In a country that has been unique in the world for creating a socio-technical system, which catalysed two unprecedented uprisings and regime changes in 2011 and 2013, it was important to view how information technology in Egypt is developing.
Hussein El-Gueretly, the former president of the Information Technology Industry Development Agency (ITIDA), believes Egypt has yet to adopt a comprehensive vision to develop this sector.
He even put his will to the challenge when he resigned from office in 2015 because the minister of communications, Yasser El-Kady, insisted on using a big portion of ITIDA’s budget to finance building remote technology centres in some Egyptian governorates.
“Our role as ITIDA has been to help our entrepreneurs to expand their markets.
We are also tasked with attracting local and foreign investments; consequently, we had programmes to give exposure to qualified ventures outside Egypt. We took them to Kenya and Dubai, among other countries, we also were offering training to develop entrepreneurs’ skills and business competitiveness, simply put, our investments were in the minds,” El-Gueretly explained.
“Allocating ITIDA’s budget to building real estate of technology centres instead of development programmes was, to me, a waste of resources, as these centres should have been financed by others.”
On the other hand, the picture doesn’t look as gloomy when observing private sector activities. El-Gueretly believes that private sector initiatives like The Greek campus, created by Ahmed El-Alfi.
The Greek campus is Cairo’s first technology and innovation park in the heart of Cairo, offering office spaces for both start-ups and established multinational technology and media companies. This project does not only involve offering office spaces but extends to turning its complex into a centre for technology entrepreneurs, enthusiasts and creative people to meet, showcase their ideas and work together towards home-grown technology businesses and ideas.
In December 2017, Startup Scene announced the successful closing of the largest capital seed in the region’s history of more than $2 million for Elves, Egypt’s first ‘Human Siri’ that connects people to real assistants.
The money came from the Emirati company Emaar, among other investors. Another example of private sector initiatives according to El-Gueretly are NGO’s like Injaz Egypt, which delivers experiential teaching in financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship.
He added that they allocate a lot of their effort to information technology development.
One more example is individual efforts by professors in government universities like Ain Shams University’s Dr. Maged Ghoneima. His initiative, called Ihub, was launched in June 2013 as a resource for students from across Ain Shams University interested in entrepreneurship and innovation.
One positive action El-Gueretly highlighted regarding the government’s activities, was the sponsorship of online IT tutoring programmes offered by American universities like Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania, in addition to the activities of the Investment Ministry led by Sahar Nasr in cooperation with the International Bank to support entrepreneurship for small businesses.
According to an analysis published by Baltmodus, Egypt’s ICT sector’s contribution to GDP grew by 13% in 2015, reaching 3.37 billion Euros and representing 4.1% of total GDP. For instance, in 2014, 177 export-oriented firms, employing 45,000 workers, generated ICT exports of 0.57 billion euros. Egypt has achieved significant success in exporting ICT services; in 2014, the value of such exports grew by 7%. Asia (including the Gulf) takes the biggest share of Egyptian ICT exports, accounting for 55% of the total value. North and South America followed this with 27%, Europe with 12% and Africa with 5%. It is forecasted that the ICT sector will represent 8.43% of GDP by 2020.
This makes the country one of the most important leaders in the Middle East and North Africa region and could be a potential competitor for the ICT companies operating in Central and Eastern Europe.
However, according to El-Gueretly, fast growth in this sector is tied to a strategic commitment of the Egyptian government to invest in brains rather than real estate.