This section is an excerpt from the book “Negotiating International Business - The Negotiator’s Reference Guide to 50 Countries Around the World” by Lothar Katz. It has been updated with inputs from readers and others, most recently in June 2008.
Though the country’s culture is quite homogeneous, Egyptian businesspeople are usually experienced in interacting and doing business with visitors from other cultures. However, that does not always mean that they are open-minded. When negotiating business here, realize that people may expect things to be done ‘their way.’ Business practices may show European and Arab inﬂuences. Egyptians Muslims may practice their religion less strictly than others and the country also has a signiﬁcant Christian population. Nevertheless, keep in mind that this is an Islamic country. Showing disrespect for the religion could have disastrous consequences.
Relationships and Respect
Egypt’s culture expects its members to have a sense of belonging to and conforming with their group. At the same time, it leaves room for individual preferences. Building lasting and trusting personal relationships is critically important to most Egyptians, who often expect to establish strong bonds prior to closing any deals. People in this country may do business only with those they know and like. Establishing productive business cooperation requires a long-term perspective and commitment. Social interactions may be just as important as business contacts, if not more. Consequently, proceed with serious business discussions only after your counterparts have become very comfortable with you. This is usually a slow process. Business relationships in this country exist between people, not necessarily between companies. Even when you have won your local business partners’ friendship and trust, they will not necessarily trust others from your company. That makes it very important to keep company interfaces unchanged. Changing a key contact may require the relationship building process to start over. Worst case, such a change may bring negotiations to a complete halt. Establishing relationships with others in Egypt can create powerful networks, and whom you know may determine whether people want to get to know you. Maintaining cordial relations is crucial. Third party introductions can be very helpful as a starting point to building a trusting relationship with a potential partner. ‘Saving face’ is very essential. Causing embarrassment to another person may cause a loss of face for all parties involved and can be disastrous for business negotiations. The importance of diplomatic restraint and tact cannot be overestimated. Keep your cool and never show openly that you are upset. It may be better to accept a compromise, even an unfavorable one, if the alternative means that your counterpart loses face. In Egyptian business culture, the respect a person enjoys depends primarily on his or her age, rank, and status. It is crucial to treat elderly people with the greatest respect. Showing status is important since people will take you more seriously. Carefully select your hotel and transportation. Use the services of others, such as a porter, to avoid being viewed as a low-ranking intermediary. Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008 - Lothar Katz
The oﬃcial language of Egypt is Arabic. Most businesspeople speak at least some English. Since you are required to have a local agent when doing business in this country, select someone who can also assist with translations. When communicating in English, speak in short, simple sentences and avoid using jargon and slang. Never use a language to communicate within your team that your Egyptian counterparts cannot understand, since they will likely take this very negatively. Egyptians usually speak in quiet, gentle tones. They may occasionally raise their voices to make a point. A raised voice may also indicate anger, which would be...