The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

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Saudi Arabia: The Internet’s Enemy Cracks Down on Skype, Whatsapp, and Viber

Posted by vmsalama on March 29, 2013

by Vivian Salama

Mar 29, 2013

The Daily Beast 

Infamous for the severe measures it uses to crack down on alleged security threats, Saudi Arabia is now picking on web-based communication apps, which teens rely on heavily for daily contact. Vivian Salama reports.

Photo by HASSAN AMMARSkype, Whatsapp and Viber are subject to a ban in Saudi Arabia, as it demands the rights to monitor all communications via these web-based communications apps.

Despite a medley of applications now available to help Internet users avert such a ban, the kingdom declared that it would block the services within its borders unless the operators grant the government surveillance rights. The companies have until Saturday—the start of the Saudi workweek— to respond to Saudi Arabia’s Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC), local news reports said.

While Saudi Arabia is infamous for taking authoritarian measures to crack down on perceived security threats, it has increasingly shifted its attention toward the telecommunications sector in recent months. The CITC announced in September that all pre-paid SIM card users must enter a personal identification number when recharging their accounts and the number must match the one registered with their mobile operator when the SIM is purchased. The country’s second-largest telecom company, known as Mobily, was temporarily banned from selling its pay-as-you-go SIM cards after it failed to comply with the new regulations.

“A proposal for a ban would be driven by political and security concerns as opposed to economic concerns,” said Aiyah Saihati, a Saudi businesswoman and writer. “The Saudi government is refraining from taking an extremely authoritarian style dealing with its critical youth population. Saudi may try, without censorship, to find ways to monitor communications.”

As revolution gripped much of the Arab world in 2011, Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, spearheaded a counterrevolution—working to appease its critics with monetary and political concessions, while suppressing protests via brutal crackdowns. Reporters Without Borders lists Saudi Arabia as an “Enemy of the Internet,” saying last year that “its rigid opposition to the simmering unrest on the Web caused it to tighten its Internet stranglehold even more to stifle all political and social protests.” (click here to read more…)



Posted in Abu Dhabi, Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Bahrain, Blackberry, Bloggers, Business, Censorship, dictatorship, Dubai, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Film, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Google, Human Rights, Internet, Islam, Israel, Jihad, Journalism, Kuwait, Libya, Media, Middle East, Oman, Politics, Protests, Qatar, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Sexuality, Shi'ite, Skype, Social Media, Television, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Viber, Whatsapp, Women, YouTube | Leave a Comment »

Google Says Censorship Not Obstacle to Its Middle East Growth

Posted by vmsalama on July 29, 2010

July 29, 2010

click here for original link.

By Vivian Salama and Heidi Couch

Google Inc., owner of the world’s most popular Internet search engine, said it’s not hindered in the Middle East by government-backed censorship as it seeks to ride growing opportunities in the region.

“We tend to operate in a very, very competitive industry, so users are generally one click away from changing their preferences,” Ari Kesisoglu, manager for Google Middle East, said in a Bloomberg Television interview in Dubai. “We are not censoring our own information, and we’ve never been asked to.”

Google, based in Mountain View, California, is seeking to gain ground in the Middle East, where it estimates that less than 15 percent of the residents go online. The company went public with a dispute in China in January, saying it was no longer willing to comply with filtering regulations.

“If you want to play ball in China or the Middle East or basically any other country outside, you’ve got to play by the local rules,” said Jin Yoon, an analyst at Nomura Holdings Inc. in Hong Kong. “If you don’t play by the local rules, you essentially have to mark yourself out of the market.”

China’s government confirmed that it renewed Google’s Internet license, after the U.S. company’s local venture pledged to allow regulators to supervise its Web content, the official Xinhua news agency said July 11. The move gives Google a chance to win search share lost to market leader Baidu Inc. and woo advertisers put off by its dispute with the government.

