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The first, largest and most active American Chamber in the Middle East

Interview with

Mr. Hisham A. Fahmy
Executive Director

33, Soliman Abaza st - Dokki
Cairo, Egypt
Tel: (202: 3381050
Fax: (202: 3381060
Web page:

Q1: Could you provide us with a brief overview of the American Chamber of Commerce?

A1: We were founded in 1982 as a non-profit organisation, as one of the first Chambers to be established in the Middle East.

Our membership is comprised of American companies working in Egypt, and Egyptian companies who have some affiliation with the US. By this I mean representatives and agents of US companies, as well as joint ventures. We also have a multi-national category and an associate membership category for Egyptian companies who do not yet have links with the US, which is a new development. Finally, we also have a membership category for non-profit organisations. We are updating our membership lists at the moment, but we quote 1000 members, which represents over 600 companies since some companies have more than one membership.

Q2: Is membership increasing?

A2: Yes - in fact it is increasing by between 15 to 20 percent each year.

Q3: I understand that one of the main objectives of the American Chamber of Commerce is to improve the climate for private enterprise and foreign investment in Egypt. How do you go about doing this?

A3: We depend very heavily on feedback from our membership to guide us on this, and we have several specific committees, such as the Tourism Committee and the Trading and Investment Committee to obtain this feedback.

These committees are not just there to provide us with feedback - they have two other important functions. They make our members more aware of what is happening in the bigger picture of Egyptian and international commerce by disseminating information, and they provide technical help to our members for both general and specific problems. A recent example of this was the visit by some customs officials to the trading committee in order to explain the practical implications of new import legislation.

We also have a monthly business magazine, which is quite punchy and addresses potential problems and current issues very clearly.

On a quarterly basis we invite US companies to send us their concerns, and we develop a research paper, omitting all company names, which we send to the Prime Minister. It highlights problems within specific industries and suggests possible courses of action.

Q4: What kind of feedback do you get from these deliberations and publications?

A4: We have regular discussions with the PM which provides a great deal of constructive feedback, but these are confidential. We also have a good rapport with all of the ministers. The new ministers are a excellent group and they are working hard on some very innovative ideas.

The Government is definitely saying the right things, but what the private sector is waiting for now are the actions to back up these words. There are the usual privatisation issues; people are concerned about whether things going too fast or too slow, how much restructuring should there be prior to privatisation, and what should be done about the strategic industries. We try and facilitate discussion about these concerns, whilst remaining generally pro-market and pro-business. Having said that, we are not as completely market-orientated as some people assume we are.

Q5: How do you go about developing commercial links between Egypt and the US?

A5: We do this in two ways. We improve the commercial situation here in Egypt and facilitate life for the businesses already here, in order to encourage other concerns to come to Egypt. We also do a lot of match-making between Egyptian and American companies. We work very closely with the US Department of Commerce and Egyptian Trade Representatives in these efforts.

Q6: I understand that one of your functions is to provide a forum for American and Egyptian business executives to meet. Could you tell us more about this?

A6: The 16 committees meet very regularly, at least six times a year, some of them more regularly. These committees vary in size from 10 to more than 50 members. There are also public forums - we hold regular monthly meetings, usually over lunch, with a minister or some other high profile speaker. During the meeting participants are encouraged to ask questions and discuss the issues in greater depth.

Q7: Could you explain the 'door-knock' concept for our readers?

A7: This has been going for 17 years now. It started with two or three people going to Washington and visiting the Congress and the Senate. When we the AID issue began in Egypt we were keen to make sure that this effort was sustained. This project developed into the IMF programme in the early 1990s. We had a hard time with this transition in 1987, and there were many potential disasters that were only narrowly averted, but it was finally signed in 1991.

We are really the voice of the private sector. The Egyptian Government appreciates our efforts as well, since we inform Americans abroad about the positive aspects of Egyptian policies, especially since the perceived image of Egypt in the US is often worse than the reality.

In short, we lobbied hard on both sides, and we promoted the image of Egyptians as switched on businessmen, not camel riding Bedouins. In 1987 we had a dinner party for President Mubarak in the US, and some heads of US companies there asked exactly which company Mr. Mubarak was president of! Egypt had a very low profile, as well as quite serious image problems and we have set out to change this.

During this last 'door knock' event we had 40 people, and we broke up into smaller teams to achieve 170 meetings in the one working week. To gain membership to the chamber is hard work, and once you are in, the work load increases! Lobbying in the states is incredibly hard work, but it is also very rewarding. We are now trying to work on a follow-up procedure to maximise the benefit from the door-knock concept.

Q8: Could you also tell us about the charity work that the American Chamber of Commerce does?

A8: We also have an American Chamber of Commerce Foundation, which has an annual gala dinner to collect funds for charity. We started by funding the children's cancer hospital, and we have bought some kidney dialysis machines too. This year we have decided to consolidate all our funds, and build an orphanage. The Government has given us land in Moqattam for this project.

It appears that through this we have unwittingly become experts in fund raising, and the Red Crescent have asked us to manage a housing-related fund-raising project for them.

This year the new Egyptian Ambassador suggested a project, in the States, to help raise money for the Alexandria library. The US had not contributed as much as some other nations to the library, for whatever reason, so we had a great dinner at which Mrs Mubarak spoke, and donors contributed roughly US$600,000.

Q9: We understand that the American Chamber of Commerce is keen to develop IT projects here. Could you tell us a little about your Business Information Highway project?

A9: The US is leading the way in e-commerce, and we feel that we should facilitate the introduction of this technology into Egypt. We have received funds from USAID to get the project up and running, and we are launching joint projects with Microsoft, Reuters and, amongst others.

This is a microcosm of the general American Chamber of Commerce philosophy; to make people aware of the possibilities, to facilitate development and to lobby the Government in order to produce an environment conducive to business. We have several e-commerce pilot projects in the offing, primarily to provide an example which others can follow.

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© World INvestment NEws, 2000.
This is the electronic edition of the special country report on Egypt published in Forbes Global Magazine.
August 7th 2000 Issue.
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