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About Egypt

by: Loes Husain-Cornelissen and Ali ElKattan
Currency          Egypt Pound                       
Capital              Cairo                                      
Time Zone        EET (UTC +2)
 
In this profile our experts have compiled the most important information for you to start doing business in Egypt. The country profiles are meant as general introduction and are linked to other documents from the platform that go much more into the details of each culture.

Overview

Geert Hofstede’s analysis for the cultural dimensions.
 
Egypt was one of the 7 Arab countries that participated in the Hofstede research. No separate scores for Egypt are available[KC1], unfortunately, for the first four dimensions. While we can make an educated guess for some dimensions, keep in mind that these are not scientifically validated.
Egypt is a remarkably homogeneous country, although there are certainly differences between the big cities (Greater Cairo and Alexandria), the countryside, Upper Egypt, the Nile Delta (Lower Egypt), the Suez Canal area, and the Sinai. However, in general, there is a clear Egyptian identity, and other Arabs will recognize an Egyptian.
 
Egypt is high on power distance, which means that less powerful members of the organizations expect and accept that power is distributed unequally. This also implies that Egyptians prefer a society in which hierarchy is clearly set and observed. There are significant differences in power and wealth, and people in the lower strata of society accept this. A good leader is a benevolent father who takes care of his people, and not just at work.  
This also accounts for the differences in power between men and women. Power is attributed to men, a fact that women often accept. But take care: there is a large number of very successful and powerful Egyptian business women, especially from the higher echelons of society.
This hierarchical structure can be observed in Egypt from ancient times on, yet the younger generations are behaving more egalitarian.
 
Egypt is a collectivist country, which means that people mainly belong to ‘in-groups’ that take care of them in exchange for loyalty. Therefore, loyalty overrides rationality as well as most of the societal rules and regulations. Family and old (school) friends are the glue to society, but also your religious affinity or the village or region you come from, even if that is 3 generations ago. Where you come from and where you belong to, determines your identity and the way people will treat you.
 
Egypt is strongly uncertainty avoiding, which means that people feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations. In Egypt, we see that the country is somehow lacking an innovative spirit and people are reluctant to change, notably the older generations. Egyptians are highly concerned with rules, regulating social behavior, controls, and respect for expertise. This may seem odd to people who experience Cairo as a big loud mess and Egyptians in general as chaotic and never on time,  but this loud demeanor, the drama and the hazardous driving are mere safety valves to release the stress caused by the relentless strive to control life.[KC2]
 
There is no conclusive nor scientific prove of the position of Egypt on the Masculinity dimension. However, Egypt is considered a relatively feminine culture, which implies that most Egyptians are not really assertive. They prefer harmonious collaboration over conflict and in general try to find a middle ground in arguments and resolve conflicts by compromise and negotiation. Their economies allowing, they would rather socialize with friends and family and they work to live, rather than the other way around. Jealousy can play a hidden and obscure role, and is a force to be reckoned with when dealing with groups of Egyptians.
On the other hand, Egyptians work very hard to get ahead in life, and in that sense, strive to achieve. They make excellent salesmen.
 
Egypt is very short term oriented, which implies that most Egyptian people focus on achieving quick results. They tend to be normative in their thinking and show respect for traditions. They value steadfastness, a principled attitude and are wary of people who constantly change their minds. They call that “opportunism”. [KC3]
 
Also, with respect to indulgence, Egypt is on the very low side, in accordance with many other Muslim countries. It is obvious to note that Egypt is a very restrained country. Social obligations and duties are considered important, and it is not okay to go ahead and do as you please. Yet, Egyptians are known for their comedians, jokes and big parties in the rest of the Arab world. Egyptians certainly have fun! But at the right moment and in the right place.
Business is a serious matter and you should not come across as frivolous.

Some cornerstones of Egyptian culture

Egyptians are very hospitable and cordial. Don’t be surprised if you are invited into their homes, although the invitation should be expressed three times, and you should decline twice.  Building relationship is paramount, so do take the time to meet informally with your business partners and enjoy meals and outings together.
 
Islam is the major religion, with between 85-90% of its population. Between 10-15% of the population is Christian (Copts). Even in major tourist areas on the Red Sea, religious duties are taken seriously. People will not appreciate it if you announce yourself to be an atheist or are critical of their faith. You risk losing your reputation if you do.
 
