Meet Iraq's answer to Mark Zuckerberg

Meet Iraq's answer to Mark Zuckerberg
A young entrepreneur in Iraq has set up a social media network which he says has better features than global giant Facebook.
2 min read
03 November, 2016
Iraqi programmer Sajjad Saadi has started social media site Neproo [Sajjad Saadi]
Social media networks have had a transformative impact on the Arab world in recent years, enabling a wave of online activism and a space for free speech, as well as a vital line for refugees searching for their families.

As Facebook, Twitter and messaging app Whatsapp soar in popularity, one young Iraqi entrepreneur has set his sights on becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg.

Nineteen-year-old Sajjad Saadi from the southern city of Diwaniyah has set up "Neproo", a networking portal offering all of Facebook's popular features - and more.

It already has around 100,000 users who can set up individual pages, post pictures, videos and music.

It also has a video chat feature, and as Iraqis like to use Facebook to buy and sell goods, Neproo also has a "My Shop" page where users can advertise and trade products.

"I planned it very carefully so we would attract the maximum number of users," said Saadi, speaking to Iraqi news site Niqash.

"For example, on Facebook you cannot tell how many people have visited your page," Saadi said.

"There is also a counter on each person's page that gives the most active users added benefits. They can get free gifts from Neproo, things like advertising and logos for their pages. It strengthens their personal brand," Saadi said.

I want it to be seen as distinctively Iraqi too and I hope I can stay here in this country to make it happen

As his country reels from years of sectarian strife, his site, managed by programme engineers in Kut, Basra and Samawa, takes social responsibility seriously too.

Neproo censors any sectarian related debate, replacing sensitive words with a star symbol, and there are plans to include a plug-in that will censor violent images.

The software designer added Neproo does not "spy" on users' personal data. Saadi's aim is to create a site that people can use safely, no matter what their ethnicity, religion or nationality, he said.

While many talented young Iraqis pine for a new life abroad, Saadi wants to stay in his homeland - and he wants to see more career opportunities for his peers, too.

"I think of this as my future," he said. "I want it to be seen as distinctively Iraqi too and I hope I can stay here in this country to make it happen."

"Currently I am working on a website funded by an international backer which supports young software developers with new ideas," he said.