Category Archives: Middle East

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Saudi Arabia Declares Bitcoin Illegal

Saudi Arabia has banned virtual currency, including Bitcoin and all other cryptocurrencies. This is the decision of the standing committee for awareness on dealing in unauthorized securities activities in the foreign exchange market, which was formed by the Capital Market Authority, Ministry of Interior Membership, Ministry of Media, Ministry of Commerce and Investment, and the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA).

Other countries that have made Bitcoin illegal include Algeria, Bolivia, Nepal, Ecuador, Bangladesh and Cambodia.

The reason Saudi Arabia gives for banning Bitcoin is that it believes it is high risk since the government doesn’t control Bitcoin. Further, it says Bitcoin involves deceitful get rich quick schemes and warns people to be careful of sending money to anonymous people in the cryptocurrency world.

It is perhaps no surprise that Saudi Arabia has banned Bitcoin, since the kingdom is one of the last absolute monarchies still in existence. Bitcoin facilitates complete financial freedom for individuals through decentralization and cryptographic security – perhaps a freedom at odds with the ideals of an absolute monarchy.

Bitcoin hadn’t been particularly active on an institutional level in Saudi Arabia before this decision to ban it. There appears to be just one Bitcoin exchange in Saudi Arabia, BitOasis, but it hasn’t been able to serve customers since May 2018 due to banking issues.

This may not be the end of cryptocurrency in Saudi Arabia, however, as SAMA is working with the United Arab Emirates to produce a cryptocurrency that can be used for cross-border payments.

Additionally, since Bitcoin is decentralized and the kingdom has no control over the network, it would be virtually impossible to stop Saudi Arabians from using Bitcoin.

 

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Africa and the Middle East: Crypto and Blockchain News Roundup, 3rd to 9th August 2018

Africa and the Middle East

Welcome to our weekly roundup of all important blockchain and cryptocurrency news from around the world. Follow the latest developments in the cryptocurrency space continent by continent, country by country.

Africa

South Africa

Government pondering over crypto tax: The South African government is considering crypto taxation and regulations in the country including trading and operations.

The South African Revenue Service (SARS) is studying the current trends in cryptocurrency trading and is going to propose crypto regulations. The idea has been overall well-received by the crypto community as regulation is the need of the hour in the country.

Cryptocurrencies still remain popular in South Africa despite threat of scams: Cryptocurrency trading is still pumping out great numbers despite numerous incidents of scams and frauds in the country according to latest figures.

A recent poll suggested that more than 38% of South Africans wished they had invested in cryptocurrency back last year when the price increased several folds. But loose regulations mean that South Africans are enjoying unchecked growth in the sector but that can have consequences in the form of scams and frauds. That is why the South African Revenue Service is working on a new set of regulations for the industry.

Nigeria

Blockchain to help combat corruption in Nigeria: The Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) is working on a blockchain project to help eradicate corruption in its operations.

The NCS is working with ERP company Oracle’s Blockchain Cloud Service that will help the agency in the management of its own affairs in a corruption-free environment. The organization is aiming to increase its revenue collection by as much as 50% with the help of this new decentralized approach.

The technology will also reportedly help new businesses, local and international trade communities to get their affairs done in a transparent manner.

Sierra Leone and Republic of Congo

The curse of blood diamonds to be cured through blockchain: Blockchain technology by a new startup called Everledger Technology is reportedly being used to solve the chronic social issue of blood diamonds in Africa.

A blood diamond is a diamond that is mined in an illegal manner, often through bonded labor or semi-slavery status workers working in inhumane conditions. The United Nations classifies blood diamonds as illegal but the accountability process is weak due to the lack of technology and transparency in the system in addition to massive lobbying by the diamond companies.

Blockchain technology can help an industry that has been taken advantage of for centuries. Countries like Sierra Leone and Republic of Congo are the one of the worst when it comes to diamond mining.

Middle East

Israel

Blockchain entrepreneur looking to buy football club: Israeli blockchain entrepreneur Moshe Hogeg is looking to buy Beitar football club based in the Holy City of Jerusalem according to Ynet News. The man is reportedly offering USD 6.5 million to the club’s current owner Eli Tabib but Tabib has countered with an additional USD 1.1 million offer.

