F.B.I. Releases Newly Declassified Document Related to Sept. 11 Attacks

Families of the Sept. 11 victims have long pushed for a deeper investigation into any possible role the Saudi government had in the attacks, but the document offered no conclusive evidence.

#al-qaeda, #biden-joseph-r-jr, #classified-information-and-state-secrets, #los-angeles-calif, #saudi-arabia, #september-11-2001, #terrorism, #world-trade-center-manhattan-ny

Driven by live streams, consumer spending in social apps to hit $17.2B in 2025

The live streaming boom is driving a significant uptick in the creator economy, as a new forecast estimates consumers will spend $6.78 billion in social apps in 2021. That figure will grow to $17.2 billion annually by 2025, according to data from mobile data firm App Annie, which notes the upward trend represents a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 29%. By that point, the lifetime total spend in social apps will reach $78 billion, the firm reports.

Image Credits: App Annie

Initially, much of the livestream economy was based on one-off purchases like sticker packs, but today, consumers are gifting content creators directly during their live streams. Some of these donations can be incredibly high, at times. Twitch streamer ExoticChaotic was gifted $75,000 during a live session on Fortnite, which was one of the largest ever donations on the game streaming social network. Meanwhile, App Annie notes another platform, Bigo Live, is enabling broadcasters to earn up to $24,000 per month through their live streams.

Apps that offer live streaming as a prominent feature are also those that are driving the majority of today’s social app spending, the report says. In the first half of this year, $3 out every $4 spend in the top 25 social apps came from apps that offered live streams, for example.

Image Credits: App Annie

During the first half of 2021, the U.S. become the top market for consumer spending inside social apps with 1.7x the spend of the next largest market, Japan, and representing 30% of the market by spend. China, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea followed to round out the top 5.

Image Credits: App Annie

While both creators and the platforms are financially benefitting from the live streaming economy, the platforms are benefitting in other ways beyond their commissions on in-app purchases. Live streams are helping to drive demand for these social apps and they help to boost other key engagement metrics, like time spent in app.

One top app that’s significantly gaining here is TikTok.

Last year, TikTok surpassed YouTube in the U.S. and the U.K. in terms of the average monthly time spent per user. It often continues to lead in the former market, and more decisively leads in the latter.

Image Credits: App Annie

Image Credits: App Annie

In other markets, like South Korea and Japan, TikTok is making strides, but YouTube still leads by a wide margin. (In South Korea, YouTube leads by 2.5x, in fact.)

Image Credits: App Annie

Beyond just TikTok, consumers spent 740 billion hours in social apps in the first half of the year, which is equal to 44% of the time spent on mobile globally. Time spent in these apps has continued to trend upwards over the years, with growth that’s up 30% in the first half of 2021 compared to the same period in 2018.

Today, the apps that enable live streaming are outpacing those that focus on chat, photo or video. This is why companies like Instagram are now announcing dramatic shifts in focus, like how they’re “no longer a photo sharing app.” They know they need to more fully shift to video or they will be left behind.

The total time spent in the top five social apps that have an emphasis on live streaming are now set to surpass half a trillion hours on Android phones alone this year, not including China. That’s a three-year CAGR of 25% versus just 15% for apps in the Chat and Photo & Video categories, App Annie noted.

Image Credits: App Annie

Thanks to growth in India, the Asia-Pacific region now accounts for 60% of the time spent in social apps. As India’s growth in this area increased over the past 3.5 years, it shrunk the gap between itself and China from 115% in 2018 to just 7% in the first half of this year.

Social app downloads are also continuing to grow, due to the growth in live streaming.

To date, consumers have downloaded social apps 74 billion times and that demand remains strong, with 4.7 billion downloads in the first half of 2021 alone — up 50% year-over-year. In the first half of the year, Asia was the largest region region for social app downloads, accounting for 60% of the market.

This is largely due to India, the top market by a factor of 5x, which surpassed the U.S. back in 2018. India is followed by the U.S., Indonesia, Brazil and China, in terms of downloads.

Image Credits: App Annie

The shift towards live streaming and video has also impacted what sort of apps consumers are interested in downloading, not just the number of downloads.

A chart that show the top global apps from 2012 to the present highlights Facebook’s slipping grip. While its apps (Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and Facebook) have dominated the top spots over the years in various positions, TikTok popped into the number one position last year, and continues to maintain that ranking in 2021.

Further down the chart, other apps that aid in video editing have also overtaken others that had been more focused on photos or chat.

Image Credits: App Annie

Video apps like YouTube (#1), TikTok (#2) Tencent Video (#4), Bigo Live (#5), Twitch (#6), and others also now rank at the top of the global charts by consumer spending in the first half of 2021.

But YouTube (#1) still dominates in time spent compared with TikTok (#5), and others from Facebook — the company holds the next three spots for Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, respectively.

This could explain why TikTok is now exploring the idea of allowing users to upload even longer videos, by increasing the limit from 3 minutes to 5, for instance.

In addition, because of live streaming’s ability to drive growth in terms of time spent, it’s also likely the reason why TikTok has been heavily investing in new features for its TikTok LIVE platform, including things like events, support for co-hosts, Q&As and more, and why it made the “LIVE” button a more prominent feature in its app and user experience.

App Annie’s report also digs into the impact live streaming has had on specific platforms, like Twitch and Bigo Live, the former which doubled its monthly active user base from the pre-pandemic era, and the latter which saw $314.2 million in consumer spend during H1 2021.

“The ability of social media users to communicate with each other using live video – or watch others’ live broadcasts – has not only maintained the growth of a social media app market, but contributed to its exponential growth in engagement metrics like time spent, that might otherwise have saturated some time ago,” wrote App Annie’s Head of Insights, Lexi Sydow, when announcing the new report.

The full report is available here.

#android, #app-annie, #apps, #asia, #asia-pacific, #bigo-live, #brazil, #china, #computing, #facebook, #head, #india, #indonesia, #instagram, #japan, #media, #messenger, #mobile, #mobile-applications, #mobile-software, #operating-systems, #saudi-arabia, #social, #social-media, #software, #south-korea, #tiktok, #twitch, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #video, #video-hosting, #youtube

Biden Moves to Declassify Some Documents Related to Sept. 11

In an executive order, the president instructed Attorney General Merrick B. Garland to publicly release the declassified documents over the next six months.

