Egypt Business Etiquette

Posted by Michela Ferullo

Ahlan wa sahlan! (“Welcome, hello!” in Egyptian Arabic)

Home to over 82 million people, Egypt is one of the fastest growing Arabic nations. Located in the northeastern region of Africa, Egypt is a transcontinental powerhouse spanning Africa, the Middle-East, and the Mediterranean. The Nile River cuts through the country, providing economic assistance, due to the ease of transportation with boats, the fertile land leftover from flooding season, and supply of water. Home to one of the most diverse economies in the Middle East, Egypt’s job market is made up predominantly of people employed within the divisions of agriculture, industry, services, and tourism. A mix of Islamic and secular orientated businesses it is essential to be sure which division you’re dealing with while conducting business abroad there.

The Lowdown

  • Business days in Egypt are from Sunday through Thursday, occasionally taking Thursday as an additional day of rest.
  • No business is conducted on Fridays, the Muslim holy day.
  • Typically office hours are 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. in the summers and 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. with an additional 2 hours from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. in the winters.
  • Avoid doing business around national holiday dates, since all employees are given those days off with full pay.
  • The most common forms of transportation for commuters are by taxi and the metro. Many locals will also walk or bike if their destination is within a short distance.

Dressing Sharp

  • For day-to-day business attire, be sure to dressconservatively; for men that means trousers, jackets, with shirts and ties for formal business meetings.
  • Women should be dressed conservatively, with long sleeves and reasonable length skirts.
  • Even if you’re trying to be respectful of the native attire, avoid dressing in it as it could be offensive to the locals.

Make or Break Meetings

  • Personal relationships are fundamental to success within meetings and doing business. Keeping quality relationships with contacts can significantly help you get ahead when it comes to negotiations.
  • Going off of keeping quality relationships, it is a great idea to hire a local person as a liaison between yourself and local business people, who has existing relationships and can assist with deals on your behalf.
  • Initial meetings in Egypt with business acquaintances can come off very formal to some, including coffee and small talk. These initial interactions are vital to building a foundation for a future valuable relationship.

Dining Decorum

  • Due to the importance placed on relationships in the Egyptian culture, when invited to the home or event of an associate always accept, or they could feel offended otherwise.
  • “Sahtain” (the equivalent of “bon appetite”) is said by quests at the beginning of meals.
  • At the dinner table, always eat with and pass plates of  food with your right hand; your left hand is considered unclean in many Muslim cultures and should be kept at your side, away from the table.
  • Generally, when eating out, there is a service gratuity charge of 12%, and then an additional 10% cash tip should be given directly to your server.

Giving and Getting Gifts

  • It is a good idea to travel to Egypt with a stock of small gifts to be given out to your business contacts and new connections.
  • It’s better to keep the gifts small and they’re more appreciated and meaningful when they’re originated from your home country.
  • Due to the Muslim culture, however, it is advised to be sensitive about the types of gifts you’re giving. Make sure to avoid gifting alcohol, any type of pork, knives, or perfumes with alcohol in them.
  • It is not proper etiquette to open gifts upon receiving them.

Down to Business

  • When handing out business cards in Egypt, one side should be printed in English and Arabic on the other side. There is no formal ritual to handing cards out, like some other cultures.
  • Eye-contact is a good thing in the Egyptian culture; it is a sign of trust and honesty in a colleague.
  • It is a common practice for Arab men to walk hand-in-hand, accept an Egyptian holding your hand as it an offering of his friendship.
  • Do not be alarmed when people raise their voices while discussing matters, they are not yelling, it is often a common way to hold conversations.
  • Decisions and deals take longer than they do in most other countries, it is very important to be patient with the process of this bureaucratic society.

Public Behavior

  • The feet are considered dirty, so never show the bottoms or cross your legs; it is seen as offensive.
  • Pointing or the thumbs up sign are extremely rude.
  • If an Egyptian man stares intensely at a woman, it is usually an indication her clothing is not modest enough or is too revealing.
  • Some neutral topics of discussion include Egyptian achievements throughout history, sports, and Egyptian cotton.

Now that you’re well prepared for your next jet-setting business trip to Egypt, don’t forget to stay tuned for our next Business Etiquette blurb! 

Ma’is salāma! (“Goodbye!” in Egyptian Arabic)