Hogeg made his fortune in a blockchain-based company called Sirin Labs back in 2013. He has also worked to get a blockchain phone on the market that cost USD 14,000. He also announced an ICO back in December that raised USD 157.8 million to develop a new blockchain technology phone.

Saudi Arabia

Government looking to move forward in blockchain era: After the first blockchain moot in Saudi Arabia, Translating Blockchain KSA 2018, the kingdom is appearing to incorporate new blockchain technologies in its set up and diminish dependence on oil.

Blockchain technology is seen as a pivotal technology that can alter the course of the future for the Arab country. Internet of things (IoT), blockchain and other aspects of new technology are now being given priority in the country. The capital city of Riyadh itself is looking to enhance and digitize its records for using DLT in partnership with computerized arrangements supplier Elm.

Turkey

First blockchain center established in Turkey: Turkey is seeing the development of the first blockchain center at university level. The Istanbul Blockchain and Innovation Center (Blockchain IST Center) was inaugurated at the Bahçeşehir University (BAU) this week.

It aims to be “the most important center of research and development and innovation in Turkey in which scientific studies and publications are made in blockchain technologies.”

Blockchain centers are becoming more and more common around the world and Turkey is also gearing up for a blockchain future.

 

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Can the Saudi Kingdom Move with the Times in a Blockchain World?

After Saudi Arabia’s first blockchain meeting, Translating Blockchain KSA 2018, the country is showing signs of incorporating new technologies to diminish the relevance of oil production.

Since 1938, the Kingdom has since become the world’s largest oil producer and exporter, controlling the world’s second-largest oil reserves with the sixth-largest gas reserves and is the only Arab country in the G20.

Also, the country still struggles with bridging the gap between history and modernity, having been projected into wealth by the discovery of oil before the Second World War. The kingdom has drawn criticism from advanced economies over various civil and social rights issues, which it intends to be based under religious laws under the absolute rule of the Saudi royal family.

This is sometimes a huge contradiction coming from a society which would rather present a more advanced and contemporary image. Saudi’s Vision 2030 is key to this change as outlined by Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz:

“The second pillar of our vision is our determination to become a global investment powerhouse. Our nation holds strong investment capabilities, which we will harness to stimulate our economy and diversify our revenues… Our country is rich in its natural resources. We are not dependent solely on oil for our energy needs… our real wealth lies in the ambition of our people and the potential of our younger generation.”

In keeping with the new Saudi direction and this new image as proposed by Saudi Vision 2030, blockchain has been seen as a pivotal technology. This has resulted in the Riyadh Municipality partnering with IMB this year to strengthen blockchain in order to streamline government services and transactions. Computerized reasoning, IoT, and blockchain are fast becoming a priority in a country which wants to advance its economy and its technological footprint, while also moving away from its reliance on oil by cultivating new business models.

Takreem El Tohamy General Manager, IBM MEA has indicated that the city of Riyadh, the Saudi capital, is already planning to incorporate DLT as a means to enhance and digitalize its current record keeping through working with computerized arrangements supplier Elm.

 

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Africa and the Middle East: Crypto and Blockchain News Roundup, 27th July to 2nd August 2018

Africa and the Middle East

Welcome to our weekly roundup of all important blockchain and cryptocurrency news from around the world. Follow the latest developments in the cryptocurrency space continent by continent, country by country.

Africa

Nigeria

Public stake in Bitcoin drops: Amid to a price slump in recent week, the Nigerian market’s share dropped significantly from NGN 1.733 billion to NGN 1.51 billion since the beginning of last month.

The drop in market share of Nigeria was due to a row of negative news and developments coming from the cryptocurrency circles in addition to the overall drop in price, according to an analyst at FXTM Lukman Otunuga. The maximum capitalization was back in December 2016 with NGN 2 billion invested in the cryptocurrency.