#al-qaeda, #barr-william-p, #biden-joseph-r-jr, #classified-information-and-state-secrets, #federal-bureau-of-investigation, #garland-merrick-b, #justice-department, #saudi-arabia, #september-11-2001, #terrorism, #trump-donald-j

Egyptian ride-sharing company Swvl plans to go public in a $1.5B SPAC merger

Cairo and Dubai-based ride-sharing company Swvl plans to go public in a merger with special purpose acquisition company Queen’s Gambit Growth Capital, Swvl said Tuesday. The deal will see Swvl valued at roughly $1.5 billion.

Swvl was founded by Mostafa Kandil, Mahmoud Nouh and Ahmed Sabbah in 2017. The trio started the company as a bus-hailing service in Egypt and other ride-sharing services in emerging markets with fragmented public transportation.

Its services, mainly bus-hailing, enables users to make intra-state journeys by booking seats on buses running a fixed route. This is pocket-friendly for residents in these markets compared to single-rider options and helps reduce emissions (Swvl claims it has prevented over 240 million pounds of carbon emission since inception).

After its Egypt launch, Swvl expanded to Kenya, Pakistan, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The company also moved its headquarters to Dubai as part of its strategy to become a global company.

Swvl offerings have expanded beyond bus-hailing services. Now, the company offers inter-city rides, car ride-sharing, and corporate services across the 10 cities it operates in across Africa and the Middle East.

Queen’s Gambit, the women-led SPAC in charge of the deal, raised $300 million in January and added $45 million via an underwriters’ overallotment option focusing on startups in clean energy, healthcare and mobility sectors.

The statement also mentions a group of investors — Agility, Luxor Capital and Zain Group — which will contribute $100 million through a private investment in public equity, or PIPE.

Per Crunchbase, Swvl has raised over $170 million. From an African perspective, Swvl features as one of the most venture-backed startups on the continent. The company has been touted to reach unicorn status in the past and will when this SPAC merger is completed.

The company will aptly trade under the ticker SWVL. The listing will make it the first Egyptian startup to go public outside Egypt and the second to go public after Fawry. It will also make the mobility company the largest African unicorn debut on any U.S.-listed exchange, beating Jumia’s debut of $1.1 billion on the NYSE. Swvl joins music-streaming platform Anghami as the second startup in the region to go public via a SPAC merger in the Middle East.

Swvl had annual gross revenue of $26 million in 2020, according to the statement, and the company expects its annual gross revenue to increase to $79 million this year and $1 billion by 2025 after expanding to 20 countries across five continents.

On why Queen’s Gambit picked Swvl for this deal, Victoria Grace, founder and CEO, said in a statement that the company fit the profile of what she was looking for: “a disruptive platform that solves complex challenges and empowers underserved populations.”

“Having established a leadership position in key emerging markets, we believe Swvl is ready to capitalize on a truly global market opportunity,” she added.

In May, TechCrunch wrote that SPACs didn’t target African startups for several reasons, including a lack of global appeal and private capital and market satisfaction. Judging by Grace’s comments, Swvl has that global appeal and is ready to venture into the public market despite being in operation for just four years.

#africa, #cairo, #crunchbase, #egypt, #finance, #funding, #jordan, #kenya, #middle-east, #pakistan, #private-equity, #saudi-arabia, #special-purpose-acquisition-company, #startups, #swvl, #tc, #transportation

A Foreign Agent in Trump’s Inner Circle?

Even amid a glut of scandals, Tom Barrack’s arrest is a big deal.

#barrack-thomas-j-jr, #foreign-investments, #mohammed-bin-salman-1985, #nahyan-mohamed-bin-zayed-al-1961, #presidential-election-of-2016, #russian-interference-in-2016-us-elections-and-ties-to-trump-associates, #saudi-arabia, #trump-donald-j, #united-arab-emirates, #united-states-international-relations, #united-states-politics-and-government

Thomas Barrack, Trump Fund-Raiser, Is Indicted on Lobbying Charge

Mr. Barrack, the chairman of Donald Trump’s inaugural committee, was accused of failing to register as a lobbyist for the United Arab Emirates, obstruction of justice and lying to investigators.

#barrack-thomas-j-jr, #campaign-finance, #colony-capital-llc, #corruption-institutional, #foreign-agents-registration-act, #justice-department, #lobbying-and-lobbyists, #presidential-election-of-2016, #saudi-arabia, #trump-donald-j, #united-arab-emirates, #united-states-international-relations, #united-states-politics-and-government

OPEC Plus Agrees on Oil Production Increase, Ending Dispute With U.A.E.

The pact clears the way for the group to pump more oil, helping ease a potential supply squeeze as global economies revive from pandemic lockdowns.

#global-warming, #oil-petroleum-and-gasoline, #organization-of-the-petroleum-exporting-countries, #production, #saudi-arabia, #united-arab-emirates

OPEC and Allies Hold the Cards as Prices and Demand Rise

In the short run, trends in the oil market may be favoring large producers like Saudi Arabia and Russia.

#abdulaziz-bin-salman-prince-of-saudi-arabia, #alternative-and-renewable-energy, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #oil-petroleum-and-gasoline, #organization-of-the-petroleum-exporting-countries, #prices-fares-fees-and-rates, #saudi-arabia, #shortages

Royal Drama Unfolds in Court, but a Prince at the Center of It Is Absent

Two prominent figures are on trial in Jordan accused of plotting to destabilize the kingdom. One is an adviser to Saudi Arabia’s leader, and the Saudis have been trying to disrupt the trial.

#abdullah-ii-king-of-jordan, #awadallah-bassem, #biden-joseph-r-jr, #bin-zaid-sharif-hassan, #espionage-and-intelligence-services, #hamzah-bin-hussein-prince-of-jordan, #international-relations, #jordan, #middle-east, #political-prisoners, #politics-and-government, #royal-families, #saudi-arabia, #treason-and-sedition, #trump-donald-j, #united-states

Saudi Operatives Who Killed Khashoggi Received Paramilitary Training in U.S.

The training, approved by the State Department, underscores the perils of military partnerships with repressive governments.

