Read this before Doing Business in Egypt

Following the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, a lot of positive developments have taken place in Egypt. Last year, we had a business friendly government in place and the political situation in Egypt is today very stable – which makes it an ideal time to do business in Egypt.

If you’re looking to do business in Egypt, then it’s important to have a business partner in that country. A business partnership with a reputable firm in Egypt would take you a long way. Also, it would help considerably to know about the business culture in Egypt. So, let’s talk about the basics of doing business in Egypt.

Egypt’s economy has struggled since a 2011 uprising drove tourists and foreign investors away, two main sources of hard currency, but the government hopes IMF-backed policy changes it has embarked on over the past year will put it back on track.

Egypt is targeting a 20 percent rise in total investment for 2018-19, up from 646 billion Egyptian pounds ($36.58 billion) targeted for 2017-18. To draw investment and boost growth, Egypt passed a new investment law last year offering incentives to investors, while a decision to float the pound in late 2016 led to a devaluation that made Egyptian assets relatively cheap in dollar terms.

Importance of Islam in the Egyptian Business Culture

Islam dominates life in Egypt. It is integral to business, just as it is to the political, economic, legal and personal aspects of life in Egypt. It is important to know the basics of Islam before doing business in Egypt, such as, Muslims need to pray 5 times a day, according to their faith, there isn’t much business activity in Egypt during the holy month of Ramzan and it is forbidden to drink alcohol or eat pork in Islam, so you shouldn’t do so in the company of Muslims.

Importance of Hierarchy in Egyptian Business Culture

Hierarchy in Egyptian business is extremely important, so you must always shake hands of the senior most executives in an organization first, and treat them with the utmost politeness and respect. Egyptians expect to be addressed by titles, so you should use titles such as doctor (for a medical doctor or an academic),  muhendis (for an engineer) and sheikh (for a religious scholar). If you are not clear about which title to use, such prefix “Mr.” or “Ms.” to a surname.

Business Negotiations in Egypt

Always be sure to arrange the business meeting long before the actual schedule, and have the details of the meeting ironed out before it actually happens. Egyptian businessmen don’t like being surprised with a new development in a meeting, so everything you discuss there has to be planned beforehand.

You should always be punctual for the meeting, but it is acceptable for your Egyptian business partner to be late – you shouldn’t mind this anomaly. You shouldn’t be too eager, aggressive or direct in a business meeting, else that would be mistaken for arrogance by your Egyptian business partner.

Be prepared to be asked about a lot of personal things, such as the names of your children, whether they are at school or study in a college – never show irritation at such questions, this is just how business is conducted in Egypt. The intention is to break the ice and get to know you better before rushing to a business decision. Any impatience from you could be a potential deal breaker.

Greetings in Egypt

The handshake is the most common form of greeting in Egypt. This is accompanied by the Islamic greeting, “Asalamu alaikum,” to which you should reply, “Walekum Asalam.” You shouldn’t initiate a handshake with a female business executive in Egypt – you should wait for them to extend their hands first. And never maintain eye contact for too long with an Egyptian woman, as that is considered to be impolite, to say the least. Just nod your head briefly, if you are not sure about what to do.

Conclusion

This article is a part of our ongoing series on “Doing Business in the Middle East and North Africa.” Our goal is to inform people about the right way to form a business partnership with local business partners in the region, and to offer a better understanding of the business culture and etiquette followed in that part of the world. The intention is to ensure that you are comfortable and know what to expect during a business negotiation with a business partner in the Middle East or North Africa. Please send us your suggestions on how we may help to serve you better.