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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.
After seeing what this was doing to his loved ones, Saleh decided in 2015 that he would find a way to help.“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.“Within a week of launching the Facebook page, we went viral,” he says, “20,000 users downloaded the app in that week alone.” Harmonica’s server, designed to accommodate just 10,000 users in total, crashed under the flood of downloads.Since then, Harmonica has been used over one million times by its users, and has become one of the most popular new apps in the country.Good-looking from a respectable family, and a qualified medical doctor, she should have had no problem finding a fiancé.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.“Some people always say: ‘Oh, it’s totally un-Islamic,’” he says, “‘this app is too modern; it’s [forbidden].’ But if you look at the real social problem, it’s that nobody is helping the youth find partners in a permissible way that works for them.You could argue it isn’t permitted but at the end of the day the greater problem is being caused when young people find it hard to get married.” In the run-up to the launch, Saleh was slightly worried how people would react in Egypt, but in fact, the response was overwhelming.Outside of Egypt, a handful of apps already offer a similar service, such as Matchmallows and Salaam Swipe, based in Canada and the UK respectively.One entrepreneur who predates Saleh is Shahzad Younas, a 33-year-old from Manchester who launched Muzmatch two years ago as a way for young Muslim couples the world over to meet.