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.
3. Legal Regime
The Egyptian government has made efforts to improve the transparency of government policy and to support a fair, competitive marketplace. Nevertheless, improving government transparency and consistency has proven difficult, and reformers have faced strong resistance from entrenched bureaucratic and private interests. Significant obstacles continue to hinder private investment, including the reportedly arbitrary imposition of bureaucratic impediments and the length of time needed to resolve them. Nevertheless, the impetus for positive change driven by the government reform agenda augurs well for improvement in policy implementation and transparency.
Enactment of laws is the purview of the Parliament, while executive regulations are the domain of line ministries. Under the Constitution, the president, the cabinet, and any member of parliament can present draft legislation. After submission, parliamentary committees review and approve legislation, including any amendments. Upon parliamentary approval, a judicial body reviews the constitutionality of any legislation before referring it to the president for his approval.
Although notice and full drafts of legislation are typically printed in the Official Gazette (similar to the Federal Register in the United States), there is no centralized online location where the government publishes comprehensive details about regulatory decisions or their summaries, and in practice consultation with the public is limited. In recent years, the Ministry of Trade and other government bodies have circulated draft legislation among concerned parties, including business associations and labor unions. This has been a welcome change from previous practice, but is not yet institutionalized across the government.
Accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are transparent and consistent with international norms. The Financial Regulatory Authority (FRA) supervises and regulates all non-banking financial markets and instruments, including capital markets, futures exchanges, insurance activities, mortgage finance, financial leasing, factoring, securitization, and microfinance. It issues rules that facilitate market efficiency and transparency. FRA has issued legislation and regulatory decisions on non-banking financial laws, which govern FRA’s work and the entities under its supervision. ( )
The criteria for awarding government contracts and licenses are made available when bid rounds are announced. The process actually used to award contracts is broadly consistent with the procedural requirements set forth by law. Further, set-aside requirements for small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) participation in GoE procurement are increasingly highlighted. The FRA publishes key laws and regulations to the following website:
The Parliament and the independent “Administrative Control Authority” both ensure the government’s commitment to follow administrative processes at all levels of government.
The cabinet develops and submits proposed regulations to the president following discussion and consultation with the relevant ministry and informal consultation with other interest groups. Based on the recommendations provided in the proposal, including recommendations by the presidential advisors, the president issues “Presidential Decrees” that function as implementing regulations. Presidential decrees are published in the Official Gazette for enforcement.
The degree to which ministries and government agencies responsible for drafting, implementing, or enforcing a given regulation coordinate with other stakeholders varies widely. Although some government entities may attempt to analyze and debate proposed legislation or rules, there are no laws requiring scientific studies or quantitative regulatory impact analyses prior to finalizing or implementing new laws or regulations. Not all issued regulations are announced online, and not all public comments received by regulators are made public.
The government made its budget documents widely and easily accessible to the general public, including online. Budget documents did not include allocations to military state-owned enterprises, nor allocations to and earnings from state-owned enterprises. Information on government debt obligations was publicly available online, but up-to-date and clear information on state-owned enterprise debt guaranteed by the government was not available. According to information the Central Bank has provided to the World Bank, the lack of information available about publicly guaranteed private-sector debt meant that this debt was generally recorded as private-sector non-guaranteed debt, thus potentially obscuring some contingent debt liabilities.
In general, international standards are the main reference for Egyptian standards. According to the Egyptian Organization for Standardization and Quality Control, approximately 7,000 national standards are aligned with international standards in various sectors. In the absence of international standards, Egypt uses other references referred to in Ministerial Decrees No. 180/1996 and No. 291/2003, which stipulate that in the absence of Egyptian standards, the producers and importers may use European standards (EN), U.S. standards (ANSI), or Japanese standards (JIS).
