Does bitcoin and crypto have a prominent place in the Middle East? Just ask Ghass Mo, a freelancer who now calls Kurdistan, Iraq home after leaving his native Syria due to the ongoing civil war.
Ghass Mo Suggests a Growing Crypto Presence in the Middle East
Mo has been working as a bitcoin freelancer for the past two years. He does not earn any standard fiat for his work, but is instead paid in BTC, which he then uses to support his family back home. Describing what he does, he explained:
I get paid in bitcoin for doing work on open-source projects related to the cryptocurrency industry. The first programmer I met was Amir Taaki… I learned a lot from him, and he was supporting me.
This meeting occurred primarily by chance. Originally, it wasn’t Mo’s desire to fall into the bitcoin space. It’s just something that happened, but with so many social and economic problems in Syria, Mo felt cryptocurrency provided him with a solid opportunity to enter an entirely new field and earn the funds he needed. He says:
The ongoing war in Syria and lack of stability affected me. Sometimes, I spend months trying to finish an online course, translating every single word [from English]. The people [I know] interested in this field of study could be counted on one hand.
To purchase the items he’ll need or to pay bills, Mo is required to transfer his BTC into fiat currency through local exchanges such as Kurdcoin, which serves as a transfer hub for so many of the Middle East’s crypto enthusiasts. This exchange was founded by a young man named Abdurrahman Bapir, who’s been operating a money network for the past three years.
Bapir teams up with local hawala businesses, which are used to send money across several Islamic states. These companies have been operating for years, long before crypto as we know it even existed. Now that BTC is one of the most popular assets around, utilizing crypto to transfer money to neighboring parties has become a prominent setup.
Bapir mentions how social media has played into getting people onboard the bitcoin bandwagon:
Facebook is our primary source for discovery for new clients. Word of mouth is the second. We also sell hardware wallets ourselves. We recently started this service. We’ve sold ten in Iraq, and it’s increasing.
Border Lockdowns Are a Problem
Unfortunately, a dark cloud has formed on the horizon in the shape of the coronavirus, which has enforced countless lockdowns. This has led to serious problems in making sure transfers occur on time and people get the money they need to survive. Mo explains:
After the lockdown due to the coronavirus, the borders between Iraqi Kurdistan and Rojava [Syria] have been closed. Sometimes, there are difficulties in transferring money and the fees increase several times.