The Middle East’s new wave of young telecoms entrepreneurs

26 May 2015 | Alex Hawkes

Alex Hawkes

Blog Author |


As Yemen becomes the latest Middle Eastern nation to become embroiled in civil war, efforts to advance the region’s telecoms infrastructure suffered another setback.

As Yemen becomes the latest Middle Eastern nation to become embroiled in civil war, efforts to advance the region’s telecoms infrastructure suffered another setback.

Conflict has continued to hinder telecoms operators in the region, with several high-profile terrestrial projects having been put on indefinite hiatus due to fighting in Syria. 

Yet, war has not been the sole culprit in preventing progress in the region. An archaic regulatory environment has also often played a significant role too. 

Sama Telecom has positioned itself as a specialist new frontier markets in the Middle East and conflict zone. The company’s CEO Mahdi Yahya says the internet is a powerful weapon in helping frontier markets regenerate and grow business – but has been frustrated by his experiences with governments in the region.   

“Speaking for the younger generation of business people operating in the region: bureaucracy is still a problem. Rules are often two decades out of date. We are still regulating for fixed-line when LTE is just around the corner,” he says. “There are far too many older people in top-tier regulatory positions in the Middle East. These organisations need to be shaken up – we need some new innovative thinking. Too little is being done. They need to get out of their offices.”

He views youth as essential for bringing about change and innovation: “We need younger people and people with more on-the-ground business experience in these positions who, instead, see these challenges as an opportunity to develop new and exciting solutions”.

Yahya considers himself part of a new wave of energetic young telecoms entrepreneurs, who have left their home countries and witnessed first-hand in Europe and North America the power of instant, fast connectivity. Returning home, he says, this generation has realised the significant technological gap that has emerged. 

Although optimistic that the region is reaching a significant turning point, Yahya poses some poignant questions for those in power: “There's too much inaction. Why can't countries in the Middle East lead the rest of the world on telecoms? Why can't we have some of the fastest and more reliable data connections?”