Egypt stands out as a civilization with a rich scientific and cultural background. Serving a population of over 100 million, the Egyptian economy is one of the largest in the Arab world and is currently witnessing a digital revolution empowered by the ICT sector.
Notably, in 2020, Egypt was the only country in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region with a positive GDP growth rate, avoiding economic recession from 2020–2021 due to the successful implementation of its economic stabilization and reform program.
Henceforth, the World Bank expects the Egyptian economy to grow by 6.1% in fiscal year (FY) 2021/22, with the ICT division predicted as the highest-growing state sector. As a precedent, ICT’s growth rate rose to 16% in FY 2020/21, contributing 5% to the same fiscal year’s GDP.
With this in mind, the emerging new Egypt is working towards a competitive, balanced and diversified economy, one dependent on science, knowledge and innovation. By 2030, Egypt will witness a comprehensive renaissance, leveraging its strategic location and unique disposition to achieve sustainable development. As per UNESCO, the Egypt Vision 2030’s first stage began in 2018 and is set to conclude in 2022, aiming for a better standard of living for all Egyptians.
Since 2021, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) has also made great strides in implementing the Digital Egypt strategy, where the country strives to adopt the latest technologies and foster innovation. The overall goal is to establish an all-encompassing digital society that will help Egyptian citizens, enhance various sectors and strengthen Egypt’s position on the global ICT map.
Egypt’s ICT 2030 Strategy
The Egyptian ICT sector has reached a level of maturity that enables it to compete at a global level and emerge as an ICT powerhouse in the region. A great many tech companies are setting up in the Arab country, creating over 250,000 jobs in the process. All the while, the value of ICT exports has also exponentially grown to $4.5 billion since 2021. As a cornerstone of real and sustainable development and progress, a strong ICT sector has been key to Egypt becoming among the ‘Top 10 Improvers in Digital Inclusion’, according to Roland Berger’s ‘Bridging the Digital Divide’ report.
- Developing Digital Infrastructure
Egypt is a vital internet backbone that connects across borders with its robust infrastructure’s fiber-optic cables capacity and telecom coverage. It is being scaled up to stay ahead of the demand. Data from the government revealed that the number of peak hours for internet usage has increased to 15 hours per day, while the amount of cellular phone internet usage has increased by 35%, and international calls by 19%.
Because of this, MCIT launched several major projects to improve the quality of fixed broadband, boosting the country’s ranking on global indices. In January 2022, Egypt ranked first on the African continent in terms of fixed broadband internet speed. As per Ookla’s Speedtest Global Index, the country recorded a median speed of 35.67 Mbps. In addition, Egypt’s main roads, along with certain areas in the governorates, have received mobile network coverage to boost communication services.
Developing the digital infrastructure is one of the foundations on which the three main pillars of Digital Egypt are built. This is the reason why MCIT continues to boost and support vital projects across the country to upgrade its telecom infrastructure, and is concurrent with the efforts of the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (NTRA) to enhance the service quality provided to citizens.
Notable ICT milestones in the country include approving the operation of mobile networks at 40MHz spectrum in the Time Division Duplex (TDD) 2600 MHz band from the total frequencies that Vodafone Egypt, Etisalat Misr and Telecom Egypt obtained for over $1 billion; approving the construction and operation of 2,310 cellular base stations in 2021, an increase of 80% compared with 2020; and approving using voice calls over a 4G LTE network (VoLTE) services for the first time in Egypt.
A presidential initiative called Decent Life (Haya Karima) was also launched to connect villages with fiber optic cables for better internet speed and stability, covering one million homes and improving telecom services by creating cell phone stations in those villages.
- Building Capacities
Based on Submarine Cable Networks’ data, as of June 2022, there are now 15 in-service submarine cables connecting Egypt (some with multiple subsystems) with other cables still under construction for 2023 and 2025 operations. These include 2Africa, Hybrid African Ring Path (HARP), Europe Middle-East India Connect 1 (EMIC-1), Africa-1, India-Europe-Xpress (IEX), Medusa and South East Asia-Middle East-West Europe 6 (SMW6).