Egypt is a member of the WTO, participates actively in various committees, and notifies technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade. Egypt ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in June 2017 (Presidential decree No. 149/2017) and deposited its formal notification to the WTO on June 24, 2019. Egypt notified indicative and definitive dates for implementing Category B and C commitments on June 20, 2019, but to date has not notified dates for implementing Category A commitments. In August 2020, the Egyptian Parliament passed a new Customs Law, Law 207 of 2020, that includes provisions for key TFA reforms, including advance rulings, separation of release, a single-window system, expedited customs procedures for authorized economic operators, post-clearance audits, and e-payments.
Egypt’s legal system is a civil codified law system based on the French model. If contractual disputes arise, claimants can sue for remedies through the court system or seek resolution through arbitration. Egypt has written commercial and contractual laws. The country has a system of economic courts, specializing in private-sector disputes, which have jurisdiction over cases related to economic and commercial matters, including intellectual property disputes. The judiciary is set up as an independent branch of the government.
Regulations and enforcement actions can be appealed through Egypt’s courts, though appellants often complain about the lengthy judicial process, which can often take years. To enforce judgments of foreign courts in Egypt, the party seeking to enforce the judgment must obtain an exequatur (a legal document issued by governments allowing judgements to be enforced). To apply for an exequatur, the normal procedures for initiating a lawsuit in Egypt must be satisfied. Moreover, several other conditions must be satisfied, including ensuring reciprocity between the Egyptian and foreign country’s courts, and verifying the competence of the court rendering the judgment.
Judges in Egypt enjoy a high degree of public trust, according to Egyptian lawyers and opinion polls, and are the designated monitors for general elections. The Judiciary is proud of its independence and can point to a number of cases where a judge has made surprising decisions that run counter to the desires of the regime. The judge’s ability to interpret the law can sometimes lead to an uneven application of justice.
No specialized court exists for foreign investments.
In 2017, the Parliament also passed the Industrial Permits Act, which reduced the time it takes to license a new factory by mandating that the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) respond to a request for a license within 30 days of the request being filed. As of February 2020, new regulations allow IDA regional branch directors or their designees to grant conditional licenses to industrial investors until other registration requirements are complete.
In 2016, the Import-Export Law was revised to allow companies wishing to register in the Import Registry to be 51 percent owned and managed by Egyptians; formerly the law required 100 percent Egyptian ownership and management. Later in 2016, the inter-ministerial Supreme Investment Council also announced seventeen presidential decrees designed to spur investment or resolve longstanding issues. These include:
- Forming a “National Payments Council” that will work to restrict the handling of FX outside the banking sector;
- Producers of agricultural crops that Egypt imports or exports will get tax exemptions;
- Five-year tax exemptions for manufacturers of “strategic” goods that Egypt imports or exports;
- Five-year tax exemptions for agriculture and industrial investments in Upper Egypt; and
- Begin tendering land with utilities for industry in Upper Egypt for free as outlined by the Industrial Development Authority.
The Egyptian Competition Law (ECL), Law 3 of 2005, provides the framework for the government’s competition rules and anti-trust policies. The ECL prohibits the abuse of dominant market positions, which it defines as a situation in which a company’s market share exceeds 25 percent and in which the company is able to influence market prices or volumes regardless of competitors’ actions. The ECL prohibits vertical agreements or contracts between purchasers and suppliers that are intended to restrict competition, and also forbids agreements among competitors such as price collusion, production-restriction agreements, market sharing, and anti-competitive arrangements in the tendering process. The ECL applies to all types of persons or enterprises carrying out economic activities, but includes exemptions for some government-controlled public utilities. In early 2019, the Egyptian Parliament endorsed a number of amendments to the ECL, including controls on price hikes and prices of essential products and higher penalties for violations.
In addition to the ECL, other laws cover various aspects of competition policy. The Companies Law (Law 159/1981) contains provisions on mergers and acquisitions; the Law of Supplies and Commerce (Law 17 of 1999) forbids competition-reducing activities such as collusion and hoarding; and the Telecommunications Law (Law 10 of 2003), the Intellectual Property Law (Law 82 of 2002), and the Insurance Supervision and Control Law (Law 10 of 1981) also include provisions on competition.