#assassinations-and-attempted-assassinations, #cerberus-capital-management, #espionage-and-intelligence-services, #human-rights-and-human-rights-violations, #khashoggi-jamal, #mercenaries-and-private-military-contractors, #mohammed-bin-nayef, #mohammed-bin-salman-1985, #saudi-arabia, #trump-donald-j, #united-states-international-relations, #united-states-politics-and-government, #washington-post

Mobile game spending hits record $1.7B per week in Q1 2021, up 40% from pre-pandemic levels

The Covid-19 pandemic drove increased demand for mobile gaming, as consumers under lockdowns looked to online sources of entertainment, including games. But even as Covid-19 restrictions are easing up, the demand for mobile gaming isn’t slowing. According to a new report from mobile data and analytics provider App Annie in collaboration with IDC, users worldwide downloaded 30% more games in the first quarter of 2021 than in the fourth quarter of 2019, and spent a record-breaking $1.7 billion per week in mobile games in Q1 2021.

That figure is up 40% from pre-pandemic levels, the report noted.

Image Credits: App Annie

The U.S. and Germany led other markets in terms of growth in mobile game spending year-over-year as of Q1 2021 in the North American and Western European markets, respectively. Saudi Arabia and Turkey led the growth in the rest of the world, outside the Asia-Pacific region. The latter made up around half of the mobile game spend in the quarter, App Annie said.

 

The growth in mobile gaming, in part accelerated by the pandemic, also sees mobile further outpacing other forms of digital games consumption. This year, mobile gaming will increased its global lead over PC and Mac gaming to 2.9x and will extend its lead over home games consoles to 3.1x.

Image Credits: App Annie

However, this change comes at a time when the mobile and console market is continuing to merge, App Annie notes, as more mobile devices are capable of offering console-like graphics and gameplay experiences, including those with cross-platform capabilities and social gaming features.

Games with real-time online features tend to dominate the Top Grossing charts on the app stores, including things like player-vs-player and cross-play features. For example, the top grossing mobile game worldwide on iOS and Google Play in Q1 2021 was Roblox. This was followed by Genshin Impact, which just won an Apple Design Award during the Worldwide Developer Conference for its visual experience.

Image Credits: App Annie

The report also analyzed the ad market around gaming and the growth of mobile companion apps for game consoles, including My Nintendo, Xbox Game Pass, PlayStation App, Steam, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox apps. Downloads for these apps peaked under lockdowns in April 2020 in the U.S., but continue to see stronger downloads than pre-pandemic.

Image Credits: App Annie

On the advertising front, App Annie says user sentiment towards in-game mobile ads improved in Q3 2020 compared with Q3 2019, but rewarded video ads and playable ads were preferred in the U.S.

#app-store, #apps, #asia-pacific, #gaming, #germany, #google-play, #mobile-devices, #mobile-game, #nintendo, #nintendo-switch, #roblox, #saudi-arabia, #super-mario-run, #tc, #turkey, #united-states, #xbox

Nexford University lands $10.8M pre-Series A to scale its flexible remote learning platform

Two profound problems face the higher education sector globally — affordability and relevance. Whether you live in Africa, Europe, or the U.S., a major reason why people don’t go to university or college or even drop out because they cannot afford tuition fees. On the other hand, relevance shows the huge gap between what traditional universities teach and what global employers actually look for. It’s not a secret that universities focus a bit too much on theory.

Over the past few years, there has been the emergence of a number of alternative credential providers trying to provide students with the necessary skills to earn and make a living. Nexford University is one of such platforms, and today, it has a closed $10.8 million pre-Series A funding round.

Dubai-based VC Global Ventures led the new round. Other investors include Future Africa’s new thematic fund (focused on education), angel investors, and family offices. Unnamed VCs from 10 countries, including the U.S., U.K., France, Dubai, Switzerland, Qatar, Nigeria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, also took part.

To date, Nexford has raised $15.3 million, following the first tranche of $4.5 million in seed funding raised two years ago.

Fadl Al Tarzi launched Nexford University in 2019. The tech-enabled university is filling affordability and relevance gaps by providing access to quality and affordable education.

“That way, you get the best of both worlds,” CEO Al Tarzi said to TechCrunch. “You get practical skills that you can put to work immediately or for your future career while actively keeping a job. So the whole experience is designed as a learning as a service model.”

Nexford Unversity lets students study at their own pace. Once they apply and get admitted into either a degree program or a course program, they choose how fast or slow they want the program to be.

Nexford University

Fadl Al Tarzi (CEO, Nexford University)

The CEO says whatever students learn on the platform is directly applicable to their jobs. Currently, Nexford offers undergraduate degrees in business administration; 360° marketing; AI & automation; building a tech startup; business analytics; business in emerging markets; digital transformation; e-commerce; and product management. Its graduate degrees are business administration, advanced AI, e-commerce, hyperconnectivity, sustainability, and world business.

Nexford’s tuition structure is very different from traditional universities because it’s modelled monthly. Its accredited degrees cost between $3,000 to $4,000 paid in monthly instalments. In Nigeria, for instance, an MBA costs about $160 a month, while a bachelor degree costs $80 a month. But the catch for the monthly instalment structure means the faster a learner graduates, the less they pay.

What’s it like learning with Nexford University?

Nexford University doesn’t offer standardized and theoretical tests or assignments as most traditional universities do. Al Tarzi says the company employs what he calls a competency-based education model where students prove mastery by working on practical projects.

For instance, a student working on an accounting course will most likely need to create a P&L statement, analyze balance sheets and identify where the error is to correct it. The platform then gives the student different scenarios showing companies with different revenues and expense levels. The task? To analyse and extract certain ratios to help make sense of which company is profitable and the other unit economics involved.

Though Nexford plays in the edtech space, Al Tarzi doesn’t think the company is an edtech company. As a licensed and accredited online university, Nexford has a huge amount of automation across the organization and provides students with support from faculty and career advisors.

After offering degrees, Nexford puts on its placement hats by fixing its graduates with partner employers.

There’s a big shortage of jobs in Nigeria, and despite the high unemployment, it’s actually difficult to find extremely qualified entry-level graduates. So Nexford has carried out several partnerships where employers sponsor their employees or soon-to-be employees for upskilling and rescaling purposes.

An illustration is with Sterling Bank, a local bank in the country. Most Nigerian banks have yearly routines where they hire graduates and put them on weeks-long training programs. Sterling Bank employs any candidate it feels did great after the capital intensive (eight weeks in most cases) programs.

