International companies and staff moving into Egypt must adjust to a land of extraordinary contrasts and a business environment likely to differ from previous experiences because of the Egyptian work culture. But at the economic and personal level, the rewards are there. Egypt holds a strategic position to rival most in the world. Egypt is at the heart of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, which is an ideal foothold for trade throughout the Mediterranean nations, into southern Europe, the Near East and farther into Africa. Most importantly, Egypt controls the Suez Canal – a vital route for world trade which links the Med with the Red Sea to open paths into the Arabian Gulf, Indian Ocean and the Far East.
The cradle of western civilisation and the ‘land of the Pharaohs’ now has a significant role in the 21st century, but its culture and heritage are also among the attractions. The list is impressive Cairo, the capital with the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, Luxor, Abu Simbel, the Valley of the Kings, beguiling desert landscapes, Red Sea resorts, diving hot spots such as Dahab, the Siwa Oasis, the majestic River Nile, Karnak and, of course, the Pyramids of Giza on Cairo’s outskirts. However, incomers should resist stereotypical attitudes towards today’s Egypt and its past. While Egyptians are mindful of their country’s culture and heritage, they are also proud of today’s dynamic, flexible, forward-looking nation.
The population of over 100 million has a massive 30 million workforce, including highly-educated and well-trained personnel in a competitive employment market across various sectors. Roughly half the population are under the age of 24, making it a young person’s challenging employment environment.
Language: Arabic is the language. Although many Egyptians in the business environment are multi-lingual, having a fluent Arabic-speaker on the team makes sense to highlight the significant points for discussion.
Punctuality: Be on time for the meeting, although this may not be reciprocated.
Negotiations: Traditionally tough negotiators, Egyptians tend not to respond to high-pressure tactics. Raised voices are pretty standard and do not necessarily signify anger or irritation.
Greetings: Wait for your host to initiate the greetings process, as it can take various forms. Egyptians are proud of titles that reflect qualifications, so be sure to learn if they apply. Otherwise, Mr. or Mrs. followed by surname until the formality relaxes. Eye contact, a firm handshake and a pleasant smile make the best combination, but if women are part of the meeting, wait to see if they offer their hand first—respect personal space.
Business Cards: English on one side, Arabic on the reverse side, which should be offered face up.
Dress Code: Smart and discreet, especially for female team members.
Out of Hours: An essential part of the building process as business talks will progress smoothly once everyone is socially comfortable. There must be no alcohol or pork on the menu dining with strict Muslims. Leave a small amount of food on your plate.
Gifts: If these are exchanged, always give or receive with the right hand or both hands. If taking food with your hands, use only the right. The left hand is considered unclean.
Taboos: Do not cross your legs when sitting and risk showing the soles of your shoes or giving a ‘thumbs up sign, which is equally rude.
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