The Egyptian Competition Authority (ECA) is responsible for protecting competition and prohibiting the monopolistic practices defined within the ECL. The ECA has the authority to receive and investigate complaints, initiate its own investigations, and take decisions and necessary steps to stop anti-competitive practices. The ECA’s enforcement powers include conducting raids; using search warrants; requesting data and documentation; and imposing “cease and desist orders” on violators of the ECL. The ECA’s enforcement activities against government entities are limited to requesting data and documentation, as well as advocacy.
Egypt’s Investment Incentives Law provides guarantees against nationalization or confiscation of investment projects under the law’s domain. The law also provides guarantees against seizure, requisition, blocking, and placing of assets under custody or sequestration. It offers guarantees against full or partial expropriation of real estate and investment project property. The U.S.-Egypt Bilateral Investment Treaty also provides protection against expropriation. Private firms are able to take cases of alleged expropriation to court, but the judicial system can take several years to resolve a case.
Egypt passed a Bankruptcy Law (Law 11 of 2018) in January 2018, which was designed to speed up the restructuring of troubled companies and settlement of their accounts. It also replaced the threat of imprisonment with fines in cases of bankruptcy. As of July 2020, the Egyptian government was considering but had not yet implemented amendments to the 2018 law that would allow debtors to file for bankruptcy protection, and would give creditors the ability to determine whether debtors could continue operating, be placed under administrative control, or be forced to liquidate their assets.
In practice, the paperwork involved in liquidating a business remains convoluted and protracted; starting a business is much easier than shutting one down. Bankruptcy is frowned upon in Egyptian culture, and many businesspeople still believe they may be found criminally liable if they declare bankruptcy.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
State and military-owned companies compete directly with private companies in many sectors of the Egyptian economy. Although Public Sector Law 203 of 1991 states that state-owned enterprises (SOEs) should not receive preferential treatment from the government or be accorded exemptions from legal requirements applicable to private companies, in practice SOEs and military-owned companies enjoy significant advantages, including relief from regulatory requirements. IMF reports show that Egyptian SOEs have an average return on assets of just two percent and are only one-fourth as productive as private companies. Some 40 percent of SOEs are loss-making, despite access to subsidized capital and owning assets worth more than 50 percent of GDP. Profitable SOEs, meanwhile, tend to exploit a natural monopoly or hold exclusive rights to public assets. Few of Egypt’s 300 state-owned companies, 645 joint ventures, and 53 economic authorities release regular financial statements.
SOEs in Egypt are structured as individual companies controlled by boards of directors and grouped under government holding companies that are arranged by industry, including Petroleum Products & Gas, Spinning & Weaving; Metallurgical Industries; Chemical Industries; Pharmaceuticals; Food Industries; Building & Construction; Tourism, Hotels, & Cinema; Maritime & Inland Transport; Aviation; and Insurance. The holding companies are headed by boards of directors appointed by the Prime Minister with input from the relevant Minister.
The Egyptian government has announced plans to privatize shares of SOEs several times since 2018, but has only carried out a small number of sales. It sold a minority stake in the Eastern Tobacco Company in March 2018, a 26 percent share of state-owned e-payment firm E-Finance in October 2021, and a 10 percent share of Abu Qir Fertilizers in December 2021. In December 2020 the government announced plans to sell stakes in two military-owned companies and in February 2022 added a handful of other SOEs to the list, but scaled back those plans following Russia’s war against Ukraine. The government has indefinitely delayed plans for privatizing stakes in 20 other SOEs, including up to 30 percent of the shares of Banque du Caire, due to adverse market conditions and increased global volatility. Egypt’s privatization program is based on Public Enterprise Law 203/1991, which permits the sale of SOEs to foreign entities.
Law 32 of 2014 limits the ability of third parties to challenge privatization contracts between the Egyptian government and investors. The law was intended to reassure investors concerned by legal challenges brought against privatization deals and land sales dating back to the pre-2008 period. Court cases at the time Parliament passed the law had put many of these now-private firms, many of which are foreign-owned, in legal limbo over concerns that they may be returned to state ownership.