So what Nexford has done is to partner with Sterling to fund the tuition for high school leavers. When these students go through Nexford’s programs for the first year, they begin to get part-time placements at Sterling. Upon graduation, they get a job in the bank.

“That saves Sterling the training cost and our tuition fee is almost equal to the training that they provided for students. Also, students start paying back once they get placed, so it’s a win-win.”

Nexford University has learners from 70 countries, with Nigeria its biggest market yet. Nexford also has blue-chip partnerships with Microsoft, LinkedIn Learning, and IBM to provide access to tools, courses and programmes to improve the learning experience.

One of the major gains of this learning experience is how it prepares people for remote jobs. Nexford is bullish on its virtual skills grid, where people will get jobs remotely regardless of their location on the platform.

“Across Sub Saharan Africa by the year 2026, there’s gonna be a shortage of about 100 million university seats as a result of huge growth in youth population not met by growth and supply. Even if you want to build universities fast, you wouldn’t be able to meet the demand. And that spirals down to the job market. We don’t think the local economy will produce enough jobs in Nigeria, for instance. But we want to enable people to get remote jobs across the world and not necessarily have to migrate.” 

Last year, Nexford’s revenues grew by 300%. This year, the company hopes to triple the size of its enrollment from last year, the CEO said.

Nexford is big on designing students’ curriculum based on analysis of what their employer needs. Al Tarzi tells me that the company always follow the Big Data approach, asking themselves, “how do we find out what employers worldwide are looking for and keep our curriculum alive and relevant?”

“We develop proprietary technology that enables us to analyze job vacancies as well as several other data sources; use AI to understand how those data sets and build a curriculum based on those findings. So, in short, we start with the end in mind,” he answers.

The company is keen on improving its technology regardless. It wants to analyse skills more accurately and automate more functions to enhance user experience. That’s what the funding will be used for in addition to fuelling its regional expansion plans (particularly in Asia) and investing in growth and product development. Per the latter, the online university says it will be launching partner programs with more employers globally to facilitate both placement and upskilling and rescaling. 

Merging both worlds of tech and the traditional university model is no easy feat. The former is about efficiency, user-centricity, product, among others. The latter embodies rigidity and continues to lag behind fast-paced innovation. And while there’s been a boom in edtech, most startups try to circumvent the industry’s bureaucracy by launching an app or a MOOC. Nexford’s model of running a degree-granting, licensed, accredited, and regulated university is more challenging but in it lies so much opportunity.

Iyin Aboyeji, Future Africa general partner CEO, understands this. It’s one reason why the company is the first investment out of Future Africa’s soon-to-be-launched fund focused on the future of learning and why he believes the company is a game-changer for higher education in Africa.

“During the pandemic, while many universities in Nigeria were shut down due to labour disputes, Nexford was already delivering an innovative and affordable new model of online higher education designed for a skills-based economy.”  

For general partner at Global Ventures Noor Sweid, Nexford University is redressing the mismatch between the supply of talent and the demands of today’s digital economy. “We are thrilled to partner with Fadl and the Nexford team on their journey toward expanding access to universal quality higher education in emerging markets,” she said.

#africa, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #education, #europe, #funding, #future-africa, #higher-education, #ibm, #massive-open-online-course, #microsoft, #nexford-university, #nigeria, #online-learning, #product-management, #saudi-arabia, #tc, #tech-startup, #united-states, #university

Apple’s new encrypted browsing feature won’t be available in China, Saudi Arabia and more: report

Apple announced a handful of privacy-focused updates at its annual software developer conference on Monday. One called Private Relay particularly piques the interest of Chinese users living under the country’s censorship system, for it encrypts all browsing history so nobody can track or intercept the data.

As my colleague Roman Dillet explains:

When Private Relay is turned on, nobody can track your browsing history — not your internet service provider, anyone standing in the middle of your request between your device and the server you’re requesting information from. We’ll have to wait a bit to learn more about how it works exactly.

The excitement didn’t last long. Apple told Reuters that Private Relay won’t be available in China alongside Belarus, Colombia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkmenistan, Uganda and the Philippines.

Apple couldn’t be immediately reached by TechCrunch for comment.

Virtual private networks or VPNs are popular tools for users in China to bypass the “great firewall” censorship apparatus, accessing web services that are otherwise blocked or slowed down. But VPNs don’t necessarily protect users’ privacy because they simply funnel all the traffic through VPN providers’ servers instead of users’ internet providers, so users are essentially entrusting VPN firms with protecting their identities. Private Relay, on the other hand, doesn’t even allow Apple to see one’s browsing activity.

In an interview with Fast Company, Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, explained why the new feature may be superior to VPNs:

“We hope users believe in Apple as a trustworthy intermediary, but we didn’t even want you to have to trust us [because] we don’t have this ability to simultaneously source your IP and the destination where you’re going to–and that’s unlike VPNs. And so we wanted to provide many of the benefits that people are seeking when in the past they’ve decided to use a VPN, but not force that difficult and conceivably perilous privacy trade-off in terms of trusting it a single intermediary.”

It’s unclear whether Private Relay will simply be excluded from system upgrades for users in China and the other countries where it’s restricted, or it will be blocked by internet providers in those regions. It also remains to be seen whether the feature will be available to Apple users in Hong Kong, which has seen an increase in online censorship in the past year.

Like all Western tech firms operating in China, Apple is trapped between antagonizing Beijing and flouting the values it espouses at home. Apple has a history of caving in to Beijing’s censorship pressure, from migrating all user data in China to a state-run cloud center, cracking down on independent VPN apps in China, limiting free speech in Chinese podcasts, to removing RSS feed readers from the China App Store.

#apple, #asia, #beijing, #belarus, #china, #colombia, #craig-federighi, #egypt, #firewall, #government, #great-firewall, #internet-censorship, #internet-security, #internet-service, #isp, #kazakhstan, #philippines, #saudi-arabia, #security, #south-africa, #tc, #uganda, #vpn

YC-backed Ziina raises $7.5M seed led by Avenir Growth Capital and Class 5 Global

Cash is the predominant method of sending and receiving payments in the Middle East. If you owe someone a cup of coffee or a trip over a long period, repaying via cash is your best bet. This is one problem out of many financial issues that haven’t been addressed in the region.

