Business Culture in Egypt
Like many of its neighbours in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, Egypt retains a very traditional, Arabic approach to business culture. It is heavily influence by Islam, family ties, loyalty, modesty, and pride. Group hierarchy and deference to seniority is valued but there is also a very personal side to doing business in Egypt, which is in line with many other Arabic nations.
Personal contact is important but so too is a level of formality—for example, making first contact via email, followed with a phone call. Having a local agent to make initial inquiries and to act as a go-between is encouraged. When attending business meetings, it is perfectly normal to make general personal inquiries about a person’s health or family. However, it is best to avoid any discussion of politics.
Remember that time management and punctuality are important, but so too is respect for the Islamic calendar and important prayer times during the day. No business is conducted on major festival days—such as at the end of the holy month of Ramadan, or the Hajj—so check the calendar. Religious observance is important, and this spills over into dress code (conservative) and the same applies around food and drink. Egypt is a bit more liberal than some Arab nations when it comes food and alcohol, so it is always best to check before settling on a menu.
When making a business presentation make sure that it is well-researched, be direct (but not too direct) and expect interruptions during meetings as this is considered normal. It also means meetings can take longer than you might expect. Be prepared to bargain as it is a way of life for many Egyptians.
It also pays to do a little homework about Egypt too; showing some interest in aspects of local life, history and culture is a good way to demonstrate good faith. Learning a few phrases of Arabic, particularly greetings and terms like “in sha Allah, bokra” (God willing, tomorrow) is also considered a sign of respect because nothing occurs without God’s blessing.
Doing business in the MENA region
If you are considering a business trip to Egypt, get in touch with Middle East Connect and Cultural Advisors (MECCA) for business or social travel advice and cultural awareness guidance.