Bitcoin appeal beats ban and warnings in Jordan
Amman - Despite its uncertain value and an official warning against trading with it, Jordanians are seeking to make transactions with bitcoin, the cryptocurrency and worldwide payment system that has been providing fast and big profits. While some are attracted to the digital currency, which has skyrocketed in value over the past year, others look at it with scepticism.
The Central Bank of Jordan and the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission warned against dealings with any virtual currency, especially bitcoin, but trades through financial brokers are still being conducted, though in a very limited way, the Jordanian Exchange Association said.
“The whole world is doing it, so why not us?” asked one bitcoin dealer, who spoke to The Arab Weekly on condition of anonymity. “I bought some digital currency last year and I saw my money grow more than 200%. I can cash the money anytime but I don’t need it now so I am waiting for the right moment.”
“I know that there are many doubts surrounding the bitcoin but I have many friends in the United States who have made big fortunes there. The digital currency world is happening and we need to be part of it,” said the 31-year-old, adding that his initial $1,000 investment saw big returns in just four months.
“There are other options that are strong, too, and worth investing in. I am being careful not to invest a lot of money (in bitcoin) but it is fine with me to focus on one currency and see how things go,” he said.
While digital currencies are a trendy trading item, many Jordanian economists have raised concerns about dealing with them.
“We are happy that the authorities banned dealings in such a virtual world because these currencies are not controlled by the price of gold or in any other normal way. Still, there is some interest here in Jordan to invest in them,” said journalist Ziad Momani.
“The virtual world is full of threats and this could be one way for laundering money. So it is better to forget about it though some European countries allowed dealings with it.”
Fahed Khaled, 40, a businessman, said he is interested in investing in digital currency but finds it risky and unclear.
“It is a kind of revolution on traditional currency and, despite all warnings, many people are making money depending on how much you are willing to invest,” he said. “I find it a bit risky but I am sure everyone will follow soon as the world is catching up. We can see, for example, the British Central Bank plans to issue its own digital currency, so it is a matter of time only.”
“Today, there are many options in which a person can invest digital currency but the general feeling, at least here, is not encouraging, although around the world and in the United States, for instance, there are machines in the streets where you can buy or sell bitcoins, which means it is legal to do so and I am sure soon it will be all over the world,” he added.
Some countries, such as Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Finland, South Korea, Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Estonia have taken a positive stance towards bitcoin, others have banned the use of virtual currencies. In the Arab world, those restricting the use of bitcoin include Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.
Innovations often take time to be accepted in the Arab region. Egypt announced a ban on using any type of virtual currency and the country’s top Islamic cleric issued a fatwa against the currency. However, many people are trying to demonstrate the positive aspect of dealing with bitcoin, taking to social media to encourage others to trade with it.
“Bitcoin Egypt” is a Facebook page managed by Atef al-Khateeb, a Cairo-based bitcoin trader, with more than 2,000 followers. Khateeb said he is lucky to trade with bitcoin and invites followers to follow suit.
Last year in Dubai, the company behind a $325 million luxury housing development said it would accept bitcoin payments, which shows confidence in the currency.
“The world cannot be wrong and if respectful companies are saying OK to bitcoin, I think there should be some truth in it,” Khaled said. “What is wrong about making money the easy way, many people are (doing it), bitcoin or no bitcoin.”
While many Arabs are hoping to become the next Erik Finman, the teenage bitcoin investor who reputedly turned $1,000 into more than $5 million, they need to wait until their governments agree to enter the new world, even a virtual one.
Roufan Nahhas, based in Jordan, has been covering cultural issues in Jordan for more than two decades.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.