“Whatever happened in China is completely exceptional and it doesn’t result in us making any decisions globally,” Kesisoglu said.

Middle East Censorship

In many Middle Eastern countries, television programs and films cut out nudity, physical intimacy or homosexual scenes. Internet firewalls are common across the region, particularly in the Persian Gulf, where several countries ban popular websites such as Skype and Flickr. Websites that are critical of Islam or ruling political regimes are often blocked.

In August, Yahoo! Inc. purchased Maktoob.com, providing it with an entry point into a market that includes 22 countries and more than 350 million Arabic speakers. Maktoob is the largest portal in the Arab world with 16 million monthly users.Vodafone Egypt last year purchased Sarmady, a Cairo-based provider of digital content.

“Google, Yahoo, help the region and lobby the government for less censorship,” said Samih Toukan, founder of Maktoob.com. “We lobby as local people because censorship hurts us, it hurts innovation it hurts growth.”

Bloggers Arrested

Global Voices Online, an international bloggers’ network, has documented 206 cases of bloggers under arrest or threat, mostly in China, Egypt and Iran. In Egypt and Iran, online political activists have been arrested and prosecuted after rallying in support of opposition parties.

Restrictions stretch beyond the Web and films. In the United Arab Emirates, Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry smartphones may be subject to monitoring if the government is able to bring communications by the handheld devices under emergency and security rules.

Blackberry devices, introduced in the U.A.E. in 2006, are not covered by the country’s 2007 Safety, Emergency and National Security rules, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority said July 25.

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Business, Censorship, China, Dubai, Economy, Egypt, Google, Iran, Media, Middle East, Politics, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates | Leave a Comment »

Abu Dhabi Feels Dubai Chill as Emirate Accepts Money Is Scarce

Posted by vmsalama on July 26, 2010

July 26, 2010

By Vivian Salama

July 26 (Bloomberg) — Times have changed for the Alimad Engineering and Contracting Company in Abu Dhabi.

Two years ago, the developer was building everything from 20-story glass towers to luxury villas. It’s now shelving projects, the latest a $12 million contract with a client who has $2 million and the banks won’t give him any more money, said Ziad Ali, whose father founded the company 20 years ago.

“When investors don’t get funding, we don’t get their business,” Ali, 24, said by telephone from his office.

If the palm-shaped islands and skyscrapers of Dubai came to symbolize the excesses of the economic boom in the Gulf, the less glitzy Abu Dhabi represented the sobriety. Yet after Abu Dhabi, home to more than 7 percent of the world’s oil supply, spent $20 billion bailing out its desert neighbor, it too is having to accept the financial crisis is catching up.

Abu Dhabi, the largest of the United Arab Emirates and home of the capital and central bank, forecast a second consecutive budget deficit this year, according to statistics included in a government-guaranteed bond prospectus released last week. Spending will exceed revenue by 84.9 billion dirhams ($23.1 billion) this year after 126.5 billion dirhams in 2009.

While the emirate, which is home to one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds, is sticking to its plan to invest $500 billion in industry and tourism by 2030, its property market is suffering along with Dubai, while local banks are lending less and companies are reassessing business plans.

Not ‘Bottomless’

“Nobody should be naive and think any place, whether the U.S. or Abu Dhabi, has a bottomless pool of resources,” said Mohammed Ali Yasin, chief executive officer of Shuaa Securities, a brokerage in Abu Dhabi, until he leaves the post next month. “The impact this crisis would have here in Abu Dhabi was undermined initially. Now is a time for reassessment.”

When crisis struck in late 2008, cranes in Dubai halted and unemployed expatriates fled, some abandoning their cars at the airport. Others, particularly in construction, started commuting the hour and a half across the desert to Abu Dhabi, home to more than 90 percent of the U.A.E.’s oil reserves.

Unlike buildings such as the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest, Abu Dhabi took a more conservative approach, putting up such projects as branches of the Guggenheim and Louvre museums.


The Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 targets 7 percent annual growth through 2015 and 6 percent thereafter. The emirate won’t reach that this year, Mohamed Omar Abdulla, undersecretary at the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development, said on Feb. 2. A senior government adviser said in June he doesn’t expect any major revision to those estimates in the longer term.

The International Monetary Fund said on May 25 Abu Dhabi will grow 3.7 percent in 2010, while Dubai’s economy will shrink about 0.5 percent this year.

“There are some lurking vulnerabilities that should restrain growth,” Rachel Ziemba, an analyst at Roubini Global Economics in London, said by telephone. “Still, they have a strong net asset position.”

Revenue and expenditures at the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Abu Dhabi Investment Council, Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., Abu Dhabi Water & Electricity Authority, International Petroleum Investment Co. and Mubadala Development Co. aren’t included in the emirate’s budget. Royalties and taxes on crude oil and natural gas production from these entities are included, according to the prospectus.

The emirate’s other investments include minority stakes in Citigroup Inc. and Gatwick Airport in London, as well as a majority stake in New York’s Chrysler Building.

Earlier ‘Surpluses’

The budget shortfalls are the first following four years of “significant surpluses,” according to the bond sale document from Waha Aerospace BV, an investor in aircraft companies and part of Abu Dhabi holding company Waha Capital.

The emirate’s loans and equity investments in the country are forecast to decline by almost half this year to 36.9 billion dirhams, the preliminary prospectus said.

Other industries also are feeling some pain. Masdar, the government-backed renewable-energy company, said in June its revising its business plan in an effort to ensure the project is “economically viable.”

“We were living in good times, had big plans to build our infrastructure and some of our companies were caught off guard,” said Mohamed Berro, CEO of Al Hilal Bank, a lender owned by the state-controlled Abu Dhabi Investment Council. “It will be a challenging year here for everyone.”

Property Slump

The government in March bought assets on Yas Island, home to Abu Dhabi’s Formula One raceway, from Aldar Properties PJSC, Abu Dhabi’s biggest real-estate developer, for 9.14 billion dirhams. Aldar that month became the first company in the emirate to get a “junk” rating from Moody’s Investors Service.

“The bigger developers, they are managing to keep their projects going and access the funding they may need,” said Guy Parsons, CEO of Profile Group, an Abu Dhabi developer. “Small developers — the ones that are not government-back or family- backed — they are not getting the money owed. Developers need that cash but these days they can’t get it.”

Home prices in Abu Dhabi dropped more than 30 percent from the market’s peak in the second quarter of 2008, while values in Dubai declined by more than half, according to estimates by Swiss bank UBS AG.

Ziad Ali at Alimad Engineering and Contracting said there was once a time when his company was always guaranteed a piece of any business coming to Abu Dhabi.

For now, those days are gone. “We are all being affected,” he said.

–With assistance from Camilla Hall and Zahraa Alkhalisi in Abu Dhabi and Ayesha Daya in Dubai. Editors: Rodney Jefferson, Riad Hamade

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Arab, Business, Culture, Dubai, Economy, Middle East, United Arab Emirates | Leave a Comment »

Growth a Challenge for Gulf Airports

Posted by vmsalama on June 3, 2008


by Vivian Salama

The National

DUBAI // Airports in the Middle East must expand and improve their infrastructure to handle the rapid growth in the number of aircraft and passengers they are accommodating, according to industry leaders.

Delegates attending the Airport Show also called on governments in the region to allow airports to operate at a profit to allow them to finance new infrastructure projects.

“Aviation infrastructure enhancement, regrettably, is still way off the top of most governments’ priority lists because it is either unpopular or too costly,” said Andreas Schimm, the director of economics and programme development for the Switzerland-based Airports Council International.

“Continued calls for lowering airport user charges are counterproductive; it undermines the financial basis for future airport development and, ultimately, the basis for growth of the entire aviation industry.”

