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Inside the Hidden World of Egyptian Bitcoin Miners

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Egyptian Bitcoin Miners

Egypt’s unfavourable regulatory environment has made bitcoin adoption more difficult in the North African country. Nonetheless, Egyptians are secretly buying and selling the digital currency on peer-to-peer exchanges while a hidden network of cryptocurrency miners has emerged to take advantage of cheap energy to stealthily mine bitcoins.

Egypt’s Underground Bitcoin Mining Scene

Globally, people are using their computers to mine bitcoin. However, in Egypt bitcoin miners operate under a veil of secrecy. Bitcoin miners have established an underground network away from the public eye, with only a few even willing to speak to the media.

The bitcoin underground is fuelled by market regulators whose negative stance towards cryptocurrencies has made it difficult for bitcoin traders and miners to go about their activities. The Central Bank of Egypt refuses to accept digital currencies and recognizes only the Egyptian pound as legal tender. While transacting in cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin is not illegal, the authorities are seemingly willing to take action against any bitcoin-related activities within its jurisdictions.

Speaking to Cairo Scene under a pseudonym, Hussein, a bitcoin miner, argues the law is rather ambiguous when it comes to bitcoin and thus most people are concerned about being discovered.

“I believe what I’m doing is legal. When people get arrested for mining it’s usually because they’re caught with black market foreign currency exchange, or they’re forging money and they just happen to have mining rigs or bitcoin on them. The authorities see this and therefore associate cryptocurrency with illegal activity,” he stated.

Therefore, it makes sense that the mining community would adopt a defensive attitude. What is puzzling is bitcoin is not technically off-limits so why go to such great lengths to remain concealed? Hussein explains,

“The recent statements they’ve given say mining is not illegal, but it can get you into trouble for sure. I think the administration is trying to understand cryptocurrency, but they’re still in the process of learning more. I’m 99 percent sure that if they knew more about it, it’d be fully legalized in Egypt…. Legal like in Japan, the US, England, Europe, legal like in most countries.”

How is Bitcoin Mined in Egypt?

Bitcoin mining is the process where miners contribute their computing power to solve complex algorithms to confirm and process transactions on the bitcoin blockchain. For that, they are rewarded with fresh bitcoins. The higher the computing power the larger the reward. This is why mining farms have been created, hosting scores of computers with extra processing power to earn more bitcoins.

Currently, Ethereum is the most frequently mined cryptocurrency in Egypt on account of it being the most profitable mining option and its mining hardware being easily accessible locally. Bitcoin is usually mined through special hardware called ASICs whereas Ethereum is mined through graphics cards (GPUs), which is a standard for gamers and video editors who require heavy processing capabilities.

However, the reality of mining in Egypt is quite different from the usual set up found in other countries. Spread across the busy metropolis of Cairo are multitudes of hidden farms where digital currencies are mined every day. You will discover the people who participate in the mining are not your typical hackers or tech aficionados typing away late into the night.

A perfect example would be Hussein, who is a  former economics student, but decided to try his luck in the male-dominated bitcoin mining scene. A spot check across Egyptian digital currency interest groups on Facebook and Whatsapp also reveal very few women in the bitcoin space.

Having said that, despite the community being composed of different professions such as economists, doctors, entrepreneurs, and coders, they are united by the prospect of cashing in on bitcoin’s volatility, and the process of earning the worlds most valuable cryptocurrency through mining. The question then arises, why Egypt of all places?

Lower Mining costs in the Form of Cheap Electricity

The typical mining setup includes a PC working at all hours converting maths into money. The process requires a lot of energy in order to prevent the hardware from overheating and getting damaged; since the inbuilt PC fans are not enough to handle the heat produced by the constant heavy workload. Therefore, external fans and air conditioning are required to lower the temperatures in mining farms.

Surprisingly, as demanding as it can be to keep things cool in Egypt’s arid environment, the cost of electricity is cheaper compared to other developing economies. This has encouraged the local cryptocurrency mining boom due to the low overheads involved. Hussein points out,

“Until recently, energy was subsidized, and a lot of people don’t even pay for electricity, which is sad. But that’s part of why it’s more profitable to mine in Egypt… Yes, of course, I pay my electricity bill.”

For Mohammed, a Cairo-based Ethereum miner, the mining craze is fueled by more than just cheap electricity. He believes how you pay for the energy plays a significant role in making the endeavour more lucrative. “I think it’s better to mine in Egypt because you pay your energy bills in local currency, but you get your investment back in cryptocurrency.”

He explains that bitcoin, which acts as a digital asset, has retained value more reliably than the inflation-prone Egyptian pound. That combined with the cheap energy has led to some expats to consider moving back to Egypt.

Bassem is an Egyptian who presently resides in Qatar and runs a bitcoin mining farm. He owns a fleet of ASIC machines that are optimised to mine non-stop and churn out bitcoins. He started mining in Doha on account of the free electricity being provided but has now set his sights on returning to Egypt this year. He is not that worried about leaving behind the free energy as he calculates his farm will still make a good profit once he deducts electricity costs.

