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Technology at the heart of Egypt’s growth plan

August 13, 2013 • Features, North Africa

Technology is very much a part of Egypt's ongoing journey of development. (Image source: George Nazmi Bebawi/ Shutterstock.com)

Technology is very much a part of Egypt’s ongoing journey of development. (Image source: George Nazmi Bebawi/ Shutterstock.com)

In 2011 Egypt made worldwide headlines as a revolution took hold and anti-government protestors vented their anger and frustration against the regime. It was a time when the world held its collective breath in anticipation of what could or would transpire.

The revolution led to the toppling of the government and eventual detention of former-President Hosni Mubarak on house-arrest on charges relating to the deaths of over 800 protestors.

Soon after, Egypt’s top appeals court reportedly overturned a previous guilty verdict imposed on Mubarak and ordered a retrial.

Since these developments, the country has become increasingly polarised with the army ousting Egypt’s fifth president Mohammed Morsi in July 2013, a year after he took office, and triggering widespread revolt from the Muslim Brotherhood and clashes between pro-Morsi supporters, the military and those against the former leader.

Recent reports state that pro-Morsi supporters are preparing for a move by the military to clear them from “sit-in” camps in Cairo.

Technology influence

Aside from the political and social discourse and change initiated through the country’s revolution, events shed light on the impact of social media and the role this powerful resource plays in modern society.

In fact technology, more specifically the Internet, was at the forefront of key developments that characterised the revolution – and continues to be used as a channel through which to report ongoing developments to the world.

The Huffington Post online reported that when the government shut down the Net, anonymous users interacted to help keep communication channels open. It helped keep the world’s attention on what was going on in the country.

Today, technology remains a cornerstone of Egyptian society. The country’s telecommunications sector comprises several global service providers, including Etisalat Misr, Mobinil, Orascom Telecom and Vodafone.

These established firms have reportedly witnessed a 23.1 percent growth rate since 2008. At the end of 2011, the country had 83.8 million mobile subscribers, nearly 100 percent penetration.

Global research company Frost & Sullivan has reported that broadband Internet is considered to be a high-growth area and the sector generates revenue in the region of $6,35 billion. This figure is expected to exceed $11 billion by 2018.

According to statistics published by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), in 2012, the percentage of individuals using the Internet stood at 44.07. There are reportedly 967,98801 mobile-cellular telephone subscriptions in the same year.

As is the case in many developing economies in Africa, Egypt’s authorities have made public their intention to investigate claims of poor quality of service by consumers and take action where necessary.

Towards the end of 2012 the country’s telecommunication watchdog, The Egyptian Competition Authority (ECA) called for an investigation into a complaint about a “secret agreement” between certain providers who allegedly colluded to increase the price for prepaid mobile credit cards.

Growth expectations

Despite wrangling between stakeholders, industry representatives have stated clear objectives for ICT and telecommunications, including a significant increase in job creation – with at least 20 000 new jobs expected to be made available.

According to Egypt’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT), the country saw double digit growth in the telecom and IT sector prior to the 2011 uprising, but they are confident that renewed movement in the sector will bring growth.

The industry body wants to build on the Telecom Master Plan formulated in 2000. Information available through the website identifies a number of milestones that have been achieved as part of the reformation of the telecoms industry. These milestones include the deregulation of the mobile services sector, pre-paid calling cards, data and Internet services, as well as the enlargement of the Ownership Base of Telecom Egypt.

Most recently the Open Source Strategy Committee has stipulated its aim to integrate and use the open source software-based applications as a national strategy. There is also talk of the efforts of authorities in trying to establish a fourth mobile services license.

In an online report about Egypt’s ICT sector, author Mohamed Salah, states that the intended objective of the National ICT Strategy is to increase investment in the sector to 55 million EGP (approximately $8 billion). In order to accomplish this, the Ministry of ICT is reported to be channelling investment into infrastructure, with additional aims to offer 3G service to 98% of users by 2015 and 4G connectivity for 90% of the population by 2021.

The pace of development and growth of technology and the economy will likely depend on the buy-in of key role players including government and the business sector.

One of Egypt’s most well known technology powerhouses falls under the Sawiris family. Naguib Sawiris is the founder of Orascom Telecom Holding SAE and is reported to have a net worth of $2,5 billion.

Onsi Sawiris, who founded the Orascom Group, is reported to have a net worth of $2,17 billion.

With the world’s attention once again fixed on Egypt’s socio-political status, ICT is likely to play an even more important role going forward.

* Image via George Nazmi Bebawi/ Shutterstock.com

Chris Tredger – Online Editor

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