Conservative dating service
For example, explains Saleh, “During the initial match, users don’t see much,” referring to the first phase of Harmonica’s match-making.
In stark contrast to applications like Tinder – which Saleh likes to call a “meat market” – female users have the option to hide their photos until they’ve approved another user to view them.
“We would use and we would use Uber,” says Saleh, referring to other popular mobile apps, “but some startups cannot penetrate the market without understanding the social aspect.” In his opinion, dating apps have struggled to shake their image in the Middle East as “hook-up apps.” In a country where Saleh says “20 or 30 percent of guys in university have never even spoken to a girl in that way before,” he believes a serious rethink is in order to make mobile dating work here.
The idea behind Harmonica is to approach dating in line with local cultural norms.
An economic downturn since the Arab Spring in 2011 has left people fighting to maintain living standards, let alone start a new family.
After seeing what this was doing to his loved ones, Saleh decided in 2015 that he would find a way to help.
These days, young people are more inclined to use their mobiles phones “for all lifestyle issues,” says Spira, “whether it's an airline ticket, booking a hair appointment, or scheduling a date.” But while millennials in the Middle East have proved just as receptive to all things social media as their Western counterparts, dating apps have proved to be the exception.
A 2016 study found that while Badoo and Tinder dominate the Spanish and English-speaking worlds respectively, countries in the Middle East tended to use localised apps, if at all.
Her father has met with around 40 young men over the years who have visited Amira’s family home to discuss marrying her, but so far, nothing has come of it. “I never have enough time to get to know them.” Under her father’s strict rules, she is able to have no more than two meetings with a potential suitor, all in the company of her family, and asked to make a decision shortly after. In Egypt, where life revolves around marriage, premarital sex remains fiercely taboo and the word for an unmarried woman, is a malicious insult – it’s the reason why, for this story, Amira is using a fake name.Although other dating sites have been targeted at the Middle East – Matchmallow, Love Habibi, and the many Muslim dating sites – it is hard to think of a Tinder equivalent.Saleh thinks that, with 141 million smartphone users, of whom 72 percent are under 34, the region’s potential has been overlooked.In October, he launched the fruit of his labours: Harmonica, Egypt’s first mobile-dating application.