: https://mostakell.com/ 

MintBasil Market 

Local, organic, ethical, made with care and love. As our bodies and planet revolt against neglect and pollution, taking action in your day-to-day life becomes a way of life and it’s doesn’t have to be expensive and difficult. 

You can check out MinstBasil Market’s gift ideas here: 
https://mintbasilmarket.com/collections/gifts and browse the store for more.
They deliver everywhere in Lebanon for free


My favorite tried and tested (& I swear by their effectiveness) body-care brand is Beesline. Dry winters and cities are hell on the lips and I go through at least four of their Beesline Lip Care sticks every winter, nothing ever works as good as they do (trust me, I tired). And for the handy man or lady in your life, the Beeswax Ointment is a miracle worker on the worst chapped skin imaginable. Both fragrance-free. 

You can shop Beesline’s Products here: http://ae.shopbeesline.com/en/ as well as on MintBasil Market (above), as well as at most pharmacies in Lebanon


I adore their toddler and children collection, you just can’t go wrong with the witty Lebanese slang and modern-authentic twist on everything. They are perfect for friends living abroad or visiting for the holiday season, or simply for friends that love to play-it-up. 

I’m sure you know someone that can use some fresh cufflinks 😉

You can buy them on their website here: https://www.luanatic.com/ or their store on Camille Edde Street or other outlets listed on their instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/luanaticbeirut/ 

Mimo and Stitch

I bought the below pair of earrings for my bestie’s birthday in October via instagram. The earring were perfect and the service was great; overall love! Keep in mind that custom made (the below were) orders may need extra time, so order fast to get them done before Christmas or check what’s in stock for quicker purchases

You can order online via Mimo and Stitches instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/mimo_and_stitch/


Drop the Moleskin, these Lebanese made notebooks are just as epic! 


You can read more about Dingbats Green promise and buy products on their online shop in low quantities, bundles or bulk

(another Lebanese paper brand worth looking out for in stationery stores is PaperConcept, they don’t sell online but available in most outlets. I have been personally using their ~A6 soft-cover for a two years now)

Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls

Not local, but features regional rocking ladies and global role models as well. I bought this for a friend’s daughter a while back and would buy it again for ladies-in-the-making

You can order them online on Rebel Girls’ website, via Amazon, or most local book sellers (online or offline)

Locally made products or bundles


You know what they say: Comfort starts from the toes. Or something like that, but seriously, how can you have a bad day if you’re wearing comfortable bright and funny socks…

Orders can be placed via Instagram DMs or email (hello@sikasok.com) or phone +961 71 180 323 and their facebook page for inspo  

FAR Leather Goods

Handcrafted from premium leathers in Beirut. I was introduced to their work when a friend custom ordered the tote below with lots of pockets in all the right places; a bag lovers dream. The finishing, handy-work and all are of utmost perfection. 

View this post on Instagram

Another Nyaeve tote done 💪

A post shared by FAR Leathergoods (@farleathergoods) on

You can DM them on instagram for inquiries and orders, as well as checking their collections. 

These products are handmade, so my advice is to check out what’s ready made (and maybe get initials embossed for personalization) to ensure you get them before Christmas as custom-orders might be tough to deliver. 


Let’s get clean! “Natural handcrafted soaps, made from goat’s milk with essential oils” how could you go wrong with that? 


Orders can be made by calling 03927198 and check out their instagram page to find Christmas markets they’ll be exhibiting for the season 

Koullouna Box

This is the ideal gift to ship to family and friends abroad or those that are there for the holidays only, or someone who loves exploring new local flavors, a bundle of Lebanon in a box 

 You can order online on their website here: https://www.koullounabox.com/15-our-previous-boxes and you can order one box or a 3 month subscription, both would be great gift ideas

Cedars Box

Give the gift of life, whether it’s a Cedar sapling to plant or one adopted in your loved ones name and cared for by professionals. May your love grow as strong as it’s roots and live on beyond your years, like a Cedar in glory

You can buy or adopt Cedars on their website

In Print

Locale SD

I have been following Locale for a few month and it makes me want to plan a trip to Sudan sooner rather than later. A country with little cultural publicity and under-appreciated history (upper Egypt). 

