This post is also available in: Japanese
There were several participants from Egypt in an online training session I ran recently for a Japanese automotive company. It is one of the few positive outcomes of the pandemic, that putting training online means it can now be accessed by people who would normally not be able to travel to the regional headquarters in Western Europe to participate in classroom-based training. Technology problems still remain, however. One of the Egyptian participants was a senior manager with many insights to share, but the audio connection was too poor quality to hear what he had to say.
It was unsurprising, therefore, to see that a strong infrastructure was not one of the key attractions for investing in Egypt, according to a recent JETRO survey of Japanese companies who have operations in Africa. Where Egypt did score highly was on the size of its market and growth potential. It has a population of over 100 million, making it the largest Arab country in the world and the third largest country in Africa.
Respondents to the survey also rated Egypt relatively highly on political stability. Since Abdel Gattah al-Sisi, the current President, ousted Mohamed Morsi in 2013, the situation has improved, with the ending of a nationwide state of emergency in 2021, but it is still has military rule, with various human rights concerns. Other Arab states have been supporting Egypt’s economy since Morsi was ousted. They were previously opposed to Morsi, because of his membership of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s roots stretch back to before WWII, when it was founded in Egypt as a pan-Islamic, religious, political and social movement. It was opposed to the British rule in Egypt, an occupation dating back to the 19th century. As a consequence of the occupation, English is widely spoken in Egypt, particularly among the management cadre.
However, as I know from my own family history, Egypt should not be viewed too complacently as an attractive investment destination. My grandfather was posted to Cairo in the 1950s, when he worked for Scandinavian Airlines. After a couple of years there, living a luxurious life with servants and a cook, he found himself having to organise the rescue of his fellow European expatriates, because of the Suez Crisis. This had been preceded by terrorist acts by the Muslim Brotherhood against buildings frequented by the British and other foreigners.
In more recent years, the continuing regular terrorist attacks on foreigners have impacted tourism and the sector has now been hit by the loss of Russian and Ukrainian visitors who were an important source of income. Russia and Ukraine also account for over a quarter of global wheat exports and around 80% of the world’s supply of sunflower oil, so the prices of wheat and cooking oil have rocketed up. This is impacting Egypt badly, as it is the world’s biggest wheat importer, with a subsidised bread programme for two thirds of its population. The intertwined histories of countries in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region continue to evolve.
This article was originally published in Japanese in the Teikoku Databank News on 11th May 2022
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