Major holidays are the Islamic Eid-al-Fitr (3 days) and Eid-al-Adha (4 days). During these holidays, there is no business, but celebrating with your business partners will be highly appreciated and encouraged.
 
Egypt is known for its television soap series, movies, theater, singers and amusement industry, not just in the Arab world but far beyond. Egyptians have been dubbed the Drama Kings and Queens of the Middle East. When you come from Northern Europe, you may find this “exaggerated behaviour”, “overdoing it”, “much ado about nothing.” Be aware that Egyptians may find you, from Northern Europe “cold and aloof”, “arrogant”, “egoistic and blasé”.
 
Women in business are a common feature, both in SMEs as well as in larger corporations.

When in Egypt

Good to know

  • It is good to have an intermediate who can assist with planning appointments and assist in interpreting Egyptian culture and the Arabic language.
  • Punctuality is relaxed; although as a foreigner you are expected to be on time.
  • People prefer relaxed conversation before and after business. Business and private are often mixed and your partner may have various business talks going on at the same moment.
  • Titles are important and should be included on business cards. When greeting Egyptians in a professional setting, formal forms of address should be used. When you have forgotten someone’s name, it is perfectly okay to refer to him or her using the title: Doctor, Muhandis (male engineer), Muhandisa (female engineer) or Ustaz (male) or Ustaza (female).
  • Alcohol is available in many places, although you should not ask for it if your business partner does not offer it. Women should refrain from drinking alcohol in public.
  • Do not table subjects as politics or religion yourself, but if someone else brings it up, listen interested. Be aware that emotions can run high on these subjects, and do not take a judging stand. Be aware that Egyptians are very capable readers of your mind and will notice a negative judgment immediately, even if you do not pronounce it.
  • Egyptians are excellent negotiators and many enjoy the game. Do not put all your cards on the table immediately, but join the negotiating game.

Body language 

  • Loud talking and energetic gestures are common and do not imply imminent disaster. Egyptians tend to express themselves quite extravertly, to the point that foreigners may think something really big is happening. This vehement expression does not mean you can be blunt or direct. Indirect and tactful communication is considered more polite.
  • Man-to-man: Greet your business partner with a firm handshake. If you know him well, hugs and kissing on the cheek can occur.
  • Man- to-woman: wait for her to offer her hand first. If she does not offer her hand, bring your right hand to your heart and nod slightly as a sign of respect.
  • Woman-to-woman: Apart from shaking hands, more touching occurs and the distance is very close.
  • Always greet the eldest person first; Egyptians hold great respect for the elderly.

Dress code

Business is a serious and formal matter and should be treated as such. You should avoid coming across as too frivolous and smiling, even if you have already developed a personal relationship. Dress up, polish your shoes, show you are important and a successful businessman.
 
Woman should in business situations cover their knees and elbows. Only when you see other women dress up more daringly, for example at a social event in Cairo or Alexandria, can you relax the standard. Check with the local women. In the countryside, women should dress conservative at all times, although they are not obliged nor expected to wear a headscarf.
 
Keywords to describe Egyptian culture:
 
Family/hospitable/cordial and warm/great negotiators and salespeople/amusement/expressive

 

 


Doing business in Egypt can be challenging because Egyptians are extremely skilled negotiators and able readers of your mind. In addition, you need patience. Egyptians do not like to be rushed nor pressed to take a fast decision. If you are under time pressure because of HQ back home or because you need to catch your plane, forget it.
Decision-making is an intricate process in Egypt.  You will need to meet with several people and convince them that you are an honest and reliable business (wo)man plus a pleasant person, before they trust themselves to take the risk to introduce you the higher level where the decision-making power lies.
Expect to be subject to a thorough negotiation process, be prepared to compromise and, very importantly, to pay back in one way or another, those who introduced you to the level higher up.
In that respect, do not promise things you cannot live up to. Be prepared that people may ask you to help a son or daughter study in your country.

