The Egyptian Business Etiquette


*This is not about dress codes or body language or emails and meetings. It is most certainly not a set of laws in favor of particular roles in the office, far from offering you a guide to the bargaining table and is not supported by any statistics.


Unique to the world, our Egyptian office does not seem to have an understanding of any rules or regulations… Let alone a code of ethics.

There is always a relationship that somehow seems to steer most things, from business deals to hiring (firing seems to be the case today) – whether it’s a family member, classmate, friend, friend of a friend, your sister in law’s cousin’s friend, someone from the same hometown or even just someone from the same religious sect. There’s a favorite Arabic saying of mine: “This world is as tight as a pussycat’s hole.” (Excuse my French.) Everybody knows somebody.

“It’s just business, nothing personal…” – Mario Puzo (The Godfather)

Family businesses have always been sacred in this country. They are considered a legacy, transferred to generations yet to come. They’re the main purpose of a son’s life and future, what he will spend the rest of his life slaving at and enslaving for. Family businesses are also the reason why most families are broken, breaking up or suing each other in court rooms. In a world where money buys life and controls it, people’s motives and judgments value the moolah over their own blood.

When it comes to conducting business, Egyptians believe it’s always better to go with the people they know, rather than those they do not (but will end up getting to know anyway). People in the past used to stress being “correct” in business when it comes to friendship. Our parents have so many sayings they were taught through generations regarding the matter (Les bonscomptes font les bonsamis).

But as things progress today, that fine imaginary line bordering personal relationships and business liaisons seems to be disappearing, clouding all reason and logic. People don’t seem to know when to pull the brakes, when to close a deal, or even “when to keep a friend”.

“Friends and money – oil and water.” – Michael Corleone (The Godfather)

In a perfect world, when real friends do business, negotiation rules are lowered, parties lay down their weapons and seek the benefit of one another (buyers pay more, sellers demand less, things go smooth). But real life seems to teach us that business is not really good for friendship, nor is friendship a guarantee for good business. Just like a family business. (Yes, business still closes a marriage – rhymes with a merge, no?) There’s a saying… ‘There are no friends in business’. This couldn’t be truer. With companies training employees to complete training in negotiation, which will ensure they get the best deal, friend or not.

In today’s times, the office environment seems to be filled with various relationships, expectations, emotions, personal issues (pffft the drama!). With managers and owners using emotional abuse to overwork employees, owners befriending staff yet getting confused when this affects their socializing, physical attraction roaming between legs under a meeting room table, men with their heads in their pants and girls with their heads in the clouds… A bunch of unrealistic expectations and hurtful communication that never cease to destroy the work environment and break people.

There isn’t one of us who hasn’t lost a friend, a relationship, a job or a business deal because of all this mess. And it’s cruel.

But now what? If business and friendship don’t mix? If family businesses is bad for the family? Where does that leave us?

In real life, friendships and relationships are much more important in and of themselves. But when it comes down to business, with different personalities unveiled, work becomes all too personal, or better described as poisonous.

For starters my advice would be to start avoiding those thoughts of throwing her over your desk and… (Yes we all have the desk fantasies.)

The simplest way of getting by would be to adopt the famous philosophy of never mixing business with pleasure. But that is too safe, and almost impossible and after all, business is an equation of risks taken, with a friend for life and a friend in the meeting room.

It’s better to keep options open, but be highly selective. Always start by laying down your cards on the table, and trust your gut. Don’t expect a favor, don’t accept one, don’t expect additional profits, don’t deal at a loss, note everything down, keep your word, be clear, and keep up with your payments. It’s always easier to make a good deal than it is to make a good friend.

Do not attempt to take credit for a job that is not your own. Do not steal a friend’s idea over lunch, do not abuse a relationship (We never get over it).

And to business owners, remember: Ownership is limited to your things. People are not private possessions.

Learn a thing or two in life.

“I’d say the ball’s in your court, but the truth is your balls are in my fist” – Harvey Specter (Suits)