While the most developed industrial regions of the world see Bitcoin in a toddler stage, the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa) has been mostly in the local meet-up discussion stage. These Bitcoin awareness meetings attract 60-80 people on a weekly basis. A few stores do accept Bitcoin directly but, over the past year, a growing number of Bitcoin exchange platforms, payment gateways, e-wallets are entering this market, making it easier to access. In other words, Bitcoin’s baby steps are getting bigger and more confident, especially with local entrepreneurs. Many local currency experts and Bitcoin businessmen have weighed in on it’s status when speaking to Wamda.com
“We see some activity in Kuwait, but it’s still low. We’re also starting to see a growing interest in KSA, Tunisia, and Egypt, but the main markets in the region so far are still Jordan, Lebanon, and Dubai,” says David El Achkar, founder of payment gateway YellowPay in Lebanon. “Currently, if you have money and you want to send it or receive it, your options are limited, costly, ineffective, and might need several days. But as soon as you start using Bitcoin, you’ll realize that it’s powerful and very simple to use. With just an app on your mobile phone, you can send 1 cent or 10,000 USD in one single click to anywhere in the world free of charge.”
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An often ignored benefit of Bitcoin is the ability to bring banking to the unbanked, and MENA region consumers easily fall into this majority of the global population. Combined with the fact that 9 out of 10 people do have a smartphone in this region makes Bitcoin a great long-term solution to future economic empowerment through this technology. Fast exchange of funds has many benefits.
“85% of transactions opt for cash-on-delivery, which constitutes a big problem for merchants as well as consumers. Bitcoin can be a solution,” says Fouad Jeryes, co-founder of the Bitcoin payment service CashBasha.
One company does see the open MENA region market as a reason to invest. Australian Bitcoin exchange platform iGot is looking to expand here, after many new acquisitions in Europe.
“The economy of the UAE is very active and the UAE is a gateway between emerging and developed markets. Moreover, the Emirati government has a clear vision, and we believe that the UAE will be a hub for innovation in the near future. That’s why we decided to expand in the region,”Vignesh Raja, head of strategy development as the Bitcoin exchange platform iGot in Dubai.
Local experts feel that Bitcoin is very new but can become a major player within the next couple of years, once it’s advantages are realized, and word spreads. Remittances are a big market in the region, and they feel that success stories like the M-Pesa prove that consumers will be very open to saving money over establishment players like Western Union.
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