Egypt

Executive Summary

The Egyptian government continues to make progress on economic reforms, and while many challenges remain, Egypt’s investment climate is improving.  Thanks in part to the macroeconomic reforms it completed as part of a three-year, $12-billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) program from 2016 to 2019, Egypt was one of the fastest-growing emerging markets prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.  Egypt was also the only economy in the Middle East and North Africa to record positive economic growth in 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic and thanks in part to IMF assistance totaling $8 billion. Increased investor confidence and high real interest rates have attracted foreign portfolio investment and increased foreign reserves.  In 2021, the Government of Egypt (GoE) announced plans to launch a second round of economic reforms aimed at increasing the role of the private sector in the economy, addressing long-standing customs and trade policy challenges, modernizing its industrial base, and increasing exports. The GoE increasingly understands that attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) is key to addressing many of its economic challenges and has stated its intention to create a more conducive environment for FDI.  FDI inflows grew 11 percent between 2018 and 2019, from $8.1 to $9 billion, before falling 39 percent to $5.5 billion in 2020 amid sharp global declines in FDI due to the pandemic, according to data from the Central Bank of Egypt and the United Nations Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). UNCTAD ranked Egypt as the top FDI destination in Africa between 2016 and 2020.

Egypt has passed several regulatory reform laws, including a new investment law in 2017; a “new company” law and a bankruptcy law in 2018; and a new customs law in 2020.  These laws aim to improve Egypt’s investment and business climate and help the economy realize its full potential.  The 2017 Investment Law is designed to attract new investment and provides a framework for the government to offer investors more incentives, consolidate investment-related rules, and streamline procedures.  The 2020 Customs Law is likewise meant to streamline aspects of import and export procedures, including through a single-window system, electronic payments, and expedited clearances for authorized companies.

Egypt will host the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 27, in November 2022. Recognizing the immense challenges the country faces from the impacts of climate change, government officials announced that the Cabinet will appropriate 30 percent of government investments in the 2022/2023 budget to green investments, up from 15 percent in the current fiscal year 2021/2022, and that by 2030 all new public sector investment spending would be green. The GoE accelerated plans to generate 42 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by five years, from 2035 to 2030, and is prioritizing investments in solar and wind power, green hydrogen, water desalination, sustainable transportation, electric vehicles, smart cities and grids, and sustainable construction materials. The government continues to seek investment in several mega projects, including the construction of smart cities, and to promote mineral extraction opportunities.  Egypt intends to capitalize on its location bridging the Middle East, Africa, and Europe to become a regional trade and investment gateway and energy hub and hopes to attract information and communications technology (ICT) sector investments for its digital transformation program.

Egypt is a party to more than 100 bilateral investment treaties, including with the United States.  It is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), and the Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA).  In many sectors, there is no legal difference between foreign and domestic investors. Special requirements exist for foreign investment in certain sectors, such as upstream oil and gas as well as real estate, where joint ventures are required.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 117 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
Global Innovation Index 2021 94 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, on a
historical-cost basis
2020 USD 11,206 http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 USD 3,000 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Egypt’s completion of the three-year, $12-billion IMF Extended Fund Facility between 2016 and 2019, and its associated reform package, helped stabilize Egypt’s macroeconomy, introduced important subsidy and social spending reforms, and helped restore investor confidence in the Egyptian economy.  The flotation of the Egyptian Pound (EGP) in November 2016 and the restart of Egypt’s interbank foreign exchange (FX) market as part of this program was the first major step in restoring investor confidence that immediately led to increased portfolio investment and should lead to increased FDI over the long term.  Other important reforms have included a new investment law and an industrial licensing law in 2017, a new bankruptcy law in 2018, a new customs law in 2020, and other reforms aimed at reducing regulatory overhang and improving the ease of doing business.

In 2021, Egypt’s government announced plans to launch a second round of economic reforms aimed at increasing the role of the private sector in the economy, addressing long-standing customs and trade policy challenges, and modernizing its industrial base and increasing exports.

