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Mind Your Business

With everyone so focused on politics, one important sector in Egypt's economy has been largely ignored. We've spoken to some the country's finest young, small business owners to find out how the situation is affecting them...

While the nation and the media debates coups and not-coups, the power of the ballot box versus the power of the street, and who our new financial pimp-daddies are going to be, one pivotal segment of the community has seemingly been forgotten. And it’s a segment of the community that will undoubtedly prove to be the drivers of our “new” Egyptian economy and, for want of a less cliché term, the future. In recent years, including the last couple of tumultuous ones, a new breed of young, globally-aware Egyptian entrepreneur has emerged, creating and growing the type of small business founded on a level of creativity, quality and passion comparable with the best in their fields internationally. CairoScene talked to a small sample of these businessmen and women about the challenges they’ve faced building and running a business under Morsi’s reign and what their hopes are for ‘tomorrow’… 

WASEEM EL TANAHI 

Founder Media Republic (Creative Ad Agency) | Founder of Cairo360.com (Leading English-language online magazine) | Co-founder Event Republic (events company) 

“Things got progressively worse with the Muslim Brotherhood in power. And it seemed like no matter how much work you put in, there was still instability, so you were working a lot harder for a lot less money. Now the MB have been ousted, the stock market has gone up, and that’s a great indicator, but it really depends on how the next 90 days will change things. To be honest I think a lot of people were very exhausted so we’re hopefully optimistic things will get better.”

MOHAMED EL MANAWY

Hotelier and owner of Café Blanc, Egypt

“As far as tourism goes, occupancy in the Red Sea areas is only averaging at about 30%. Nile cruises in Luxor and Aswan were affected too, as Cairo was always the stop off point and no want wanted to come. People there were suffering; hotels and cruises shut down. Tourism in Cairo was down to something like 10%. But now I’m very optimistic. I think things will get much better. The MB could have done so much more, and I feel it wasn’t so much about them specifically, but about how the country was in terms of security and political instability. When it comes to food and beverage, if I’m going to be completely honest, as a business we weren’t affected that much. You only need to look around at how many new outlets have been opening up in the last year. People still have to eat.” 

AYMAN BAKI

Co-owner of Tamarai, one of Cairo’s leading high-end nightclubs

“The MB invasion of Egypt affected our customers psychologically. People were not in a great mood to go out given the circumstances of the country politically and economically. It felt like a very dark time. Currently, with the change after the 30th of June, I can’t really tell you what will happen. But I am sure it will be a brighter future for our kids and the Egyptian people. I believe our business will prosper and we will regain our vision for Egypt as a leading economy in the Middle East.”

REEM ABOU EL MAKAREM (left)

Part of the founding family of the ‘Image’ furniture empire | Co-owner of Dokan, a funky furniture store featuring Egyptian-made pieces

“It was bullshit. And such a mess. We import our furniture and we were paying A LOT for customs yet not getting our things out of the port. Sales dropped dramatically for everyone and we had a really bad year. I mean people still get married and they need furniture but it wasn’t great.

I couldn’t stop crying when the news was announced that Morsi had been ousted, I still have goosebumps. I called my dad in tears, asking if it was really true, if we could really finally get back to work properly. After January 25th, I was happy Mubarak stepped down but this time I just couldn’t stop crying. There are positive vibes now. Europe is asking about Egypt. People from all over the world are calling asking about us. They watch the news and are shocked, but we tell them that it’s okay, it’s not true and people want to come to Egypt. I think now people can really start to work again.”

AMRO ELFIKY

Owner of the Wel3a chain of shisha cafes

“The Muslim Brotherhood created such an air of negativity, which is bad for customers and bad for business. It just felt like a sort of lethargy had descended upon everyone. But now the vibe is so much more positive and energetic and I believe there is a lot of hope for the future.”

LAILA SEDKY

Owner of the Nola Cupcakes bakery chain 

"Whenever there is political instability there are challenges to the day to day activities. However NOLA follows the moto business as usual and we believe that small businesses have to continue working hard to impact the economy positively as economic growth is one of the leading factors of prosperity. NOLA believes that Egypt is very wealthy in opportunities and possibilities and we strive to do our part to help our country grow as a whole."

SHERIF AHMED ARTISAN

Managing Partner of Connectors a business concierge service | Chairman and CEO of Artisan Industries

“It definitely affected us because amount of people who wanted to do business in Egypt with direct foreign investment was much less after the Muslim Brotherhood showed up. I feel absolutely great about what happened, the stock market went up 7% the morning of July 4th. People will start to look at Egypt now as an emerging market more than before. There’s so much potential and caliber in this country and people are going to start using it right now. We’ll have a much better global presence.” 

ISMAIL FARID

Co-owner of Matarma Bay, a eco-lodge in Ras Sudr (on Egypt’s Red Sea Coast) 

“The instability in the country affected tourism. As we work in hotels, it’s been really hard for us to contact people from abroad to come to Egypt, however we’re looking at this next phase as something very positive for the country and we’ll start to see an influx of tourists again.” 

ALEXANDER RIZK

Owner of the Alchemy, CJC Agency and Cairo Jazz Club, one of the city’s most popular and long-lasting nightlife hotspots

“When the MB came to power, the outlook for businesses that serve alcohol seemed dim. Also the whole tourism sector was affected negatively by the image of an Islamist government.

The announcement of alcohol free hotels and establishments, as well as the concept of the removal of musical education, arts as well as dance and ballet in the educational system and from the cultural scene did not serve in giving a bright future for businesses that focus on entertainment, music and drinking. 

There were also two law suits raised for banning alcohol, however they were more intended to show the MB as two-faced rather than actually ban alcohol since the court does not hold in its powers the right to ban alcohol.

Companies that use bars and clubs as a means of advertisement (i.e. tobacco companies) took a step back and directed their focus on cafes and non-alcoholic establishments. Last year only a selected number of venues were able to benefit or sign new contracts with the tobacco companies.

New venues that were struggling with their licensees, suffered a setback from the MB presence.However, venues that were able to get their licenses after the revolution, but before the MB government came into power were able to continue.

Once the MB came to power, they announced that they will not change anything in the tourism sector or enforce a ban on alcohol in the current presidential term. However, the outlook was that in the next term or sooner or later the issue of whether to allow the serving of alcohol or not, will eventually be on their agenda.

We also noticed a decrease in the budgets assigned to embassies for cultural activities or cultural support in the last year or since the MB. We noticed this when dealing with other Egyptian cultural centers or when working on Artbeat 2012 series of events.

From CJC's experience of the past year I would say the following:  nothing really changed except the attitude of cultural sponsors and tobacco companies in how they were planning their interests ahead and what they saw useful to them and what was not worth investing into anymore.

As for what I think will change in the future, I believe that the new government will want to get tourism back on its feet, and with that will make licenses and permits easier. They will be more lenient with current establishments and will give longer grace periods for establishments to abide to the regulations. 

I also think that in time tobacco companies might direct some interest back into the clubbing scene.

I also believe that in time and once the West has a more supportive stand to the current government, cultural support might increase again.”

 


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