Egypt has a set of laws to combat corruption by public officials, including an Anti-Bribery Law (articles 103 through 111 of Egypt’s Penal Code), an Illicit Gains Law (Law 62 of 1975 and subsequent amendments in Law 97 of 2015), and a Governmental Accounting Law (Law 27 of 1981), among others. Countering corruption remains a long-term focus. However, corruption laws have not been consistently enforced. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Egypt 117 out of 180 countries in its 2021 survey. Past surveys from Transparency International reported that nearly half of Egyptians said they had paid a bribe to obtain a public service.
Some private companies use internal controls, ethics, and compliance programs to detect and prevent bribery of government officials. There is no government requirement for private companies to establish internal codes of conduct to prohibit bribery.
Egypt ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2005. It has not acceded to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery or any other regional anti-corruption conventions.
While NGOs are active in encouraging anti-corruption activities, dialogue between the government and civil society on this issue is almost non-existent. In a 2009 study demonstrating a trend that continues to this day, the OECD found that while government officials publicly asserted they shared civil society organizations’ goals, they rarely cooperated with NGOs, and applied relevant laws in a highly restrictive manner against NGOs critical of government practices. Media was also limited in its ability to report on corruption, with Article 188 of the Penal Code mandating heavy fines and penalties for unsubstantiated corruption allegations.
U.S. firms have identified corruption as an obstacle to FDI in Egypt. Companies might encounter corruption in the public sector in the form of requests for bribes, using bribes to facilitate required government approvals or licenses, embezzlement, and tampering with official documents. Corruption and bribery are reported in dealing with public services, customs (import license and import duties), public utilities (water and electrical connection), construction permits, and procurement, as well as in the private sector. Businesses have described a dual system of payment for services, with one formal payment and a secondary, unofficial payment required for services to be rendered.
Several agencies within the Egyptian government share responsibility for addressing corruption. Egypt’s primary anticorruption body is the Administrative Control Authority (ACA), which has jurisdiction over state administrative bodies, state-owned enterprises, public associations and institutions, private companies undertaking public work, and organizations to which the state contributes in any form. 2017 amendments to the ACA law grant the organization full technical, financial, and administrative authority to investigate corruption within the public sector (with the exception of military personnel/entities). The ACA appears well funded and well trained when compared with other Egyptian law enforcement organizations. Strong funding and the current ACA leadership’s close relationship with President Sisi reflect the importance of this organization and its mission. However, it is small (roughly 300 agents) and is often tasked with work that would not normally be conducted by a law enforcement agency.
The ACA periodically engages with civil society. For example, it has met with the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt and other organizations to encourage them to seek it out when corruption issues arise.
In addition to the ACA, the Central Auditing Authority (CAA) acts as an anti-corruption body, stationing monitors at state-owned companies to report corrupt practices. The Ministry of Justice’s Illicit Gains Authority is charged with referring cases in which public officials have used their office for private gain. The Public Prosecution Office’s Public Funds Prosecution Department and the Ministry of Interior’s Public Funds Investigations Office likewise share responsibility for addressing corruption in public expenditures.
Minister of Interior
General Directorate of Investigation of Public Funds
Telephone: 02-2792-1395 / 02-2792 1396
10. Political and Security Environment
Stability and economic development remain Egypt’s priorities. The Egyptian government has taken measures to eliminate politically motivated violence while also limiting peaceful protests and political expression. Egypt’s presidential elections in March 2018 and senatorial elections in August 2020 proceeded without incident. In 2020 and 2021, all terrorist attacks took place in the Sinai Peninsula. Nevertheless, terrorist plans to target civilians, tourists, and security personnel in mainland Egypt and the greater Cairo region remained a concern. The government has been conducting a comprehensive counterterrorism offensive in the Sinai since early 2018 in response to terrorist attacks against military installations and personnel by ISIS-affiliated militant groups.