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University of Balamand > News > Archive > Symposium on "Bitcoins in Lebanon"

Balamand Organizes Symposium on "Bitcoins in Lebanon"

The Faculty of Business and Management & the Faculty of Science organized a symposium on Bitcoins on May 22 that brought together a number of experts for a discussion of the virtual currency as seen by practitioners, academicians and entrepreneurs. The event took place in the Batlouni Amphitheater on the Achrafieh Campus.

A virtual currency that is unregulated by any central bank or government, Bitcoins are being used to purchase goods and services from retailers willing to accept it. Created when they are "mined" or generated by a super computer, Bitcoins also trade on the open market and their value fluctuates much like shares in the stock market.

Purchased on the internet through the use of a national currency, Bitcoins are a decentralized, digital cryptocurrency that allows for electronic payment , and enables a platform for the transfer of money, as explained by Mr. Michel Chammas. 
Cryptocurrency, he said, “is a peer-to- peer digital currency that employs cryptography and a proof of work scheme to generate the currency and validate transactions.”
“The owner of a Bitcoin transfers it to the next owner by digitally signing it over in a transaction, much like endorsing a traditional bank check. A payee can verify each previous transaction to verify the chain of ownership,” said Mr. Chammas.
The symposium included the participation of Mr. David El Achkar, founder of Yellow (a Bitcoins payment startup), Mr. Rudy Fares (a Bitcoin certified coach), Dr. Mona Al Achkar Jabbour, head of the Lebanese Information Technologies Association and Mr. Khaled Bohsali, executive director at the Foreign Affairs department at Banque du Liban.
​The organizers of the symposium, from the University of Balamand, were Fr. Antoine Melki,chairperson of the Department of Computer Science, Mr. Michel Chammas (ma3bar), and Dr. Patrick Mardini from the Faculty of Business and Management.
In his welcoming speech, Dean of the Faculty of Business and Management, Dr. Karim Nasr addressed the audience by asking a number of thought provoking questions posed by the introduction of Bitcoins.

In his remarks, Dr. Nasr asked: “What issues and factors are brought forward by the generation of virtual currency? Is digital money real money? What type of monitoring and control is there? Who protects the consumers and participants from fraud? What role the central bank should play if any? What is the real price of Bitcoins? Can Bitcoin become a legitimate currency and distance itself from being labeled as a mechanism for illegal transactions?”
Fr. Melki discussed the emerging concept of Bitcoins saying that the symposium was being held as a reaction to the outgrowth of virtual currencies that present themselves as “open source.” Bitcoin, he explained, is a different kind of virtual currency used in electronic commerce that we deal with in mining and that has its own regulations. Institutions will soon be accepting payment in Bitcoins, and this is something that needs to be looked at carefully.  The University of Nicosia is now accepting Bitcoin for payment of tuition and other fees, making it the ¬first accredited university in the world to accept the increasingly popular digital currency, he added.
In turn, David Achkar addressed the advantages of Bitcoins, saying their creation was an audacious move that allowed for an easier transfer of values. Mr. Achkar showcased the current Bitcoin technology in what he described as “an alternative digital money on steroids,” and an advantage for banking the unbanked, and “those who don’t have a bank account.”  

“it is a technical development that will lead to signi¬ficant innovation in online commerce, -financial systems, international payments and remittances and global economic development, he added.

In turn, Dr. Mardini addressed the challenges that Bitcoin poses to the banking industry, including the fact that it has been used for the illicit transfer of laundered or drug money. “Transferring Bitcoins, he said, is as free as sending an email. No one controls it or charges me anything. It is a device for sending money.”

Dr. Mardini added that a number of ATM machines offering  Bitcoins are now available, with the first one installed in 2013 in Vancouver, Canada enabling users to exchange the digital currency for cash, and vice versa.  Dr. Mardini said he believed that Bitcoin will remain a tool to transfer money and exchange cash, and that it will not replace any national currency.

The last symposium speaker, Mr. Bohsali, an expert in fraud detection, explained the position of Lebanon’s Central Bank on the use of Bitcoins, saying that the bank has warned against electronic money that is not regulated by anyone and not backed by anyone in case of fraud. The symposium closed with a panel discussion coordinated by the financial news reporter Aline Hallaq.
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