ICOs are becoming increasingly commonplace but investor confidence in them is taking serious hits. According to researchers, Hugo Benedetti and Leonard Kostovetsky:

“People often look at returns and say this is a great deal, but we teach in finance that return is a compensation for risk. These are stakes in platforms that have not yet been built, that have no participants yet. There’s a lot of risk. The majority of ICOs do fail.”

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwean exchange Golix’s token sale ends: Popular cryptocurrency exchange Golix announced that its token sale had ended and the numbers are finally coming in what seems to be an overall moderately successful public funding campaign.

Golix almost went out of business at one point due to regulatory hurdles but then it set its eyes on nearby countries and their markets and has been planning to expand aggressively ever since. The token generation event was a move to raise money through an ICO and help propel the exchange to markets outside the country.

However, the ambitious USD 32 million funding target was not met and Golix is yet to release official figures. But, analysts predict that the exchange raised around USD 10 to 12 million overall even though the central bank was against the raising of the capital by the exchange. It is yet to be seen if Golix can execute its plans to expand based on the performance of the ICO.

Middle East

Egypt

Egypt crypto coin launched: A new crypto token and ICO called Egypt CryptoCoin is launched in Egypt. It is a gold-backed decentralized payment network that is in its advanced stages of development. An ICO has been launched for the project but it is yet to be seen how practical and disruptive this new coin and its tech can be in the future.

One of the reasons why there is skepticism is that the Egyptian government and banks have historically cracked down on cryptocurrencies and declared cryptocurrencies illegal. The Egypt CryptoCoin is designed to be used by the vibrant Egyptian coin community but it is yet to be seen how the local government will react to it.

Israel

Largest cannabis market to accept cryptocurrencies: The largest cannabis market in Israel, Telegrass, has announced that it will start charging its customers for services with special discounts for Bitcoin payments.

Telegrass is a 100,000-strong community in Israel that promotes recreational use of marijuana. The new fees are meant to pay the Telegrass staff that have been working as volunteers until now. Bitcoin payments are discounted to encourage decentralized payment approach to an industry that is constantly under threat by the Israeli government regarding regulations.

United Arab Emirates

Blockchain court announced in Dubai: The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) has announced a partnership to jointly develop a Court of Blockchain for improving the judicial system, according to local news outlet Arabian Business.

The partnership has been signed with Smart Dubai and together, the two organizations will see how the technology can be used to aid verification of court judgments and cross-border enforcement.

According to Dr Aisha Butti Bin Bushr, the Director General of Smart Dubai:

“An invention of this calibre and potential requires an equally disruptive set of rules and an empowered institution to uphold them. This is where our partnership with DIFC Courts comes in.”

UAE continues to be the center of excellence in the region in blockchain development and adoption.

 

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Dubai Forms Task Force to Implement Blockchain Legal System Platform

The Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) courts have reported they will be collaborating with the government supported Smart Dubai initiative to form a task force with a goal to implement a blockchain platform that enhances the country’s legal system.

The project has been dubbed the ‘Court of Blockchain‘, with the government concluding that decentralization would benefit the legal system by streamlining the sector and easing the protocol for sharing information. It hopes to build the network itself on a blockchain, utilizing smart contracts for courts to share data. The need for such time-consuming tasks as document duplication will be eliminated, the DIFC said.

A press release regarding the task force cites the future of the two partners as handling public and private blockchain disputes, as well as verifying regulatory and contractual terms of smart contracts, utilizing their combined expertise.

The first steps for the partnership will include research and development to configure court data onto the blockchain, allowing real-time authentication for institutions in order to improve communication efficiency between actors across the legal system.

The DIFC is the primary entity that handles civil and commercial financial disputes relating to Dubai.

The Smart Dubai initiative

The task force is part of the country’s Smart Dubai initiative, a plan to push the emirate to the forefront of technological innovation. Pursuing the various use cases for blockchain is a big part of the research; the Smart Dubai Office’s director general, Dr Aisha Bint Butti Bin Bishr, said that it plans to run ”100% of applicable government transactions on blockchain by 2020“.