What are the Benefits of Cryptocurrency Mining in Egypt

For Egyptians, cryptocurrency mining has changed their financial fortunes. A case in point would be Hussein who developed an interest in digital currencies due to his economics background. He learnt about bitcoin through YouTube videos and started mining in 2012. He then quit his job and moved back to Egypt, something that would not have been possible without the income he receives from mining digital currencies.

“[Cryptocurrency mining] has enabled me to take the time to think about my future plans, rather than worry about monthly expenses. Especially in Egypt, by mining, you can make enough money to just live. Depending on market fluctuation, a one-time 50,000 LE investment in equipment can earn the equivalent of about $400 a month.”

Hussein who is also a cryptocurrency trader insists he has made more money on cryptocurrency than investing in real estate. The new coins he earns are converted to fiat currencies by trading them at the exchanges for a profit. But not only are individuals making money out of crypto mining, local hardware dealers are cashing in on the demand for mining hardware. According to Mohammed, hardware importers are not only making good money but a number of them have joined the bandwagon and taken up mining themselves. Hussein had this to add,

“Mining in Egypt is booming, but one issue is the equipment; when the price of Ethereum spiked, demand for GPUs was high and stores couldn’t stock enough of them… Getting GPUs in Egypt is kind of like getting drugs. It’s actually easier to get drugs than to get GPUs sometimes.”

On the debate by some critics from some Muslim countries who claim that cryptocurrencies might be haram if it is viewed as making money out of nothing, Hussein had this to say, “If the monetary system is haram, then sure, bitcoin is haram,” he began. “But in my opinion, it’s not. The trading aspect is definitely not; it’s a mutual agreement, and bitcoin is equal to money, which we already use. And you can actually see a lot of religious people mining bitcoin.”

While bitcoin mining may be unappealing for most due to the high energy requirements and the technological complexity, for Egyptian cryptocurrency miners the process is quite very rewarding.

Mohammed states,

“I believe in the future of cryptocurrency – nobody can refute it. It’s already happening now, some countries are already making bitcoin official. I hope that Egypt uses it eventually. They have to know that people here are using it now, that people believe in it and put their trust in it.”

Source: CairoScene.com

Bitcoin

Kidnappers in South Africa Demand Bitcoin Ransom for Teenager, Boy Found Unharmed

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Kidnappers Demand Bitcoin Ransom

In South Africa, a gang has kidnapped a 13-year old teenager and demanded a ransom to be paid in bitcoin for his release. The abductors have demanded a ransom of 15 BTC, which is an equivalent of $120,000 at today’s prices.

“This is a kidnapping! We have your child. Your child will not be harmed if the following demands are met: We demand a ransom of 15 bitcoins to be paid to the below Bitcoin wallet to secure your child’s safe release,” reads the note left by the kidnappers.

According to The South African, 13-year-old Katlego Mariate was kidnapped while playing with two of his friends at his home in Frangipani Street, Tasbetpark Extension 3, Witbank. Witnesses testified the victim was grabbed into a gold Toyota Corolla occupied by three unknown men before driving off.

The Police spokesman, Brigadier Leonard Hlathi, said the situation is being investigated:

“We are investigating a case of kidnapping that happened on Sunday in Witbank. There was a demand that was made that the parents should deposit cash in bitcoins.”

Another police officer said the parents of the victim, who are in deep shock over the incident, do not even know what bitcoin is. “They don’t even know what this bitcoin is. They’re devastated and you can see they’re worried and asking themselves: ‘Where’s our son?”

Boy Found Unharmed

According to Reuters Africa, police spokesman Hlathi informed the public that the boy was found unharmed on May 24.

This appears to be the first case in the country involving a bitcoin ransom in a kidnapping. However, it is not the first time this has happened in other parts of the world. Last year, a bitcoin analyst was kidnapped in Ukraine and, in early 2018, a lawyer was abducted with respective kidnappers demanding bitcoin as ransom in Mexico.

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Golix Shelves ICO and Takes Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to Court Over Cryptocurrency Ban

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Zimbabwe Cryptocurrency Ban

Following the directive by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) to ban cryptocurrency, one of the largest cryptocurrency exchange in Zimbabwe, Golix, has now gone to court challenging the directive by Zimbabwe’s central bank after it was forced to shelve its token sale, which was scheduled to start on May 14. and was asked to cease operations by the central bank.

Golix informed Bitcoin Africa on May 15 that it has decided to suspend its planned ICO due to the RBZ’s new directive, which is effectively forcing them to shut down its operation by preventing banks from dealing with cryptocurrency startups. Moreover, as reported by TechZim, the central bank also reached out to Golix directly, in the week to follow the directive announcement, informing them that they are required to cease operations entirely.

Aside from warning the general public to keep away from decentralised digital currencies, RBZ sent a directive to all banks on May 11, 2018, giving them a maximum of 60 days to end any relationships they may have with cryptocurrency exchanges. Several bank accounts belonging to Golix have already been closed.