Egypt’s unique geographical location makes the country optimal for the passage of international submarine cables. Moreover, an extensive system of fiber-optic cables transiting within the country facilitates international data traffic via a network some 4,000 square kilometers in area.
When it comes to fiber-optic and copper terrestrial networks, different capacities ranging from 2 to 10 megabytes for offices, and up to 100 megabytes for the main buildings, are utilized. Alternative wireless lines, including 4G for offices and Wi-Max for main buildings, are also implemented, in case of any baseline failure. Along with this, the ministry’s Digital Egypt project aims to supply all government entities with fiber-optic cable connections. When completed, this will connect nearly 32,000 buildings at a total cost of 6 billion EGP.
Cairo is the major data center hub in Egypt, housing eight existing third-party data centers contributing to over 85% of the existing capacity in the country. In 2021, MCIT launched a data center committee to receive requests from local and international companies wishing to invest in the establishment and management of data centers within Egypt.
Some of the recent capacity-building progress includes Telecom Egypt’s announcement of the first open-access internet exchange in the country. Intended to enhance the digital experience of internet users in Egypt, Africa and the Middle East, EG-IX is hosted inside the operator’s largest certified tier III data center located in Smart Village in West Cairo. Orange is also set to complete the first phase of its data center in the New Administrative Capital (NAC), as part of its contract to establish the largest data center in Africa, with investments worth $135 million.
- Ensuring Cybersecurity
Egypt ranked 23rd globally, and 4th among Arab countries, in the Global Cybersecurity Index (GCI) 2020, issued by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in 2021. Intensifying its cybersecurity efforts, a new national cybersecurity strategy for the period 2022- 2026 has been forged to fully secure the ICT infrastructure and create an even safer digital environment.
In March 2022, the Egyptian government’s Information and Decision Support Center (IDSC), in cooperation with the Egyptian Computer Emergency Readiness Team (EG-CERT), held cybersecurity drills with the participation of various ministries to simulate some scenarios of cyberattacks and to enhance communication and coordination in assessing the response and readiness in addressing such cyber incidents at the national level.
Across Egypt, over 29 million email threats, more than 1.4 million malware attacks and over 3.6 million URL victims’ attacks were detected and blocked in 2021, according to a report from a global leader in cybersecurity solutions.
MCIT has embarked on building Digital Egypt, an all-encompassing plan laying the foundations for the transformation, with its core pillars being to enhance human capacity building, foster digital inclusion, promote innovation and entrepreneurship, and develop the ICT industry at large.
“MCIT will continue to build Digital Egypt, a new digital society, that is decentralized, connected and data-driven to ensure every citizen has a chance to learn, work and receive services in a timely manner,” stated Dr. Amr Talaat, MCIT Minister.
In the same context, Egypt was the Arab digital capital for 2021. Forging ahead with digital transformation and in line with Egypt Vision 2030. “The aim is to drive the transition to a society where technological applications are the key enablers for obtaining services,” said HE Prime Minister Dr. Mostafa Madbouly.
- Digital Transformation
Accelerating digital transformation is a core component to achieving Egypt’s vibrant economic growth, fostering productivity and advancing human capital development. A huge part of this vision is the transition of the public sector’s services and processes into the digital sphere. Within the framework of building Digital Egypt, MCIT launched several projects including the Digital Egypt platform, post offices and citizen service centers.
“Recent advances in digital government transformation improve the prospects for modernized public service delivery and policymaking, through adopting a ‘whole-of-government’ approach to digital transformation and interoperability,” said Dr. Talaat.
Egypt’s score on the United Nations E-Government Development Index (EGDI) has seen improvement over the last two decades, wherein during the 2020 outbreak, Egypt’s EGDI score was very close to that of the MENA region, exceeding the African countries’ average. Egypt was also among the high-performing countries in the 2020 GovTech Maturity Index (GTMI), as well as among the top 10 developed countries in digital inclusion.
