Entrepreneurship in Egypt

by Reihan Salam

The Notorious PEG just pointed me to a new Business Insider post on the growing prestige of entrepreneurship in Egypt, which brought to mind a recent New York Times article on the same subject:

The hope is that with a little money and a lot of hard work, Egypt could leverage its huge population of young people — over half the population is under 29 — and a strong pool of technical talent. Low start-up costs for Internet businesses could turn Egypt into one of the region’s entrepreneurial hot spots.

One thing to note about both articles is that they focus on the visit of an interesting public-private partnership:

 

In June, the pair applied for a spot at the NextGen IT Boot Camp, which took place in Cairo in late June. The program was sponsored by the Global Entrepreneurship Program, a collaboration between the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development.

During the five-day program, which was also sponsored by the Danish and Egyptian governments, six American entrepreneurs — including Jeff Hoffman, co-founder of Priceline.com; Ryan Allis, chief executive of the marketing site iContact; Shama Kabani, chief operating officer of Marketing Zen; and Scott Gerber, founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council — helped 38 Egyptian entrepreneurs hone their business plans. On the last day, four winning teams were chosen. Two will go to North Carolina this fall for a three-week internship at iContact, and two will attend a three-month training program in Denmark. (Ms. Mehairy and Ms. Samir will be heading to Denmark.)

This is a good reminder of the valuable work that non-heavy-handed government that leverages civil society resources can do. Compare the value of this cheap program to, say, the enormous amount direct government-to-government assistance U.S. taxpayers have given to the Egyptian government over the past three decades, most of which flowed into military purchases and, indirectly, a powerful surveillance apparatus. 

I wrote a column during the Arab Spring in which I imagined the future of a prosperous, technology-driven Egyptian economy. It was a bit fanciful, but it reflected my view of the ideal trajectory for a big emerging market like Egypt. It was quite reasonably deemed too pie-in-the-sky. But perhaps I will be vindicated yet! 

Columbia economist Edmund Phelps, one of my intellectual heroes, has written a number of columns on the role of entrepreneurship in encouraging sustainable democratic reform and material progress in the Arab world. In May, for example, he wrote a piece on entrepreneurial capitalism vs. corporatism of the “left” and the “right.” 

The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.