The good news is that startups are springing up to provide solutions. Last month Telda, a now two-month-old startup in Egypt, raised an impressive sum as pre-seed to offer digital banking services. Today, Ziina, another startup based in Dubai, has closed $7.5 million in seed funding to scale its peer-to-peer (P2P) payment service across the Middle East and North Africa.

Ziina has managed to enlist top global investors and fintech founders in the round. Avenir Growth and Class 5 Global led this latest tranche of financing. Wamda Capital, FJ Labs, Graph Ventures, Goodwater Capital, Jabbar Internet Group, Oman Technology Fund’s Jasoor Ventures, and ANIM also participated.

The founders who took part include Checkout CEO Guillaume Pousaz via his investment fund Zinal Growth; Krishnan Menon, BukuKas CEO, as well as executives from Paypal and Venmo. This adds to a roster of executives and early employees from Revolut, Stripe, Brex, Notion, and Deel that joined Ziina’s round.

According to the company, it has raised over $8.6 million since launching last year. This includes the $850,000 pre-seed raised in May 2020 and $125,000 secured after going through Y Combinator’s Winter batch early this year.

Ziina was founded by Faisal Toukan, Sarah Toukan, and Andrew Gold. It’s the latest addition to the Middle East’s bubbling fintech ecosystem and is capitalising on the region’s rapid adoption of fintech friendly regulation.

The company allows users to send and receive payments with just a phone number —no IBAN or swift code required as is the de facto method in the UAE and some parts of the Middle East. It also claims to be the country’s first licensed social peer-to-peer application “on a mission to simplify finance for everyone.”

After meeting during a hackathon in the U.S., Faisal and Gold began exchanging ideas on how to build wallets, wanting to mirror the successes platforms like WePay, Paytm have had. At the time, VCs seemed to be interested in how the wallets ecosystem intersected with banking.

“The lines between wallets and banking have become really blurred. Every wallet has a banking partner, and people who use wallets use them for their day-to-day needs,” CEO Faisal Toukan said to TechCrunch.

On the other hand, Sarah, who is Faisal’s sister, was on her personal fintech journey in London. There, she attended several meetups headlined by the founders of Monzo and Revolut. With her knowledge and the experience of the other two, the founders decided that solving P2P payments issues was their own way of driving massive impact in the Middle East.

So how far have they gone? “We launched a beta for the market but it’s restricted for regulatory reasons and basically to keep ourselves in check with the ecosystem,” Toukan remarked. “Since then, we’ve gotten regulated. We’ve got a banking partner, one of the three largest banks in the UAE, and we’ve set a new wallet a month from now. That’s also what we were working throughout our period in YC. So it’s been quite an eventful year.”

The fintech sector in MENA is growing fast; in terms of numbers, at a CAGR of 30%. Also, in the UAE, it is estimated that over 450 fintech companies will raise about $2 billion in 2022 compared to the $80 million raised in 2017. Fintechs in the region are focused on solving payments, transfers, and remittances. Alongside its P2P offering, these are the areas Ziina wants to play in, including investment and cryptocurrency services.

According to Toukan, there’s no ease of making online investments, and remittances are done in exchange houses, a manual process where people need to visit an office physically. “So what we’re looking to do is to bring all these products to life in the UAE and expand beyond that. But the first pain point we’re solving for is for people to send and receive money with two clicks,” the CEO affirmed.

Starting with P2P has its own advantages. First, peer-to-peer services is a repeat behavioural mechanism that allows companies to establish trust with customers. Also, it’s a cheaper customer acquisition model. Toukan says that as Zinna expands geographically — Saudi Arabia and Jordan in 2022; and Egypt and Tunisia some years from now — as he wants the company’s wallet to become seamless across borders. “We want a situation where if you move into Saudi or Dubai, you’re able to use the same wallet versus using different banking applications,” he added

To be on the right side of regulation is key to any fintech expansion, and Toukan says Ziina has been in continuous dialogue with regulators to operate efficiently. But some challenges have stemmed from finding the right banking partners. “You need to make a case to the banks that this is basically a mutually beneficial partnership. And the way we’ve done that is by basically highlighting different cases globally like CashApp that worked with Southern Bank,” he said.

Now that the company has moved past that challenge, it’s in full swing to launch. Presently, Ziina has thousands of users who transacted more than $120,000 on the platform this past month. In addition, there are over 20,000 users on its waiting list to be onboarded post-launch.

Ziina has already built a team with experience across tech companies like Apple, Uber, Stanford, Coinbase, Careem, Oracle, and Yandex. It plans to double down on hiring with this new investment and customer acquisition and establishing commercial partnerships.

#africa, #careem, #checkout, #dubai, #egypt, #finance, #funding, #guillaume-pousaz, #jabbar-internet-group, #middle-east, #mobile, #monzo, #payments, #paypal, #paytm, #saudi-arabia, #tc, #tunisia, #united-arab-emirates, #venmo, #yandex

Bosta raises $6.7M to expand e-commerce delivery business across Africa and MENA

Per a recent report by Bain & Co., e-commerce is expected to grow to $28.5 billion in MENA by 2022 from a 2019 value of $8.3 billion. Egypt, one of the most active e-commerce countries in the region, is anticipated to grow 33% annually to reach $3 billion by 2022.

But for any e-commerce business to thrive, its last-mile delivery arm has to be well figured out. Bosta is one such company in Egypt helping small businesses with logistics and last-mile delivery. Today, the company is announcing it has closed a Series A investment of $6.7 million. U.S. and Middle East VC firm Silicon Badia led the round, with participation from 4DX Ventures, Plug and Play Ventures, Wealth Well VC, Khwarizmi VC, as well as other regional and global investors

This investment comes a year after the company raised a $2.5 million round, which takes its total investment raised to $9.2 million.

Bosta was launched in 2017 by Mohamed Ezzat and Ahmed Gaber. The company offers next-day delivery to customers and handles exchange shipments, customer returns and cash collection.

The idea for Bosta came during Ezzat’s time at Lynks, his previous consumer goods startup. Lynks, the first YC-backed company from Egypt, allows people in Egypt to buy brands from the U.S., China and the U.K.

As co-founder and COO at Lynks, Ezzat was responsible for logistics, international clearance and last-mile delivery. In 2016, Egypt experienced an economic downturn coupled with the Egyptian pound devaluation and government restriction on imports. For Lynks it meant slow growth, but Ezzat was concerned about fixing the last-mile delivery bit, which, according to him, was a huge pain point.

