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AMI promoted its clients products at the Gulfood Show in Dubai the past 4 days. The show is now the world’s largest annual food and beverage trade show. Not only was it an excellent show from a business standpoint, but also it demonstrated the unique resilience and fortitude of Middle East food and beverage importers, distributors and traders. The show was a potpourri of business people from nearly every country in the Middle East, North Africa and the Indian subcontinent. Even Libya, in the throes of a humanitarian crisis, sent traders here to buy and sell products.
Gulfood, Dubai 03/02/11
What struck me most were the conversations I had with Egyptian businessmen. All of them, despite owning large businesses and having families, went to Tahrir Square during the demonstrations and prior to the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. One Egyptian man, who now lives in Dubai, flew to Egypt to participate in the revolution. Because no taxis were available when he arrived at the Cairo airport, he walked 10 miles to his relative’s home after landing. He said he came back to participate in the revolution “for my son and the future of Egypt.”
During the revolution Mubarak sent thugs into Tahrir Square to steal and loot. The revolutionaries stopped their cars and demanded to see police I.D. If the thugs could not provide proper I.D., they were turned over to the Army. This is one reason the Egyptian Army deserted Mubarak, sided with the revolutionaries, and Egypt was freed of a dictator.
Another young businessman said that it was the corruption of the Mubarak regime and his cronies that stifled business in Egypt. “Mubarak was not the problem — it was his regime that was the problem.” It cost him over $300 simply to obtain an I.D. card when he was 16 years old. “Three million of the regime enriched themselves while 40 million people starved.” American-educated and speaking fluent English, he remained in Tahrir Square for a week despite his family business stagnating. It was more important to him to protest than to run his business. “Freedom had always been my dream,” he said. After the revolution and the overthrow of Mubarak, “the air is fresher now in Egypt.”
A 48-year old businessman who owns an import/distribution company claims the Mubarak regime’s belief was, “I am the law.” Import regulations would change depending on the customs agent. Sometimes the regime would destroy his product due to “health concerns.” When his business increased and the regime noticed he was importing more products, they would demand additional money.
Post-revolution, Egypt is very different. This same businessman said that on his most recent import shipment, “customs agents were too afraid to ask for bribes.” It is now less expensive for him to import food and beverage products to Egypt. He can now sell his products at a cheaper price, and more Egyptians can afford to buy them. He believes his import business will increase significantly now due to lower costs and greater affordability. This is good news for U.S. exporters.