July 4, 2021

OpenSooq, one of the Middle East's flourishing businesses during the pandemic.

The pandemic has had a profound impact on businesses and economies alike. One of the key factors was the lockdowns imposed by governments to contain it. This has led to a notable shift to online shopping, where traffic has accelerated. As a result, many services have flourished, and others have had to prove their adaptability in the face of unprecedented times. OpenSooq, an Amman-based mobile-first classifieds marketplace, has managed to raise 24 million dollars from Saudi and Jordanian investment funds, with 65 million consumers across the MENA region.

In an interview with Al-Jazeera, chairman of OpenSooq, Khaldoon Tabaza, who serves on the board of Jeeny and is an investor through investment group iMENA, of which he is the founder and managing director, said, "The pandemic has been a great accelerant for adoption and usage of e-commerce services...In a business like OpenSooq, users have turned to our application to search and find whatever they need, be it a car or an apartment, facilitating their lives tremendously...What we have seen, also, is that after the lockdowns were partially and fully lifted in many countries, that this increase and surge in traffic to e-commerce businesses in the MENA region has persisted."

Tabaza also commented on the ride-sharing app Jeeny's adaptability during the pandemic, stating, "Obviously when there were lockdowns and people were unable to move, Jeeny was significantly affected. However, when lockdowns were lifted partially, we noted that Jeeny has gotten back to its previous levels and even exceeded its previous levels. More importantly, after the lockdowns were lifted, we have seen Jeeny basically hitting new records and new levels in terms of traffic. This is because users and passengers have opted for private cars because they offer them assurance in terms of security and health."

According to Tabaza, the Middle East is becoming a serious contender in this age of increased digitization. Uber's recent investment in Careem is an example of this, and it has inspired other investors to look for "the next big thing" in the region. "What's happening in the Middle East is that there’s a transfer of value that is happening in the large traditional economic sectors. Billion-dollar valuations have shifted to online businesses with the likes of OpenSooq leading the way...These businesses are getting closer to the though they started by selling advertising space, they're now making a cut on the transaction itself, which means that they've even going to be bigger than their parallel business models in the traditional economy."