“My nightmare was always the last mile. And at that time, you know that e-commerce is still very, very small. So it’s only 1% of the whole retail value,” he told TechCrunch. “So I was always thinking, how come if we want the e-commerce to grow, and we don’t have any strong company when it comes to last-mile because, in the end, every transaction on an e-commerce platform is a transaction on a courier platform.”

E-commerce is a fragmented sector where 80% of transactions come from small businesses selling on Facebook, Instagram and social media in general. Most of these businesses lack a strong delivery experience, and Ezzat left Lynks the following year to start Bosta

Being in the parcel delivery industry, Bosta wants to help these companies to grow profitably. It also tries to simplify logistics and allow its customers to have full control over the delivery process.

“You can use Bosta to get anything to your doorstep. You buy in our local currency, and we buy everything, handle the shipping, customs, clearance and bring it to your doorstep,” the CEO added.

The company doesn’t own fleets of vehicles to carry out operations. Instead, it operates an Uber-like model where drivers sign up, are made contractors and make money when a delivery is completed.  

Since 2017, the company has delivered more than 4 million packages to businesses, more than half since the pandemic outbreak last year. Bosta completes more than 300,000 deliveries per month, which is a 3.5x increase from when it raised its previous round, Ezzat stated. He also claims that more than 2,200 businesses use its platform daily and achieve a 95% delivery success rate.

Asides from small businesses, Bosta works with major e-commerce platforms like Souq (an Amazon company) and Jumia. Depending on the volume of goods transported, Bosta charges small businesses about 35-40 Egyptian pounds, while the big players are charged less, at 20-25 Egyptian pounds.

Speaking on the investment, Fawaz H Zu’bi said in a statement: “E-commerce has always had amazing potential in our region but was always being held back by something whether payments, logistics, market fragmentation, or customer adoption. We are excited to finally see companies like Bosta emerge to tackle some of these issues and help e-commerce realize its full promise and potential in a region that has now ‘turned on’ digitally.”

In the next two years, Bosta plans to deliver more than 15 million parcels in Egypt and serve over 20,000 businesses. The funds will be used for those causes, as well as expanding operations across Africa, MENA and the GCC.

“The investment is to dominate Egypt,” said Ezzat. “We want to make sure that we deliver the next day across Egypt, not just in Cairo, where we currently do. And to be a market leader when it comes to e-commerce on the continent and be profitable. This is the main target for us now and also to start operations in Saudi Arabia.”

#africa, #bosta, #cairo, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #egypt, #funding, #last-mile, #recent-funding, #saudi-arabia, #silicon-badia, #startups, #supply-chain-management, #tc

Clubhouse App Creates Space for Open Talk in Middle East

The social networking app is booming in authoritarian countries, where users are speaking freely about otherwise taboo topics.

#computers-and-the-internet, #egypt, #hashemi-faezeh-1962, #iran, #middle-east, #mobile-applications, #saudi-arabia, #social-media, #surveillance-of-citizens-by-government

Fierce Foes, Iran and Saudi Arabia Secretly Explore Defusing Tensions

Talks between the two regional powers, if successful, could start to lower the temperature on several conflicts across the Middle East.

#iran, #middle-east, #mohammed-bin-salman-1985, #saudi-arabia, #united-states-international-relations, #war-and-armed-conflicts, #yemen

The Wind and Solar Boom Is Here

The world is adopting renewable sources of power much faster than experts thought possible.

#alternative-and-renewable-energy, #electric-light-and-power, #griffith-saul-1974, #international-energy-agency, #oil-petroleum-and-gasoline, #saudi-arabia, #solar-energy, #wind-power

U.S. Is Expected to Approve Some Arms Sales to U.A.E. and Saudis

The Biden administration is close to completing a review of Trump-era weapons sales to the two Gulf Arab states. Democrats in Congress oppose the deals.

#arms-trade, #biden-joseph-r-jr, #defense-and-military-forces, #drones-pilotless-planes, #human-rights-and-human-rights-violations, #israel, #military-aircraft, #peace-process, #saudi-arabia, #state-department, #trump-donald-j, #united-arab-emirates, #united-states-international-relations, #united-states-politics-and-government, #yemen

A Clash of Wills Keeps a Leonardo Masterpiece Hidden

The Louvre inspected the “Salvator Mundi” and certified it as the work of Leonardo da Vinci. But it kept those findings secret after a squabble with the painting’s owners.

#salvator-mundi, #art, #da-vinci-leonardo, #france, #louvre-museum, #martinez-jean-luc, #mohammed-bin-salman-1985, #mona-lisa, #museums, #saudi-arabia

Vaccine Passports Could Unlock World Travel and Cries of Discrimination

Vaccine rollouts in some countries have a long-locked-down world dreaming of travels abroad again. But they have also set off a fraught debate about the fairness of a two-tier system for haves and have-nots.

#aruba, #canada, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #europe, #great-britain, #israel, #japan, #politics-and-government, #quarantines, #saudi-arabia, #singapore, #travel-and-vacations, #united-arab-emirates, #united-states, #vaccination-and-immunization, #vaccination-proof-and-immunization-records

Democrats Push Biden to Take Harder Line on Saudi Arabia

Lawmakers have continued to press for harsher action and a wholesale rethinking of the American stance toward the kingdom.

#biden-joseph-r-jr, #democratic-party, #dingell-deborah, #house-committee-on-foreign-affairs, #house-of-representatives, #houthis, #khanna-ro, #khashoggi-jamal, #kim-andy-1982, #malinowski-tom, #meeks-gregory-w, #mohammed-bin-salman-1985, #omar-ilhan, #republican-party, #saudi-arabia, #senate, #united-states, #united-states-politics-and-government, #yemen

Famine Stalks Yemen, as War Drags On and Foreign Aid Wanes

For the second time in three years, the threat of widespread famine hangs over the war-torn country, where millions are displaced and struggle daily to find food.

#biden-joseph-r-jr, #famine, #houthis, #refugees-and-displaced-persons, #saudi-arabia, #united-nations, #yemen

An Alliance of Autocracies? China Wants to Lead a New World Order.

