Egypt's Business World
Egypt's economy is mixed in two main ways. First, a lot of Egyptian businesses were nationalized after the country won its independence and during the Arab socialist period of the 1960s and 1970s. The government of Egypt plays a key role in setting macroeconomic and business agendas, and the last twenty years have seen the growth of private companies, which are usually family owned or joint ventures with overseas partners.
Second, all businesses in Egypt are either Islamic or non-Islamic in operations and orientation. Islamic-run companies are operated in accordance with Shari'a law, which influences attitudes on shareholder profiles, borrowing and lending, and human resources issues. Here, you will learn more about how business is done in Egypt.
Most Egyptian businesses adhere to a strict hierarchical structure; usually defined as "managing authority consultatively", implying the need for ongoing discussion without the perceived loss of influence or status. Most Egyptian managers are men, and they consult frequently with colleagues, but almost always make the final decisions. Final decisions are very seldom handed over to subordinates, even in family-owned companies.
As is the case in the rest of the Arab world, the key to a successful business partnership is a good personal relationship. Who you know and who you are matters a lot, and most companies like to do business with those they know and trust. For that reason, it's a good idea to have a local as a go-between; they will have contacts in the area and will be better versed in local business etiquette.
A first business meeting can seem very formal to people from Western cultures; all meetings will involve refreshment service and a lot of small talk, even when time is short. Don't look at these formalities as a waste of time, rather, look at them as the foundation of a personal relationship. When discussing issues, it's advisable to ensure that the meeting is ended with an agreement and a clear idea of who is responsible for each part of the deal. If this isn't done, things can progress very slowly and months can go by before deals are finalized.
Like most other Muslim countries, women and men are not on equal footing when it comes to business. Women don't play a very significant role in Egyptian business, but they are more active than in other Arab nations. While uncommon, it is possible to meet a senior employee who is female. More women take part in joint ventures and family businesses owned by Coptic Christians, who belong to Egypt's other main religion. When doing business with an Egyptian woman, it is advisable to keep a distance both professional and respectful, and to refrain from asking personal questions.
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