Business Associations in Egypt: Effective Participation in the Democratic Transition

For Egypt’s transition to democracy to succeed, democracy must deliver for all of its citizens. The January 25 revolution was sparked largely by young, educated Egyptians frustrated at the lack of economic opportunity and unwilling to accept the dead end they saw in front of them. To avoid further unrest and instability, the economy will need to get back on track, and begin to deliver in tangible ways for Egyptians as soon as possible. Despite calls that are even now emerging prominently in the debate, the government cannot deliver jobs – the key to job creation is Egypt’s private sector, which must play a prominent role working with political leadership in building Egypt’s new institutions from the very start.

The participation of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), entrepreneurs, and informal businesses – which were largely shut out of Egypt’s economic boom under Mubarak – will be essential if the transition process is to be sustainable. To give these vital stakeholders a voice and help them to play a role in the transition, efforts must be made to re-assess and further strengthen grassroots business associations and other private sector civil society organizations, particularly outside of Cairo.

Over the past ten years, CIPE has worked to strengthen the capacity of the first truly independent, non-governmental, voluntary business associations in Egypt, offering training and consultation in areas as diverse as building sound organizational structures; mobilizing members to become involved in the democratic process; advocating for democratic, market-oriented reform; combating corruption and promoting transparency and good governance; and creating opportunity for members and citizens at large. The revolution, however, has changed the political and civic landscape. Enjoying considerably more freedom to operate and to speak out, existing organizations are experiencing profound change in the wake of the revolution, and new organizations are forming every day. This dynamic situation presented CIPE both an opportunity and a need to take stock of Egypt’s business association landscape, particularly outside Cairo, and to help them play an active role in Egypt’s transition.

This report is the result of a comprehensive CIPE study of the state of business associations in Egypt. First released in Arabic at a roundtable in Cairo in October, 2012, the report presents findings and recommendations drawn from a series of interviews conducted between November 2011 and May 2012 with directors, members, and staff of more than 40 national and local-level associations in municipalities throughout Egypt.

Conducting the assessment, CIPE utilized a barriers analysis methodology and its association diagnostic tool, adapted from a diagnostic tool employed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and utilized by CIPE for nearly 30 years in hundreds of countries around the world. The barriers analysis is used to provide a broad analytical overview of the environment in which grassroots associations and organizations operate, outlining specific barriers that these groups face. CIPE’s diagnostic tool is used to assess the strengths and weaknesses of an organization. It allows CIPE and its partners to accurately assess organizational efficiencies and deficiencies so as to develop a technical assistance strategy to increase organizational capacity.

Ultimately, the information contained in this report is intended to aid CIPE, its partners, and other stakeholders in efforts to strengthen the organizational capacity of grassroots-level business associations, community development organizations, think tanks, and other civil society organizations so they may more effectively represent their members and communities, at the local, regional, and national levels, in the process of Egypt’s transition to democracy.

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