As a result of the government’s increased focus on infrastructure development, Egypt’s $259 billion project finance pipeline is the third-largest in the Middle East and the largest in Africa as of March 2022, according to ratings agency Fitch. Recognizing the immense challenges the country faces from the impacts of climate change, government officials announced in 2021 that by 2030 all new public sector investment spending would be green, and accelerated plans to generate 42 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2035. Egypt will host the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, COP 27, in November 2022, and the government is developing a package of investment incentives aimed at attracting foreign investment and project finance in areas such as solar and wind power, green hydrogen, water desalination, sustainable transportation, electric vehicles, smart cities and grids, and sustainable construction materials.

With few exceptions, Egypt does not legally discriminate between Egyptian nationals and foreigners in the formation and operation of private companies. The 1997 Investment Incentives Law was designed to encourage domestic and foreign investment in targeted economic sectors and to promote decentralization of industry away from the Nile Valley. The law allows 100 percent foreign ownership of investment projects and guarantees the right to remit income earned in Egypt and to repatriate capital.

The Tenders Law (Law 89 of 1998) requires the government to consider both price and best value in awarding contracts and to issue an explanation for refusal of a bid. However, the law contains preferences for Egyptian domestic contractors, who are accorded priority if their bids do not exceed the lowest foreign bid by more than 15 percent.

The Capital Markets Law (Law 95 of 1992) and its amendments, including the most recent in February 2018, and relevant regulations govern Egypt’s capital markets.  Foreign investors are able to buy shares on the Egyptian Stock Exchange on the same basis as local investors.

The General Authority for Investment and Free Zones (GAFI, http://gafi.gov.eg) is the principal government body that regulates and facilitates foreign investment in Egypt and reports directly to the Prime Minister.

The Investor Service Center (ISC) is an administrative unit within GAFI that provides “one-stop-shop” services, easing the way for global investors looking for opportunities presented by Egypt’s domestic economy and the nation’s competitive advantages as an export hub for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. This is in addition to promoting Egypt’s investment opportunities in various sectors.

The ISC provides a start-to-end service to the investor, including assistance related to company incorporation, establishment of company branches, approval of minutes of Board of Directors and General Assemblies, increases of capital, changes of activity, liquidation procedures, and other corporate-related matters. The Center also aims to issue licenses, approvals, and permits required for investment activities within 60 days from the date of request. Other services GAFI provides include:

  • Advice and support to help in the evaluation of Egypt as a potential investment location;
  • Identification of suitable locations and site selection options within Egypt;
  • Assistance in identifying suitable Egyptian partners; and
  • Dispute settlement services. ​

The ISC plans to establish branches in each of Egypt’s Governorates by the end of 2021.  Egypt maintains ongoing communication with investors through formal business roundtables, investment promotion events (conferences and seminars), and one-on-one investment meetings.

The Egyptian Companies Law does not set any limitation on the number of foreigners, neither as shareholders nor as managers/board members, except for Limited Liability Companies where the only restriction is that one of the managers must be an Egyptian national. In addition, companies are required to obtain a commercial and tax license, and pass a security clearance process.  Companies are able to operate while undergoing the often lengthy security screening process.  However, if the firm is rejected, it must cease operations and may undergo a lengthy appeals process.  Businesses have cited instances where Egyptian clients were hesitant to conclude long-term business contracts with foreign businesses that have yet to receive a security clearance. They have also expressed concern about seemingly arbitrary refusals, a lack of explanation when a security clearance is not issued, and the lengthy appeals process. Although the Government of Egypt has made progress streamlining the business registration process at GAFI, inconsistent treatment by banks and other government officials has in some cases led to registration delays.

Sector-specific limitations to investment include restrictions on foreign shareholding of companies owning lands in the Sinai Peninsula. Likewise, the Import-Export Law requires companies wishing to register in the Import Registry to be 51 percent owned and managed by Egyptians. Nevertheless, the new Investment Law does allow wholly foreign companies investing in Egypt to import goods and materials. In January 2021 the Egyptian government removed the 20-percent foreign ownership cap for international and private schools in Egypt.