Airports in Gulf countries are expected to be able to handle as many as 300 million passengers annually by 2015, three times the current volume, according to Mr Schimm, who added that the capacity could be exceeded as early as 2020.

Dubai has the fastest aviation growth rate in the world at 40 per cent higher than the current global average. High growth rates are also being recorded in cities like Abu Dhabi and Doha, which are becoming popular transit points.

Alan Bourjeily, the general manager of Bayanat, an engineering firm that works with a number of UAE airports, said they were straining under the unprecedented economic boom. “Dubai and Abu Dhabi … are promoting their cities more and so more passengers are coming – more than the airports can take. That’s why you have these fast-track projects, which is not an easy task and not always a good idea when it comes to such critical applications.”

Paul Griffith, the chief executive of Dubai Airports, added: “On the ground, we are balancing aggressive growth rates against a constrained campus at Dubai International Airport.” 

Dubai International Airport serves 205 destinations, more than London Heathrow, and passenger traffic is expected to exceed 40m this year. Traffic at Abu Dhabi International Airport is growing at more than 30 per cent per year and will top 10m passengers in 2010.

The US$6.8 billion (Dh24.97bn) project to expand the airport’s Terminal 3 is expected to provide only temporary relief. Likewise, the new $10bn Al Maktoum International Airport, has been designed to handle 120m passengers per year and is expected to be fully operational by about 2015.

Over the past few years regional airlines have ordered new aircraft in record numbers in preparation for rising demand.

This only exacerbates the problem, some industry leaders believe.“You can buy planes a lot faster than you can build terminals,” said Rudy Vercelli, the chief executive of Abu Dhabi Airports Company. “Growth is coming a lot faster than we can develop infrastructure and that is the biggest challenge.” 

Airport officials also said issues ranging from roads and parking to faster check-in procedures must all be addressed as part of this push for better infrastructure. They are also calling for flexibility in assigning space for airlines and retail tenants, which influences how smoothly travellers can transit an airport.

“These are challenges not just to the airports, but to surrounding areas,” said Mr Griffiths.

Capital expenditure in the global airport sector has been increasing at about 10 per cent per year, according to Airports Council International.

It is further estimated that the cost required to expand airport facilities through 2020 would be close to $500bn, which is equivalent to the annual turnover of the entire global airline industry.


Posted in Aviation, Business | Leave a Comment »

Investors hesitate to put money into Gaza Strip

Posted by vmsalama on February 2, 2006

Vivian Salama
Middle East Times

February 2, 2006

 RAMALLAH, West Bank —  In the shanty villages of the West Bank and Gaza, since     palestine-green-flag-gaza.jpg

 well before talk of elections or Hamas were making headlines, Palestinians have been faced with a crisis more threatening than war or fundamentalism. “I worry every day about how I am going to feed my four children,” says Ragad Al Shawey, a taxi driver in Ramallah. “It is so difficult to find a job – I am lucky, but some people here stay months and years without working. This is why Hamas won, I think, because they will give people some new opportunities.”

While community services provided by a number of domestic groups, Hamas included, are welcomed by the poorest of Palestinians, they do not meet the demand for daily basic needs, especially in Gaza.

The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated areas in the world with an estimated 25,400 persons per kilometer, according to the Israeli ministry of planning, and so the pressure is on to rebuild both the infrastructure and the lives of its residents.

“Gaza has its own unique environment, circumstances and players,” explains Khaled Dozdar, head of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information in Jerusalem. “Violence will be concentrated in Gaza, because there, everyone is armed now. That said, entrance into Gaza, politically or economically, is equally a challenge.”

Experts agree that foreign direct investment in the Gaza Strip is crucial for ensuring the revitalization of the territory. According to Palestine’s former minister of economy, Mazen Sonnoqrot, $1.5 billion to $2 billion is needed annually for the first three years following Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza last August.