Dr Bishr acknowledged that such a strategy would require strong institutions to uphold such disruptive policies, noting that the partnership with DIFC courts would help support the changes. She described the completed blockchain legal platform as ”the world’s first disruptive court”, boldly stating this as a pursuit of the true power of blockchain technology.

The Smart Dubai initiative is set to position the country as a global technology leader by 2020.

Another aspect of the strategy includes Dubai’s tourism business to business blockchain marketplace Tourism 2.0, which connects businesses in the tourism sector with one another across the country.

 

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Africa and the Middle East: Crypto and Blockchain News Roundup, 20th to 26th July 2018

Africa and the Middle East

Welcome to our weekly roundup of all important blockchain and cryptocurrency news from around the world. Follow the latest developments in the cryptocurrency space continent by continent, country by country.

Africa

South Africa

Startup lets South Africans invest in crypto for as little as 70 Rands: SAFCOIN, a digital currency startup, is giving South Africans the opportunity to invest in their latest coin project with a minimum investment of 70 rands (SAR) per token valued at USD 18.6.

Neil Ferreira, the co-founder of the coin project said:

“We want to make cryptocurrency trading as accessible as possible, to as many Africans as possible. So it was crucial that our platform was easy to use, secure, and that the tokens were affordable. For the price of a takeaway meal, South Africans can be part of the growing cryptocurrency movement.”

However, South Africans are more interested in investing in Bitcoin rather than other ICOs and cryptocurrencies at the moment, according to latest surveys.

South African community launches own crypto: A small white community living in a remote town of South Africa of Orania and notorious for its closed population consisting of Afrikaners is considering launching its own cryptocurrency according to their Twitter, one of the few communication sources within the community.

The community living in remote area Northern Cape, a province in South Africa, includes just about 1,600 people and almost everybody knows each other. The Town’s Chamber of Commerce published a post on Twitter that it has decided to launch its own cryptocurrency which will present itself as an alternative option to the local Ora currency that may be subject to inflation in the future.

Now, the E-Ora as the new cryptocurrency is called is not an alternative to a cryptocurrency but just fiat currency in digital form under the security and transparency of a blockchain. Daniel James, the chairman of the Chamber of Commerce said:

“If the rand became so weak that one were to decide to walk away from it, one could perhaps couple (the E-Ora) to something else, such as a basket of currencies out there. Or something inside Orania. Something comparable that has value.”

The digital currency is currently being tested out but there are no concrete plans of its full adoption presented by the Chamber.

The largest city of South Africa gets a crypto ATM: The city of Johannesburg, the most populous one in South Africa, is now home to its first cryptocurrency ATM.

The ATM has been installed in the North Western Part of the city’s metro area and is compatible with all major coins. Customers can buy Bitcoin, Ethereum and Litecoin with fiat cash using this ATM. The ATM was installed by the Spar store manager, George Neophytou who said:

“I asked permission to use this location because I work here. What better place to set it up, so that if a user required help, I’d be on site to help.”

Cryptocurrencies are becoming popular in South Africa and more and more stores are now accepting direct cryptocurrency payments as well.

Kenya

DASH looking to expand to Kenya and East Africa: Dash Hub Africa, a project of Dash’s Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO) is looking to establish a Dash ecosystem in Kenya and work towards other areas of East Africa according to the project’s coordinator, Abduallah Adeleke.

The project aims at increased adoption of Dash around the world and Africa, in particular where businesses and consumers can use the cryptocurrency on a daily basis. Adeleke is also trying to form an enthusiastic Dash community in the region that will accept it.

Dash Hub Africa is also active in 17 other members including Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and Togo.

Ethiopia

Blockchain and crypto being used to help refugees: Ethiopia, one of the largest homes of refugees in the world (almost 750,000 from Somalia, Sudan and Eritrea) is trying to use blockchain to help organizations cater for the needs of the displaced people.

Humanitarian organizations are now finding new ways to use blockchain in providing support for African refugees in Ethiopia. The new uses include using the technology as a means of identification that could help solve the issue of refugees being stranded between borders.