On the back-end, Egypt has been taking steps to digitalize core government systems, including public financial management, human resource management, taxation and customs administration while on the front-end, Egypt has launched the Digital Egypt platform to modernize public service delivery. As of 2021, there are 4.2 million subscribers on this platform, with 14 million transactions conducted in nearly 120 digital government services.
At the international relations level, MCIT has made great strides in international cooperation, attracted foreign investments to the Egyptian ICT market and strengthened the country’s presence and stance on ICT matters in relevant organizations (e.g United Nations, European Union (EU), the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)).
- Digital Skills and Jobs
The technical training budget provided by MCIT is said to have doubled in the last three years, with the target number of trainees increasing to 200,000 and investments worth over 1 billion EGP secured in FY 2021/22. In addition, the number of employees in the ICT sector grew from 233,000 in 2017/2018 to 281,000 in 2019/2020.
The Egypt University of Informatics (EUI), inaugurated in August 2021, is the first ICT-related specialized university in the Middle East and Africa. It seeks to create a specialized ICT community and equip young people with digital skills to fill in-demand jobs across labor markets. MCIT has also launched the Digital Transformation Academy to ensure the sustainability of digital transformation and employ ICT to create a new business model within government institutions.
As part of these efforts, the Information Technology Institute (ITI) trained more than 6,000 people on in-demand ICT skills including areas of the Internet of Things (IoT), data analysis, AI, information security, embedded systems, business robots and digital arts. In addition, the National Telecommunication Institute (NTI) trained over 20,500 people in communications technology, carrying out a range of specialized training programs such as the Fiber Optics Training Program, the Digital Egypt Youth (DEY) initiative and the Wazeefa-Tech initiative.
Establishing partnerships with tech giants, including AWS, Huawei, Cisco, VMware and Microsoft has honed the learners’ technical skills by providing access to excellent training opportunities and international certifications.
In early 2022, Benya signed a strategic partnership agreement with Egypt’s first smart university, Galala University. Students will benefit from Benya’s expertise and capabilities through internships and scholarships, while Benya will have access to the University’s periodic scientific research outcomes.
- Digital Innovation
With the efforts of both the public and private sectors, Egypt is positioning itself as a regional innovation hub. Driven by smart infrastructure, startup culture and a host of digital advancements, the country’s reputation in tech adoption solidifies.
Achieving great progress in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), Egypt is the first Arab and African country to formally join and adhere to the OECD Recommendation on AI. Furthermore, in line with Egypt’s National AI Strategy, the country’s official AI portal was launched in 2021, together with applications for different domains such as the Hudhud app (smart assistant for farmers) as well as knowledge mining for the Egyptian Postal museum. Among the AI firsts that occurred last year was the organization, along with Nvidia, of the world’s biggest training camp on the use of AI in scientific fields, as well as the presentation of C(4F)₂ Hackathon, Egypt’s first AI competition.
ITIDA has also established the first Egyptian Industry 4.0 Innovation Center (IIC) in the Knowledge City in the New Administrative Capital, which will help employ Industry 4.0 and digital transformation technologies in the local industry starting in 2022. Smart villages and technology parks are also part of the bustling Egyptian ICT development, providing a competitive business environment and world-class ICT and outsourcing services.
The volume of investments in startups in Egypt also grew from $190 million in 2020 to $465 million in 2021, most being devoted to the burgeoning entrepreneurship and startup sector. As of September 2021, Egypt has the fourth-largest startup ecosystem on the African continent based on the number of companies (<500).
E-commerce is the leading sector where over one-fifth of the country’s tech startups are active. Egypt is among the top four predominant African countries in the fintech industry – from merely two startups in 2014 to over 100 Egyptian fintech and fintech-enabled startups by 2021.