Sonnoqrot added that the Palestinian Authority (PA) was willing to give complete ownership rights to foreign firms looking to invest, emphasizing its commitment to eliminate any red tape that might interfere in the process.

“Certainly, there are advantages of investing in Gaza,” explains Ashraf Gamal, a senior advisor to Egypt’s minister of investment. “Being the first into a virgin market, improving relations between the two peoples.”

While eager to assist in the economic rebuilding of Gaza, Egyptian officials are trepid to encourage their nationals to put money in the war-torn territory, given the skyrocketing costs.

In Washington last November, just ahead of the annual World Bank and International Monetary Fund conference, Egyptian minister of finance Youssef Boutros-Ghali said that Egypt faced a continuous challenge convincing investors to set their sights on Gaza.

“The costs are higher than in India,” Ghali said. “Anyone who wants to invest there faces this problem. We have difficulties to convince investors because the costs of business are too high and the market is too small.”

“I do not think that Egyptians will start to invest in Gaza seriously now,” says Gamal. “First, the Egyptian market now is very lucrative and promising. The lack of stability, both political and militarily in Gaza is another reason. Capital usually flies away from such high risks. So, despite the high emotions by many Egyptians, this will not be enough to invest a lot of money, maybe small investments either for trial purposes or for emotional reasons.”

Further, economists stress that progress – or lack thereof – in redeveloping some of the major passages for goods, services and people in Gaza is not encouraging to investors who will desire a safe and efficient portal in and out of the territory.

Prior to the withdrawal, this had been a major point of contention for Palestinian authorities who constantly condemned what they considered suppressive security from the Israelis preventing both laborers and goods from flowing freely between Egypt and Gaza, particularly following the closure of Ashdod Harbor and Yasser Arafat International Airport.

Now, Israel says that it is willing to invest millions of dollars to reinforce border stability and promote easy accessibility for developing industries on both sides.

However, with last week’s resignation of Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qurei and his administration, the lives of Gazans struggling to make ends-meet and rebuild their tiny territory will ultimately be put on hold for the time being.

“We are trying to find a solution for everyone, but most important are the Palestinians,” says an Egyptian delegate in Ramallah who requested anonymity. “As much as Egyptians can benefit from investing in Gaza, I don’t think we can even discuss this seriously until there is a safe passage in and out of Gaza, a free passage to the West Bank and the marina and airport is fully functional.”

“People in Gaza have to have something that they want to keep – that they will be afraid to lose,” adds Mohammed Assem Ibrahim, Egypt’s ambassador to Israel. “But they don’t want it to be destroyed again. In this regard, I will venture to say Israel has interests to do the same, not necessarily to invest directly, but to facilitate and encourage the international community to come and to take part.”

Posted in Arab, Business, Egypt, Elections, Israel, Middle East Times, Palestinians | 1 Comment »

It’s a Small World

Posted by vmsalama on March 1, 2005

After a short absence, the world’s most recognizable cartoon character comes home. Nahdat Misr’s successful re-release of Mickey proves the mouse has massive potential for growth in the Arab world

By Vivian Salama

Business Today Egypt


I recently attended a dinner party with some Cairene friends. Naela, an NGO director, was moving to Sweden with her family, and we had all gathered to bid her farewell. As the evening progressed, Naela casually mentioned how she wished there were a way to get her favorite Arabic comic book, Mickey (or Meekee, as it’s pronounced) while abroad. Suddenly, talk of politics and society took a radical turn as everyone around the table discovered a shared love of the magazine.

Hours later, guests were still overcome by teary-eyed laughter as they reminisced about their favorite weekly adventures of Mickey, Batoot (Donald Duck) and Bondock (Goofy).

Having grown up in the United States, I can sing along to old songs from the Mickey Mouse Club and even name the original Mouseketeers. I’ve seen Mickey’s debut film, the 1928 black-and-white Steamboat Willy, more times than I can count, but what I witnessed that night was unlike anything I have ever seen in America, the birthplace of Mickey Mouse and friends.