Middle East

Israel

Bank of Israel studying crypto adoption: The Central Bank of Israel’s Deputy Governor Dr Bodo-Trachtenberg has said that the bank is optimistic about adopting cryptocurrencies in the central bank’s operations, according to Finance Magnates.

The move comes after increasing tussles between financial institutions and cryptocurrency circles due to lack of regulations had created an environment of hostility in the country. The words of the deputy governor who spoke at the Bit2C Coin Conference in the country have largely been received positively by the crypto community.

United Arab Emirates

Crypto regulations discussed in judicial review: Dubai’s top Judicial Institute in its annual judicial review has addressed the rise of cryptocurrencies and regulations in the country.

According to the ‘Emirates Law, Business & Practice’, the magazine in question, it will dedicate some space for the future of cryptocurrencies in the country and discuss the necessary regulations that need to be passed by the government from a legal perspective.

 

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Iran to Launch National Cryptocurrency Within 3 Months

The Deputy of Investment and Management Affairs of the Iranian Directorate for Scientific and Technological Affairs in the President’s Office, Alireza Diliri, has indicated that developing a national cryptocurrency is on the agenda. Government-run IRNA news network said a national cryptocurrency would be launched in the next three months after removing shortcomings, and a national standard cryptographic key had already been developed.

This report from the IRNA suggests Iran is developing this technology from the ground up, using its own new cryptographic standard, instead of using pre-existing cryptographic algorithms. This is perhaps not surprising since the United State’s National Security Association (NSA) developed the SHA-256 cryptographic algorithm used by Bitcoin. Iran would want to use encryption that the US would not understand since this cryptocurrency is being made in response to heavy international sanctions that are progressively going into effect and will be at full force by November 2018, following the US decision to dissolve the Iran nuclear pact.

Alireza Diliri says, “We are trying to prepare the grounds to use a domestic digital currency in the country. This currency would facilitate the transfer of money (to and from) anywhere in the world. Besides, it can help us at the time of sanctions.”

He said a large number of Iranian companies were working together to develop the cryptocurrency, and the Central Bank of Iran is helping in the process.

Iran now joins a small but growing list of nations that are launching state-backed cryptocurrencies, including the Bahamas and Venezuela. The details of Iran’s national cryptocurrency have not been disclosed. Iran has banned Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to prevent money from leaving the country during this time of rapid inflation.

Once the national cryptocurrency of Iran is launched, it will have tremendous potential for growth. It could be a safe haven for money, since the fiat currency of Iran, the rial (IRR), is rapidly devaluing, and it will be the only cryptocurrency allowed in Iran. However, how safe this cryptocurrency is for storing money depends on the parameters of the cryptocurrency, since Iran could code it so it can be printed like fiat, and can also code it so they can seize it out of accounts at will. It will likely have to be a centralized cryptocurrency for the Central Bank of Iran to give it approval.

The main point of this cryptocurrency is to send money across borders once international sanctions are fully in effect, since Iran will be banned from the international financial network. They will need something cryptographically-secure like a cryptocurrency to transact money securely.

 

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Israeli Arrested for Attempted $50M Crypto Sale of ‘Pegasus’ Spy Software

An Israeli man was indicted by the Tel-Aviv District Court on 5 July 2018 for trying to sell top-secret spy software called Pegasus built for Israel’s government. The extremely sophisticated software gained notoriety for being able to hack into Apple iPhones.

The man worked as a senior programmer for NSO Group, which gave him access to all the company’s source code and tools. He tried to sell Pegasus for USD 50 million of cryptocurrencies on the darknet, wanting the deal to be separated into various cryptocurrencies to obfuscate his trail.

The Israeli was fired by NSO Group in February 2018 for connecting an external drive to company computers, after searching on the internet how to connect an external drive without being detected. He downloaded hundreds of millions of dollars worth of software and then hid the external drive under his bed.

Sometime later, he went to the darknet to find a buyer for Pegasus. The person contacted became suspicious of the deal and contacted NSO Group, after which point the contact cooperated to get the Israeli man arrested. The seller man was charged with theft, trying to damage property in a way that would hurt national security, marketing defense material without a permit, and interfering with computer material.