The circular, which was issued by the Registrar of Banking Institutions in Zimbabwe, N. Mataruka, lists Golix and Styx24 as the country’s cryptocurrency exchanges. In the circular, one of the reasons RBZ gave regarding the ban was that they wanted to be able to “safeguard the integrity, safety and soundness of the country’s financial system, and to protect the public in general”.

Golix is Fighting Back

Golix Launches ICOGolix will not go out without a fight. Golix has presented the High Court of Zimbabwe with three arguments on why the ban of cryptocurrency in the country is not just. In their first argument, Golix questioned whether the RBZ has any legal authority to ban cryptocurrencies. In their explanation, Golix detailed how they had severally met the RBZ including a day before the circular was released. According to their first argument, RBZ has no authority over Golix and neither have they, in their engagements, ever shown or behaved in a manner that indicated so.

Golix’s second argument terms RBZ’s directive as unfair based on the legal principle of administrative justice as the central bank of Zimbabwe neither gave reasonable notice nor the right of response. This, according to Golix’s argument, means the RBZ breached the right to Administrative Justice considering that by statue, RBZ is an administrative body.

A quote from the second argument by Golix as shared by Techzim states:

“Applicant was never advised prior to the ban that it will be implemented even though Respondents had ample opportunity to advise Applicant of same. As aforesaid, the last meeting between the parties was held on 11 May 2018. Four officials from the Applicant including myself attended the meeting while fifteen officers, including the Registrar of Banking Institutions represented the Respondents. In that meeting, the discussions were more of Respondents wanting to learn and understand the technology behind our business and our business model. The impression we got was that Respondents wanted to understand in order to begin working on regulation. No mention was made of any impending ban on our business”.

Unconstitutional Ban

According to Golix’s third argument, the ban by the RBZ is unconstitutional. Golix sited Section 68 of the constitution by saying: “Section 68 of the Constitution requires that administrative action be lawful, reasonable, proportionate and procedurally fair. I humbly submit that Respondents’ actions fell short of the standard required in the Constitution”.

In their defense, they give reasons as to why the view the directive as unconstitutional as:

“First, the press statement issued by 1st Respondent does not state the purpose for which the ban was imposed. The reason why it was necessary to impose the ban is not stated in the press statement. We can only speculate as to why the ban was imposed. In the absence of a clear reason for the imposition of the ban, it is really difficult to assess the proportionality of 1st Respondent’s decision vis-a –vis the goal it was intended to achieve. Nonetheless, even in the absence of a clear reason for the ban, it is not difficult to see that the decision is disproportionate”.

Following the directive, Golix issued a statement via their blog notifying its customers that unless RBZ changed its position before the 60-day window period given, they “will not be able to send or receive fiat currencies for cryptocurrency trades”.

While the High Court of Zimbabwe will determine the fate of the case between Golix and RBZ, the move by Zimbabwe’s central bank to ban cryptocurrencies is a clear indication of how most African states are yet to embrace digital currencies such as bitcoin. And while we cannot speculate on the ruling that the court will make, this move could slow down the adoption of cryptocurrencies in other African markets.

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Can Bitcoin QR Codes Provide Artists With A New Revenue Stream?

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Bitcoin allows everyone in the world with an Internet connection to send and receive payments without the need for a financial institution as an intermediary. This also enables anyone to be rewarded for their product, service or even artwork by simply providing a bitcoin address for payments.

Pascal Boyart, a French street artist, is using quick response (QR) codes to help Kickstart his street art career with bitcoin donations. He recently gained the attention of the bitcoin community when one of his murals became a trending topic on the Bitcoin subreddit. Boyart has already received over 0.11 bitcoin, which translates to roughly $1,000.

A self-described cryptocurrency enthusiast, Boyart believes that there are many benefits for the creative industry from decentralisation. According to a report by The Next Web, rather than displaying art in galleries and going through dealers, the bitcoin QR code is part of a movement by artists who want to gain more independence. Boyart also explores the themes that relate to crypto and decentralisation in his work. The artwork that made Boyart popular on Reddit was a mural painting of Rembrandt, the famous Dutch painter.

Bitcoin QR Codes

Bitcoin QR CodesWhen using bitcoin to pay at point-of-sale or face-to-face, users generally scan QR codes to make the payment instead of typing in lengthy bitcoin wallet addresses. A QR code can easily represent the amount of data required in a machine-readable manner for a bitcoin payment to be processed.

Independent artists often struggle financially, which is why new forms of monetisation, such as Patreon or integrating cryptocurrency QR codes into their work, provide excellent alternatives that could lead to artists being able to live solely off their art.

Boyart managed to earn revenue from his murals without needing an exhibition in a gallery simply by attaching bitcoin QR codes to his work. This shows that as a decentralised peer-to-peer payment platform, bitcoin presents all creatives, whether they are authors, artists, musicians or photographers, with a new potential monetisation avenue as they can sell their work directly to fans worldwide.

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