As President Biden predicts a struggle between democracies and their opponents, Beijing is eager to champion the other side.

#china, #cold-war-era, #communist-party-of-china, #embargoes-and-sanctions, #european-parliament, #european-union, #international-relations, #iran, #middle-east, #saudi-arabia, #turkey, #united-states, #united-states-international-relations, #xinjiang-china

Saudi Arabia Offers Cease-Fire in Yemen and Lifting of Blockade

The Saudis described the proposal as a plan to end a nearly six-year-old war. The kingdom faces growing pressure to break the stalemate as millions of Yemenis verge on famine.

#civilian-casualties, #famine, #houthis, #saudi-arabia, #united-nations, #world-food-program, #yemen

As Oil Prices Rise, Executives Aim to Keep Them High

An industry known for boom-bust cycles is resisting the temptation to pump more oil — for now.

#american-rescue-plan-2021, #biden-joseph-r-jr, #chevron-corporation, #conocophillips, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #drilling-and-boring, #international-relations, #international-trade-and-world-market, #oil-petroleum-and-gasoline, #organization-of-the-petroleum-exporting-countries, #persian-gulf, #pioneer-natural-resources-company, #prices-fares-fees-and-rates, #production, #russia, #saudi-arabia, #shale, #stocks-and-bonds, #texas, #united-states-economy, #wirth-michael-k

Biden’s Dilemmas, Part 1: Punishing Saudi Arabia

In the first of two parts about what we’re learning about the current administration, we look at the president’s approach to justice in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

#assassinations-and-attempted-assassinations, #biden-joseph-r-jr, #human-rights-and-human-rights-violations, #istanbul-turkey, #khashoggi-jamal, #mohammed-bin-salman-1985, #sanger-david-e, #saudi-arabia, #united-states-politics-and-government, #washington-post

Israel, the U.A.E. and a New Middle East

We may be witnessing a major realignment of the Middle East.

#biden-joseph-r-jr, #hamas, #hezbollah, #iran, #israel, #middle-east, #mohammed-bin-salman-1985, #palestinians, #saudi-arabia, #united-arab-emirates, #united-states-international-relations

In Confronting Saudi Arabia, Biden Tiptoes With a Close Ally

The U.S. has accused Saudi Arabia’s crown prince of ordering the killing of the dissident Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi but is wary of causing a break with an important Arab partner.

#biden-joseph-r-jr, #embargoes-and-sanctions, #human-rights-and-human-rights-violations, #khashoggi-jamal, #mohammed-bin-salman-1985, #saudi-arabia, #united-states-international-relations

President Biden Lets a Saudi Murderer Walk

The crown prince killed my friend Jamal Khashoggi, and we do next to nothing.

#assassinations-and-attempted-assassinations, #biden-joseph-r-jr, #human-rights-and-human-rights-violations, #khashoggi-jamal, #mohammed-bin-salman-1985, #politics-and-government, #saudi-arabia, #united-states, #united-states-international-relations

Crushing Dissent: The Saudi Kill Team Behind Khashoggi’s Death

An elite unit assigned to protect Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is said to have carried out dozens of operations, including forcibly repatriating Saudis.

#classified-information-and-state-secrets, #harbi-thaar-ghaleb-al, #hathloul-loujain-al, #khashoggi-jamal, #mohammed-bin-salman-1985, #mutreb-maher-abdulaziz, #qahtani-saud-al, #salman-king-of-saudi-arabia, #saudi-arabia

Biden Won’t Penalize Saudi Crown Prince Over Khashoggi’s Killing, Fearing Relations Breach

The decision will disappoint the human rights community and members of his own party who complained during the Trump administration that the U.S. was failing to hold Mohammed bin Salman accountable.

#assassinations-and-attempted-assassinations, #biden-joseph-r-jr, #blinken-antony-j, #human-rights-and-human-rights-violations, #istanbul-turkey, #khashoggi-jamal, #mohammed-bin-salman-1985, #saudi-arabia, #state-department, #united-states-politics-and-government

Biden Speaks With Saudi King; Unclear if Khashoggi Killing Was Discussed

An intelligence report is expected to be released on Friday as the Biden administration engages in a “recalibration” of the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia.

#biden-joseph-r-jr, #blinken-antony-j, #classified-information-and-state-secrets, #khashoggi-jamal, #mohammed-bin-salman-1985, #salman-king-of-saudi-arabia, #saudi-arabia, #state-department, #united-states-international-relations

Candidate Biden Called Saudi Arabia a ‘Pariah.’ He Now Has to Deal With It.

In a coming call with King Salman, the president plans to warn him that the United States will soon make public intelligence about the Saudi crown prince’s role in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

#assassinations-and-attempted-assassinations, #biden-joseph-r-jr, #central-intelligence-agency, #classified-information-and-state-secrets, #khashoggi-jamal, #mohammed-bin-salman-1985, #salman-king-of-saudi-arabia, #saudi-arabia, #united-states-international-relations, #united-states-politics-and-government

Ahmed Zaki Yamani, Former Saudi Oil Minister, Dies at 90

As Saudi Arabia’s powerful oil minister, he was architect of the Arab world’s drive to control its own energy resources in the 1970s.

#deaths-obituaries, #oil-petroleum-and-gasoline, #saudi-arabia, #yamani-ahmed-zaki

Muted Reaction in Israel and Gulf to U.S. Push for Iran Talks

Nations that were fierce opponents to the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran responded cautiously to the Biden administration’s decision to re-engage. In Russia, a government spokesman called the move a “plus.”

#biden-joseph-r-jr, #israel, #netanyahu-benjamin, #saudi-arabia, #united-arab-emirates, #united-states-international-relations

These Women Confront Dictators. Why Can’t We?

I’m inspired by two sisters who stood up to goons with clubs and razors in Egypt.

#badawi-raif, #biden-joseph-r-jr, #egypt, #hathloul-loujain-al, #international-relations, #middle-east-and-north-africa-unrest-2010, #mohammed-bin-salman-1985, #salman-king-of-saudi-arabia, #saudi-arabia, #trump-donald-j, #united-states-international-relations, #women-and-girls, #womens-rights

A Decade After the Arab Spring, Autocrats Still Rule the Mideast

The popular uprisings of 2011 mostly failed, but they gave the region a taste for democracy that continues to whet an appetite for change.