Locale produces zines that are sold at exhibitions or through online orders that explore Sudanese culture and arts. 

You can check out what works they have available and order via instagram DMs 

Dots Planner

We all have that friend that still uses a physical planner, well here’s one that’s designed, developed and made in Egypt! It comes in 4 basic colors, and two formats: Weekly Planner and Monthly Planner

This would make a great corporate gift idea for teams as well. 

You can order on Dots’ website or reach out to them on the email provided for bigger orders

Baladi & Palestine on a Plate

The gift of food, but one that keeps giving. I follow Joudie Kalla on instagram and drool almost daily at the miracles that leave her kitchen, each crafted with drooling perfection

Baladi is Joudie’s second book, the first is Palestine on a Plate, so you can always bundle up! The book has already received multiple praises and ranked top book of 2018 in food by multiple esteemed publications. 

You can order the books on Joudi’s website or via Amazon
Also make sure to follow Joudi on instagram

Gifts Supporting Refugees

Christmas is the season of giving, the Syrian, Yemeni and ongoing Iraqi, Libyan crises are some of the worst in recent history. Knowing putting a smile on your loved ones’ faces draws a warm blanket or relief to a refugee makes the gift all more worth giving. 

Soup for Syria

More books, more food. “a humanitarian cookbook project whose profits will be donated to the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR to provide urgently needed food relief for Syrian refugees.”

You can order the book on Interlink Publishing’s store or Amazon. For bulk ordering or other forms of support refer to this page

Interlink is also the publisher of Baladi and other Levantine cuisine books like Mouneh and The Aleppo cookbook, so do take the time to go through other options as well. 

Refugee Made

The hype over charcoal activated products, scented soaps and candles can be made even better when supporting local producers in Iraq 

Feeling even more generous? Buy yourself and loved ones a gift of pure giving; whether a “Month of Educational Therapeutic Play for a Refugee Child” for $20 or a “Computer for Tech Student” for $600. There’s no limit to your generosity

You can check out the Refugee Made products on this page and the empowerment donations on this one

Choose Love

The most selfless gift of all, for those in London and New York you can physically visit Choose Love’s stores and buy for others what would help them survive. 

For the rest of us around the world, you can buy for refugees boots, food, blankets and even mental health support on the Choose Love’s online store. Scroll to the bottom for the “Digital Gift Voucher” option as well


Empowering refugees through mental health support and financial independence. There’s nothing more rewarding than being fashionably conscious, knowing your giving more than just money. 

You can buy Sabbara’s products on their website and follow their instagram to check out where they are exhibiting around the world

Fashionable Pieces From Around

L’omda Boga

Egyptian designer bags, that I’ve been personally in love with for a while now. Modern with authentic twist. 

Orders via instagram DMs


Emirati brand; traditional with a twist. The trend of conservative fashion is a beautiful and comfortable one! 

This brand was recommended by a friend (Thank you Farah!)
You buy their products directly on Ragmatazz’s website

Ryoko Handmade Leather Goods

Also a friend recommendation (until I realized I own a wooden ring from their older collections). Based out of Dubai, the lovely couple behind the brand are passionate about their craft and making your everyday experience with their products as seamless and functional. 

Make sure to check out their “Wooden” section for truly unique pieces.
You can buy their products on the Ryoko Bags website

Websites for local designers and products

Major eCommerce players are not the best place to find authentic gifts, but luckily the internet is budding with boutiques supporting local brands everywhere

Soukra (Tunisian Designers)

Fouxx.com (Arab Designers)

H-Shirts (Silk-printed Shirts)

Got more ideas? share them in the comments or on any social channels you see this post and I’ll add an update to the post in a week or so. 

Recommendations of: books by regional authors, local fashion or home-made designs, organically or ethically harvested goods, and re-purposed or recycled products, are welcome 

Have a blessed season <3