Expert Recommendation

  • It is paramount to build good relations. Only after a strong bond has been forged, can there be trust and can business be conducted fast and pleasantly. Invest heavily in time to forge this bond.
  • Often, the first meeting is just meant to get to know each other, it is unusual for decisions to be taken.
  • You can discuss religion, but only if you are genuinely interested. Egyptians are excellent readers of someone’s mind and they will detect rejection and judgments immediately, even if you do not express them.  Have an open mind towards their religious life.  It can be a bridgehead to building the relationship, if you are informed about Ramadan, to express your interest in joining for a day or more, or sit in on an Iftar (the first meal when the sun goes down).
  • Should your Egyptian business partner pay you a business visit in your country, then make sure (s)he is never alone. Plan outings, dinners and touristic trips. Assist in making arrangements to meet his/her family while in your country, or a visit to a clinic for a medical checkup.
  • Good conversation topics: history, children, oriental food,  football, music, television and movies (ask about famous Egyptian actors), and literature.
  • Bad conversation topics: politics, Islamist groups, refugees, minorities, why your country is better.
  • Pack a negative message carefully in nice wordings. A blunt NO is impolite.

Dimensions

Power Distance

Egypt scores high on this dimension. This means that Egyptians respect the elderly and hierarchy in a family, at school or at work. In the bureaucracy, it is important to know who can decide and who can introduce you to that person.  The same goes for business negotiations.  A sign of power is listening. A good powerful person listens carefully to all parties and takes a benevolent, fatherly decision. Learn how to be respected as a powerful person by carefully observing and asking.

Individualism

Egypt is a collectivist society where people are proud to belong to their family and groups of long-standing friends.  Egyptians belong to intricate webs of loyalties that are difficult to grasp for outsiders.
Great efforts are made to build relations with you, a foreigner, as you are a guest to their country. You will never be alone and everyone will take great pride in showing you around, or taking you for dinner or an outing. In a restaurant, everyone in the group will offer to pay the bill. You should equally insist on paying.
This collectivist attitude makes Egyptians capable readers of clues to whether you are happy or displeased. If you come from an individualist society, such as Northern Europe, you may not be aware of your nonverbal behaviour and the signals you send out and that are picked up by your Egyptian hosts. In other words, be aware that you are an open book to them.
Bluntness is not appreciated, try to get your message across with tact, diplomacy and indirect. Egyptians need only half a word to understand.

Uncertainty Avoidance

Egypt is a highly uncertainty avoiding country. The preference for clear-cut rules and structures, the respect for the expert: the engineer or doctor, the tendency to stick to the known and the constant strive to control things. But also, their pendent for perfection and the stress many Egyptians experience in their life, which they try to release through their expressiveness, taking time to enjoy a good meal, (black) humor and football. Smoking is another way to get rid of the stress caused by uncertainty. [KC5]
Egyptians highly appreciate it if you are structured and accurate. You might be surprised that this is not reciprocated, but high stress and the many demands of the people around them, may make it next to impossible for Egyptians to live up to their own inner standards of perfection and structure.
 
This combination of high power distance, collectivistic and strong uncertainty avoidance creates a mental image of a pyramid. The pyramid mental image, typical for most Egyptian organizations, which strict hierarchy, centralization, formality, procedures and a lot of orders top-down.

Masculinity

Egypt score on Masculinity is undecided. Some issues point to a feminine attitude:  in general they value harmony, togetherness and quality of life over achievement and success. There is a sympathy for the underdog and the poor guy, and while it is important to Egyptians to achieve a goal, it is equally important to consider what one receives from the process of achieving it. Establishing and maintaining friendships make the goal worth attaining it.
We also see this in their love for movies and books, the beautiful things by which people surround themselves, but also in the jealousy and envy that may arise when someone is singled out. Take care not to favor one employee over another. He or she may have a difficult time among colleagues.

Long Term Orientation

Egypt has a preference for principles and steadfastness over flexibility and adaption. Children are already taught to be consistent and to look for the truth.
In business, Egyptians will look for consistency in your behaviour and the information you offer, but are also prepared to accept a different position if they have built a good relation with you.

Indulgence

Egypt is a very restrained society, social and religious obligations come first, and then, and only then, may you unwind and enjoy. That does not mean Egyptians are never happy, on the contrary, they like having fun and celebrate. But at the right time and the right place. Family and friends form an important ingredient to the happiness of Egyptians and when for whatever reason, they do not have a harmonious connection with them, Egyptians may become cynical and pessimistic.
 
In connection with this, business is a serious matter and to be treated as such. Frivolous business people are not taken seriously.

For a more detailed analysis on the Cultural Dimensions, and how Egypt compares to other countries, please visit Hofstede Insights’ Country Comparison tool.