#assad-bashar-al, #bahrain, #ben-ali-zine-el-abidine, #cairo-egypt, #iran, #iraq, #jordan, #lebanon, #middle-east, #middle-east-and-north-africa-unrest-2010, #mubarak-hosni, #muslim-brotherhood-egypt, #muslims-and-islam, #nahyan-mohamed-bin-zayed-al-1961, #obama-barack, #politics-and-government, #qaddafi-muammar-el, #russia, #saudi-arabia, #sudan, #syria, #tahrir-square-cairo, #trump-donald-j, #tunisia, #turkey, #united-arab-emirates, #united-states, #united-states-international-relations, #war-and-armed-conflicts, #yemen

U.S. Prepares to Lift Terrorist Designation Against Yemeni Rebels, Despite New Attacks

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the designation of the Houthi rebels would be formally revoked next week, in “recognition of the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen.”

#biden-joseph-r-jr, #blinken-antony-j, #embargoes-and-sanctions, #houthis, #humanitarian-aid, #pompeo-mike, #saudi-arabia, #state-department, #terrorism, #trump-donald-j, #united-states-international-relations, #united-states-politics-and-government, #yemen

Loujain al-Hathloul, Saudi Women’s Rights Activist, Freed From Prison

Loujain al-Hathloul was a champion of freedoms for Saudi women. She had been imprisoned for nearly three years on charges that rights groups called politically motivated.

#hathloul-loujain-al, #mohammed-bin-salman-1985, #political-prisoners, #saudi-arabia, #womens-rights

Illegal Walkie-Talkies and Other ‘Crimes’ in Authoritarian Societies

The most obscure or innocuous-sounding offenses can take on new meaning in justice systems used by autocrats for their own ends.

#aung-san-suu-kyi, #badawi-raif, #harare-zimbabwe, #iran, #myanmar, #navalny-aleksei-a, #north-korea, #politics-and-government, #russia, #saudi-arabia, #tehran-iran, #warmbier-otto-frederick-1994

Biden Signals Break With Trump Foreign Policy in a Wide-Ranging State Dept. Speech

The president said that he would end support for Saudi Arabia in its intervention in Yemen and that the U.S. would no longer be “rolling over in the face of Russia’s aggressive actions.”

#biden-joseph-r-jr, #blinken-antony-j, #obama-barack, #putin-vladimir-v, #russia, #saudi-arabia, #state-department, #trump-donald-j, #united-states-international-relations, #united-states-politics-and-government, #yemen

Declaring Democracy Won’t Be Subverted, Biden Demands Russia and Myanmar Reverse Course

The president is about to discover how years of sanctions fatigue — exacerbated in the Trump administration — and a decline in American influence may make it difficult to deliver on his promises.

#biden-joseph-r-jr, #blinken-antony-j, #china, #coups-detat-and-attempted-coups-detat, #embargoes-and-sanctions, #iran, #khashoggi-jamal, #mohammed-bin-salman-1985, #myanmar, #navalny-aleksei-a, #north-atlantic-treaty-organization, #north-korea, #political-prisoners, #putin-vladimir-v, #russia, #saudi-arabia, #storming-of-the-us-capitol-jan-2021, #trump-donald-j, #united-states-international-relations

Biden Demands Russia and Myanmar Reverse Course

The president is about to discover how years of sanctions fatigue — exacerbated in the Trump administration — and a decline in American influence may make it difficult to deliver on his promises.

#biden-joseph-r-jr, #blinken-antony-j, #china, #coups-detat-and-attempted-coups-detat, #embargoes-and-sanctions, #iran, #khashoggi-jamal, #mohammed-bin-salman-1985, #myanmar, #navalny-aleksei-a, #north-atlantic-treaty-organization, #north-korea, #political-prisoners, #putin-vladimir-v, #russia, #saudi-arabia, #storming-of-the-us-capitol-jan-2021, #trump-donald-j, #united-states-international-relations

The Dark Reality Behind Saudi Arabia’s Utopian Dreams

Mohammed bin Salman’s absurd plan for the Line — a 106-mile long city with no cars and no roads — comes with a grisly human price.

#architecture, #khashoggi-jamal, #mohammed-bin-salman-1985, #saudi-arabia

Biden Administration Reviewing Trump Arms Sales to U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia

Officials called the review standard for a new administration, but many Democrats critical of the Gulf States want the president to cancel the deals.

#arms-trade, #biden-joseph-r-jr, #blinken-antony-j, #defense-and-military-forces, #saudi-arabia, #united-arab-emirates, #united-states-international-relations, #united-states-politics-and-government, #yemen

In Saudi Arabia, Quiet Changes May Ease Tensions With Biden

The new president is a Saudi critic, but he takes office as the kingdom scales back beheadings, removes hate speech from text books and limits prison terms for activists.

#biden-joseph-r-jr, #capital-punishment, #human-rights-and-human-rights-violations, #mohammed-bin-salman-1985, #political-prisoners, #politics-and-government, #saudi-arabia, #textbooks, #united-states-international-relations

Fiji Will Lead U.N. Rights Body, Over Russian and Chinese Opposition

The vote ended a proxy battle waged by China, Russia and Saudi Arabia, which sought to strengthen their influence by installing a more compliant candidate.

#fiji, #human-rights-and-human-rights-violations, #human-rights-watch, #international-relations, #roth-kenneth, #russia, #saudi-arabia, #united-nations-human-rights-council, #united-states-international-relations

U.S. to Declare Yemen’s Houthis a Terrorist Group, Raising Fears of Fueling a Famine

The State Department’s terrorist designation may be more symbolic than searing for the rebel movement, but it could aggravate Yemen’s human catastrophe.

#famine, #houthis, #humanitarian-aid, #pompeo-mike, #saudi-arabia, #state-department, #terrorism, #united-states-international-relations, #united-states-politics-and-government, #war-crimes-genocide-and-crimes-against-humanity, #yemen

Saudi Arabia Will Cut Its Oil Production, Allowing Russia’s to Grow

Oil prices rose to levels not seen since February. The two major oil producers had been moving in lock step since an April agreement to cut output.

#abdulaziz-bin-salman-prince-of-saudi-arabia, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #kazakhstan, #oil-petroleum-and-gasoline, #organization-of-the-petroleum-exporting-countries, #production, #russia, #saudi-arabia