The ownership of land by foreigners is complicated, in that it is governed by three laws: Law 15 of 1963, Law 143 of 1981, and Law 230 of 1996.  Land/Real Estate Law 15 of 1963 explicitly prohibits foreign individual or corporation ownership of agricultural land (defined as traditional agricultural land in the Nile Valley, Delta and Oases). Law 15/1963 stipulates that no foreigners, whether natural or juristic persons, may acquire agricultural land.  Law 143/1981 governs the acquisition and ownership of desert land. Certain limits are placed on the number of feddans (one feddan is approximately equal to one acre) that may be owned by individuals, families, cooperatives, partnerships, and corporations regardless of nationality. Partnerships are permitted to own 10,000 feddans. Joint stock companies are permitted to own 50,000 feddans.

Under Law 230/1986, non-Egyptians are allowed to own real estate (vacant or built) only under the following conditions:

  • Ownership is limited to two real estate properties in Egypt that serve as accommodation for the owner and his family (spouses and minors) in addition to the right to own real estate needed for activities licensed by the Egyptian Government;
  • The area of each real estate property does not exceed 4,000 m²; and
  • The real estate is not considered a historical site.

Exemption from the first and second conditions is subject to the approval of the Prime Minister. Ownership in tourist areas and new communities is subject to conditions established by the Cabinet of Ministers. Non-Egyptians owning vacant real estate in Egypt must build within a period of five years from the date their ownership is registered by a notary public. Non-Egyptians cannot sell their real estate for five years after registration of ownership, unless the Prime Minister consents to an exemption.

In December 2020, the World Bank published a Country Private Sector Diagnostic report for Egypt which analyzed key structural economic reforms that the Egyptian government should adopt in order to encourage private-sector-led economic growth. The report also included recommendations for the agribusiness, manufacturing, information technology, education, and healthcare sectors.

https://www.ifc.org/wps/wcm/connect/publications_ext_content/ifc_external_publication_site/publications_listing_page/cpsd-egypt 

On July 8, 2020, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released an Investment Policy Review for Egypt that highlighted the government’s progress implementing a proactive reform agenda to improve the business climate, attract more foreign and domestic investment, and reap the benefits of openness to FDI and participation in global value chains.

https://www.oecd.org/countries/egypt/egypt-continues-to-strengthen-its-institutional-and-legal-framework-for-investment.htm  

In January 2018 the World Trade Organization (WTO) published a comprehensive review of the Egyptian Government’s trade policies, including details of the Investment Law’s (Law 72 of 2017) main provisions.

https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/s367_e.pdf 

The United Nations Conference on Trade Development (UNCTAD) published an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Policy Review for Egypt in 2017, in which it highlighted the potential for investments in the ICT sector to help drive economic growth and recommended specific reforms aimed at strengthening Egypt’s performance in key ICT policy areas.

https://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/dtlstict2017d3_en.pdf   

GAFI’s ISC ( https://gafi.gov.eg/English/Howcanwehelp/OneStopShop/Pages/default.aspx ) was launched in February 2018 and provides start-to-end service to the investor, as described above.  The Investment Law (Law 72 of 2017) also introduces “Ratification Offices” to facilitate obtaining necessary approvals, permits, and licenses within 10 days of issuing a Ratification Certificate.

Investors may fulfill the technical requirements of obtaining the required licenses through these Ratification Offices, directly through the concerned authority, or through its representatives at the Investment Window at GAFI.  The Investor Service Center is required to issue licenses within 60 days from submission. Companies can also register online.  GAFI has also launched e-establishment, e-signature, and e-payment services to facilitate establishing companies.

Egypt promotes and incentivizes outward investment. According to the Egyptian government’s FDI Markets database for the period from January 2003 to January 2021, outward investment featured the following:

  • Egyptian companies implemented 278 Egyptian FDI projects. The estimated total value of the projects, which employed about 49,000 workers, was $24.26 billion;
  • The following countries respectively received the largest amount of Egyptian outward investment in terms of total project value: The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Kenya, Jordan, Ethiopia, Germany, Libya, Morocco, and Nigeria;
  • The UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Algeria accounted for about 28 percent of the total amount;
  • Elsewedy Electric was the largest Egyptian company investing abroad, implementing 21 projects with a total investment estimated to be $2.1 billion.

Egypt does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

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