The Israeli man is being kept in custody throughout the court proceedings since he is considered a danger to national security. According to NSO Group, no top-secret data was leaked due to this incident.

The company said, “The company was able to quickly identify the breach, collect evidence, identify the perpetrator, and share its findings with the relevant authorities. The authorities, in turn, responded quickly and effectively, so that within a very short time the former employee was arrested and the stolen property was secured. No [intellectual property] or company materials have been shared with any 3rd party or otherwise leaked, and no customer data or information was compromised.”

 

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Czech Investor Puts $100M Into Israeli Blockchain Startups

Czech investment banking firm Benson Oak has launched Benson Oak Ventures and will be investing in Israeli blockchain startups. So far, it has raised USD 25 million but is expected to raise and invest USD 100 million.

Benson Oak has raised USD 5 billion worldwide and has always had a strong focus on technology startups. Benson Oak believes that blockchain technology is the future. Its website says, “The emerging Web 3.0 landscape, undergirded by blockchain infrastructure, is engendering a new wave of disruption and will unleash the platforms and brands of the future. We seek to invest in these platforms and brands of the future, supporting products and marketplaces that have stickiness built in and can scale rapidly with digital marketing efforts without operational growth bottlenecks.”

The website further states that Benson Oak Ventures will use its experience to develop a strong brand and market it, while connecting blockchain and decentralized products with consumers.

Managing Partner Robert Cohen says, “I believe that there are great entrepreneurs in Israel who are leading the platforms of the future, with creating and disruptive use of blockchain technologies. I moved to Israel six years ago, and with a passion to build companies, I have established Benson Oak Ventures as a new platform to provide financial and operational capital to the best entrepreneurs in Israel and around the world.”

This news is another sign that institutional investors are jumping into the cryptocurrency markets, which could open up a tremendous amount of capital, spurring rapid blockchain technology development and a cryptocurrency rally. Recently, Galaxy Digital said it was investing hundreds of millions of dollars into blockchain startups, and Andreessen Horowitz said it was investing USD 300 million into blockchain and crypto companies.

 

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Major Israeli Exchange to Pass on Client Crypto Details to Tax Office

A local Israeli cryptocurrency exchange has agreed to pass on client information to tax authorities as part of a government drive to tighten cryptocurrency regulations, according to local Israeli news source Calcalist.

Major Israeli crypto exchange Bits of Gold will pass on details relating to large cryptocurrency deposits over $50,000 total in the last 12 months. The move by the government is reported to be aimed at reducing money laundering through crypto exchanges

Israel’s Prohibition on Money Laundering Law has required withdrawals and deposits over NIS 50,00 ($14,700 at time of press) be reported to the country’s Money Laundering and Terror Financing Prohibition Authority (IMPA) with verification required from investors regarding the legality of deposits made. Taxation on cryptocurrency trading profits has recently been set at 25% with exchanges paying 17% VAT

Privacy laws are clearly being tightened as in the past courts have often backed citizen’s rights to privacy in financial matters concerning tax details. Bits of Gold had recently been audited although it’s been reported that the tax authorities were seeking information regarding large investors who had used the company.

Authorities still regard digital currencies with a degree of suspicion, despite better consumer protection and increasing global regulation of the space. Earlier this year Israel’s finance minister Moshe Kahlon signed a draft legislation which has been introduced to combat cryptocurrency money laundering in the country. The money laundering legislation, which is an addition to an existing law, will now include digital currency for the first time.

There have been frequent cases with many of Israel’s banks refusing to accept cryptocurrency-related money, and on two occasions banks were forced to accept the money after being taken to court. Earlier in the year Israel’s largest bank, Bank Hapoalim, was found to have unlawfully blocked a money transfer of USD 195,00 coming from a European cryptocurrency exchange platform, citing unsubstantiated claims of suspected money laundering and terrorist financing.

An IMPA draft bill from May of this year has stipulated that, if passed, financial entities will be required to keep 5 years-worth of trading records on each client including their IP addresses, according to ClavinAyre.com

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