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Beirut's tech revolution: A beacon of hope

Beirut is home to the expanding high-tech industry in Lebanon [Getty]

Date of publication: 7 July, 2015

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Blog: The pro-growth initiatives of Lebanon’s Central Bank, with investment from the UK and venture capitalists are positioning Beirut as the future "Silicon Valley of the Middle East".
The wave of revolts that swept the Middle East four years ago introduced many in the region to the power of the internet, and led to an exponential rise in internet access.

Beirut now seeks to take the lead and capitalise on this transnational cultural shift.

Lebanon's economic prospects distinguish the Middle Eastern country from many of its war-torn neighbours. International tech investors are today adding projects in Beirut - in hopes of establishing an up-and-coming technology hub for the entire region.

According to Lebanon's Central Bank, which has committed millions of dollars to tech sector growth, Beirut could see major shifts in the next few decades in the direction of high-tech industry.

A recent report by CNN labelled Beirut as a "resilient, transformation city" with a culture of freedom and diversity which could serve as a solid base for the Middle East's growing online revolution.

According to industry publisher Tech Crunch, Beirut's tech sector has grown by an average annual rate of 7.9 percent in recent years to reach a market size of $381 million in 2014.

"Beirut is rapidly shaping up to be a powerhouse for startups in the Middle East. It has many of the key elements: a highly entrepreneurial culture, incubators and accelerators, venture capital, some gradually favourable government policy, and access to growth funding," said Mike Butcher, editor of Tech Crunch.
     Beirut is rapidly shaping up to be a powerhouse for startups in the Middle East.
- Mike Butcher, Tech Crunch


The hub

As Beirut builds on those prospects, UK officials helped the momentum by launching a new project in cooperation with Lebanon's Central Bank. Named "The UK-Lebanon Tech Hub", it is aimed at supporting the growth of the knowledge economy in Lebanon.

The UK government has opened a new office for Lebanese tech entrepreneurs in London. The "Tech Hub" office is meant to allow Lebanese entrepreneurs to use the UK as a springboard for tech growth.

"For thousands of years Lebanon has had a reputation for trading and entrepreneurship," said Colm Reilly, CEO of the UK-Lebanon Tech Hub.

"Despite tough conditions in the region, this spirit is evident in the new generation of entrepreneurs that are developing the country's tech scene."

Challenges ahead

According to BBC World News, Lebanon has one of the slowest internet connections in the world. But Telecommunications Minister Boutros Harb is expected this month to launch a five-year national telecommunications strategy in a bid to boost the sector's performance.

Harb explained that the new strategy includes a plan to provide Lebanon with a fibre-optic network and 4G services across the country. The project, Harb added, will be fully funded from the ministry's budget.  

The political infrastructure also has a say in the success or failure of Beirut's tech vision. The country has been without a president for more than a year, with an inactive and largely unconstitutional parliament in place.

From the east, the threat of the Islamic State group persists, as the army and Hizballah engage in fierce clashes on the borders with Syria.

If Lebanon manages to survive the spillover from the war in Syria and develop its political institutions and infrastructure, its capital could be home to the Middle East's very own Silicon Valley.

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