Egypt: One Year On

Egypt’s business owners worry about uncertainty

Stephen Beard Jan 25, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: In Cairo, Egypt, on the anniversary of the first protests that led to the fall of Hosni Mubarak, tens of thousands of people made their way to Tahrir Square today.

Mahmoud Mustapha: I’m celebrating the departure of Mubarak.

Nadine Shams: We’re here because nothing happened during the last year and we have to continue our revolution.

Megad Mohammed: It’s celebrations as well as continuing the revolution.

It seems fair to say people think there’s some unfinished business after the revolution that changed everything. Our series this week on Egypt’s post-Mubarak economy is called One Year On. Marketplace’s Stephen Beard is in Cairo, finding that though there is more democracy, the economy has taken a beating.

Stephen Beard: In a tiny basement room, Zeinab Khalifa and her team of four jewellery craftsmen are at work cutting, shaping, and burnishing a glittering array of rings and pendants, brooches and bracelets while sharing their gloomy views on the current state of Egypt.

Zeinab Khalifa: In the beginning we were very, very happy. Revolution come to free us. And we all going to have real freedom. But now we are not very optimistic about it.

The continuing unrest has kept millions of foreign visitors away from Egypt. Tourism is down by as much 80 percent in Cairo. The economy has slowed sharply. Zeinab’s revenues have fallen by half.

Khalifa: Everything’s not stable. People they don’t spend as much. Of course, when the economy’s like this, people they don’t spend that much. So we are not really in a good state, really, in business.

TV advertisement

A TV ad pushes the merit of Koki’s fried chicken. The company that makes it employs 11,000 people and since the revolution its sales and profits have remained steady. But company boss Tarek Tawfik admits that investment and expansion have largely ground to a halt.

Tareke Tawfik: There is no foreign direct investment. Even Egyptians investing in the country have been holding on until there is a better vision of what will ensue.

And he says the political paralysis has not made it any easier to do business in Egypt.

Tawfik: Getting permits, you know. Permits to build, permits to operate in a factory, in a store. It’s a nightmare. The bureaucracy has been stifling.

There’s no doubt that the Egyptian economy is in a much worse state since the Revolution. Spending on big government construction projects has slumped. And that’s hit one of Cairo’s biggest consulting civil engineers Mandouh Hamsa.

Mandouh Hamsa: We are in this company now suffering. We reduce our work force. We don’t have project.

He says he’s lost millions over the past year and had to shed half his work force — some 300 people. But the irascible Mr. Hamsa is not pleased when I suggest the revolution is to blame.

Hamsa: Rubbish.

He blames the ruling military council for mismanaging the economy and the political process. But he says business people should not complain about the bumps along the road to democracy.

Hamsa: Nothing is for free. They have to pay hardship for a while for their freedom, for their dignity, for their future. There’s a price that has to be paid. And everyone must know that. The price have to be paid.

Jewellery maker Zeinab Khalifa knows that only too well and is prepared to pay it.

Khalifa: We’re very much going to fight to keep the people working. To fight to keep our business open. To fight even for more freedom. We are now prepared to fight.

But it could be a long fight. She believes it could be 10 years before her business fully recovers.

In Cairo, I’m Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.