Most of the world knows Egypt as the center of the Arab Spring, and most recently a continuing series of revolts and crackdowns. However, that’s only part of the story.
Egypt is actually home to burgeoning start-ups and is one of the most entrepreneurial places in the world. That’s the Egypt most people fail to see— the ordinary Egyptians who are standing tall, even as the government falls.
During the Arab Spring, young entrepreneurs launched new innovative ventures and slowly made themselves a big part of the tumbling Egyptian economy. This phenomenon started sometime before Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak was ousted, and only received a massive boost once the revolution reached its peak. This period coincided with the decline of big multinational corporations and business establishments in the country, as the economy had obviously taken a turn for the worse owing to the political instability. Egypt was experiencing a mix of economic uncertainty, social disparity, and policy failure. In this power vacuum, the entrepreneurs rose.
Most recently, the military coup that ousted Egypt’s first democratically elected leader, Mohamed Morsi, further imbalanced the socioeconomic institutions of the country, eventually resulting in financial devastation. However, the country’s young entrepreneurs are still standing. They are envisioning products, inventing them, procuring funding, and eventually spreading them across the market. Only now, people are starting to take notice.
In the Arab world, taking calculated risks is no longer the only way of doing things, as it once was. Young businessmen have begun to take higher risks as they realized they didn’t have much to lose. The present economic toil brought forth a lot of trouble for big corporations, who incurred the most severe losses in the post-coup turmoil. For young entrepreneurs this was a blessing in disguise. They could now afford production services for way lower prices than before, which inevitably increased their potential to receive resources. It’s gotten to the point that a book has even been written about the booming start-up industry.
This growth was visible, although not widely recognized, before the end of the Mubarak era with organizations such as Wamda and EBDA, which was started by young entrepreneur Ahmed Abdel Hafez and provides a platform for businessmen to get funded and market their services throughout the Arab world. Groups such as these led to many young graduates declining offers from companies such as Microsoft and IBM in America to stay put in Cairo.
What is most important here is the variety of services that have now been made available because of the innovation in Egypt. These include software applications such as Instabug, microfinancing companies such as Sunution, e-commerce portals such as Beqala, and manual services such as Mashaweer. These start-ups have also received a boost from within their own entrepreneurial circles, where investors often choose the best start-up out of many and proceed to support them financially for their inception.
To say that the economy of the entire Arab world will receive a huge upward boost due to these small ventures would be too idealistic and detached from economic reality. It would also place undue pressure on an industry which can sustain itself only by being patient and making steady progression. The true conditions for start-up success are so demanding that it will take global and local forces to join in and consistently work towards a better development strategy. However, what these start-ups have provided with the youth of the nation is an optimistic glance into the future.
The Tahrir Square protests in 2011 were started by the youth of the nation, men and women who not only took the streets but also the internet. These are the same people who then relied on technical production processes to begin a different kind of renaissance. These young moguls have a renewed sense of patriotism that has come with a little bit of encouragement and faith. This is what happens when governments fall: people stand up.