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Last updated : Nov 2009
Cairo Business Profile
Cairo business profile - Cairo TravelPuppy
As the capital of Egypt and largest city, Cairo is the hub of the country’s economy. With a GDP of $68.8 billion during 2001/02 (a 2 per cent increase on the previous year), Egypt has the 3rdlargest economy in the Middle East and North Africa region, after Israel and Saudi Arabia. Its trade in goods and services exceeds $30 billion.

Egypt is still a rising market, moving from an economy formerly dominated by nationalised industries to one that is increasingly led by the private sector. The commitment of the current government to privatisation of industries and banking and other reforms has encouraged foreign investment. Economic growth slowed down to 2.5 / 3 per cent for 2001/2002 (it was 5.7 per cent during 1998/1999). Inflation is under control and is expected to remain below 3.5 per cent in the approaching years. The budget deficit fell to 5.5 per cent of Gross Domestic Products during 2001/2002, with balance of payments deficit declining to only 1 per cent of GDP.

Exports show a rise of around 2 per cent per year, with non-petroleum exports showing an increase of 15 per cent, primarily due to rude cotton and free zone exports. Unemployment, is high in Egypt as a whole – at 17.5 per cent– and even this is only the official figure and does not consist of the large numbers of unregistered people. Reducing unemployment, chiefly by encouraging private sector initiatives, is a high priority for the current government.

The public sector, including social services, government and the military, makes up Cairo's largest ‘industry’.

Cairo is the centre of a finance, growing trade and insurance sector, with names including Coopers & Lybrand, American Express and Price Waterhouse present in the city.

Tourism and the industry of the Suez Canal (serving the shipping companies) are the primary industries in the services sector. Tourism is the Egypt's largest source of foreign currency and has shown outstanding growth, with record numbers of visitors with 70 per cent of them from Europe during 2002. The most significant tourism markets are Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Although total revenues have been falling in recent years, petroleum remains 1 of the key industries and is ready to recover with the rise in oil prices. Egypt has become the 12th largest natural gas provider in the world due to gas reserves of 57 billion cubic metres and further reserves being exploited. Oil companies including Mobil, Exxon and Esso are all investors here.

Just under a 3rd of Egyptians are employed in agriculture, with cotton being the major export. The mining and industrial sectors made up 20 per cent of GDP during 1998/1999. The economy is reasonably well varied, with construction, manufacturing, transport, communications, and tourism, all showing significant expansion. Transport and communications have shown strong growth in the past few years. Key industries, such as metals (aluminium, steel and iron), textiles, automobiles, petrochemicals, cement, consumer electronics and pharmaceuticals, are gradually expanding under private sector management. The government has also promised to make the development of high-technology a priority, and attract export oriented manufacturing firms to institute bases in Egypt.

Business Etiquette

Hospitality and courtesy are as significant in business dealings as they are in Egyptian life.. The host of a business meeting should be sure to offer guests tea or a small snack before starting the meeting. It is considered polite to refuse the 1st offer but the host must insist and then it would be impolite for the guest to refuse the 2nd or 3rd invitation to have something. Alcohol should be avoided until visitors are assured of their colleague’s attitude towards it. Even when drinking with Egyptians, visitors should only ever partake in moderation and this particularly applies to women, for whom it is not considered seemly to over indulge in alcohol.

Hospitality in Egypt is generous, and if invited to a business lunch, the table is likely to be covered in food and visitors must do their best to enjoy as much of it as possible. It is always better to claim an allergy to a particular kind of dish than to express any distaste.

It is regarded as extremely bad manners to openly criticise or display anger throughout the Arab world. Skill and diplomacy will be required to conduct business meetings and much will be gained by a close observation of the way businesspeople operate. Instead of contradicting or criticising someone, visitors should instead ask if they think a different way of doing something may be better.

In social life, it is considered rude to turn up for a rendezvous at precisely the agreed times and everyone is always a little late. This is less accurate in the business world but does also happen. No one will take offense if foreigners are on time but Egyptians certainly apply the right to be late and visitors should be prepared for this.

As a Muslim country, women should not suggest to shake a man’s hand, but only do so if the man offers his hand first. Women are advised to dress smartly for business meetings and always dress modestly.

Government offices are open from 8.30 am to 2.00 pms except Fridays and sometimes Saturdays.

Business hours for the private sector are generally 9.00 am to 2.00 pm in winter, 9.00 am to 1.00 pm in the summer, and open again in the evening from 5.00 pm to 8.00 pm. Christian businesses may be closed on Saturday afternoons and on Sundays, and Muslim businesses may be closed on Thursday afternoons and Fridays.