However popular the Disney characters are in the United States, they occupy a unique position in Egypt’s collective memory: Mickey is one of the few childhood memories common to virtually all Egyptians living today. Tastes in music, movies, art and politics have changed over the years, but Mickey remains largely unchanged, retaining the same nationwide allure as it had when it was first introduced more than 40 years ago.

The characters’ international appeal is equally strong: Last October, Mickey and friends topped Forbes magazine’s list of top grossing cartoon characters worldwide, earning Disney some $5.8 billion per year. (See sidebar.) It’s no wonder: with three theme parks, more than 100 feature films, hundreds of books, thousands of magazines and a face recognizable to virtually anyone, anywhere, the Mickey Mouse franchise shows no signs of dimming.

 Still, Mickey has suffered through a few rough spells during his sojourn in Egypt, most recently in early 2003 when, without warning, the weekly pastime of tens of thousands of readers came to an abrupt end. Disney had decided not to renew its Arab-world licensing agreement with Egyptian publisher Dar Al-Hilal, citing quality issues and a lack of “creative plans” to take the franchise forward.

A friend was gone, and no one knew when or if he would make a comeback. Fans didn’t take the news sitting down. Disney was bombarded by letters from readers throughout the region demanding the return of their favorite characters. (more…)


Posted in Arab, Business, Comic Books, Disney, Egypt, Mickey Mouse, Middle East | Leave a Comment »

Cruising with the Hogs

Posted by vmsalama on November 29, 2004

Harley-Davidsons are more than motorcycles, they’re a way of life. So watch out Cairo. That dull roar of thunder is a band of bikers coming your way.

By Vivian Salama

Business Today Egypt

A handful of Cairo’s successful businessmen have shown up at Harley-Davidson’s Zamalek showroom early on a Friday morning. There’s not a suit or tie in sight, only black leather, denim, bandannas and a round of personalized Harley-Davidson vests.
My jeans and t-shirt give me away as the novice in the room. Sipping coffee, I’m feeling a little lost as we watch a documentary on all the hot new paint jobs on the 2005 Harleys. Having never ridden a motorcycle, I’m not only a newcomer to Harleys, but anything with two wheels.

The coffee is done. Cairo’s Hogs, or the Harley Owners Group, are ready to come out and play, and they’re bringing me along for the ride.

“You have to feel it to understand it,” says one rider. And for one morning, I’m part of the brotherhood.

Niazy Moustafa gets stuck with the amateur. Harley pushes the concept of freedom on the open road, but there is only so much freedom you can have when you’ve got a journalist on the back of your bike.

Weaving through the streets of Cairo feels like a video game. Moustafa courteously cuts through cars, dodges families crossing the streets and avoids getting squashed by city buses. Finally, we’re out of central Cairo and flying down the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road.

At first, it’s the noise that fascinates me. Harley-Davidsons roar like thunder.

“These bikes make a lot of noise,” says Olivier Masson, 50, a 10-year Harley veteran whose day job is the general manager of the new Four Seasons Cairo Nile Plaza. “But we don’t call it noise, we call it music. Every bike has a different sound, and they sound very different from one to the other.”

Then there’s the speed. It’s almost like you’re flying the bike feels like it’s gliding over the road. We race by cars full of passengers who look at us “like aliens,” as Moustafa describes.

Best of all is the view. Cairo looks different from the back of a Harley. As we speed by the Pyramids, I feel like I could reach out and dust them off.

We arrive at our destination, a small coffee shop called Safari, just before the Cairo-Alexandria toll station. As we sit down for juice and coffee, the riders spend more than an hour discussing paint jobs, engines and, of course, accessories 60 percent of Harley-Davidson’s sales in Egypt are from the accessories you buy, not the motorcycles themselves.

We take a few photos, but the men seem to be getting restless. We finish up and hit the road.

A dramatic moment comes shortly after leaving Safari. One of the riders, Ahmed, hits an oil patch and spins out of control. Immediately, all the bikers pull over and, without thinking, run to his aid. My heart is racing. Ahmed quickly gets up and together the riders walk over to calmly assess the damage.

It just so happens that one of the bikers, Omar, has joined the group by car due to a bad shoulder. And so, like a scene out of a biker flick, Omar hands Ahmed his keys, takes his leather vest and helmet and hops on the bike.

“Accidents are inevitable,” says Harley rider Bruce Malinski. “But obviously they’re not that bad. We’re all still here!”

Then it hits me that these guys are not a bunch of boys out on a joyride. This is something much more. These men share a similar passion. They love their Harleys, and they love each other.

“I think one of the nicest things about riding a bike, whether it be riding a Harley or a Honda or whatever, every kind of bike rider feels that freedom,” Moustafa tells me. “When it comes to Harley, there are certain things about the bike. It’s a real bonding experience. The people who go, go to have fun, it’s like a big family.”

Queen Harley

Harley Davidson first roared into Egypt in the late 1990s. Engineering Automotive Company, with its experience selling Mercedes Benz and Porsche, pitched and won the right to Harleys.

At the time, Harleys had no showroom of their own, so the bold-looking bikes were sold side-by-side with luxury cars. Engineering Automotive Company’s chief executives, Shawky and Maurice Ghattas, were looking for someone to focus exclusively on selling the motorcycles. So, one year after Harley Davidson first arrived in Egypt, Maurice Ghattas asked his daughter, Engy, who was only 19-years old at the time, to give it a shot.

“I was crazy about bikes but I never had the guts to work on it, so I said OK and he gave me a trial,” says Engy Ghattas. “We made a deal; if I break even in five years I will continue in the business.”

Five years later, Ghattas smiles and says it only took two years to break even. Today in Egypt, there are some 80 Harleys on the road. The brand now has showrooms in Zamalek and Mohandiseen.

“When I go to America, first the people get surprised that there are Harleys in Egypt, then they get more surprised when they find out a girl is in charge,” she says.

Make it two. Ayten Swelim, 23, helped to start up the Harleys Owner Group. Now in their third month of operation, Swelim is secretary of HOG, and responsible for communicating with members and coordinating events.

“The Harley culture is all about riding in a group. This is what HOG is trying to do,” says Swelim. “There are more than 800,000 riders all over the world in the HOG chapters, so being a HOG member here in Egypt, you are a member of a worldwide community.”

“When I go to the Harley dealers conferences in America, they think we’re still riding camels in Egypt,” jokes Ghattas. “So I tell them, ‘No, we’re riding Harleys now!”

The truth is that only about half of us have the freedom to ride a motorcycle. Ghattas and Swelim might enjoy riding themselves if not for the paternalistic view of the Egyptian government. While it is not illegal for women to ride motorcycles in Egypt, they are never issued motorcycle licenses.

Ghattas definitely doesn’t agree with the law, although she admits that it’s probably safer considering the hectic conditions on the streets of Cairo. “My father and my husband do not like me riding, but I want to get a bike of my own anyway,” she says.

As a newlywed, Ghattas confesses that business could have been better this year were she not preoccupied with her wedding. “We have very high expectations for 2005,” she says. “Harley-Davidson increased their selection of bikes. They have beautiful, breathtaking colors in 2005. I think it’s going to get everyone’s head going around.”

Ghattas says Harley-Davidson’s approach has come a long way since it first hit the Egyptian market. “It started as a collector’s item in the garage. We are changing this idea. Now, they’re dying to have the bike, they’re dying to ride the bike because it’s an experience. The fun doesn’t stop after you buy the bike, it goes on when you ride the bike. It’s not like anything you buy.”  (click here to read more…)

Posted in Arab, Business, Egypt, Harley Davidson, Middle East | Leave a Comment »