Grenoble Grad On Egyptian Unrest
John Antonios hopes that foreign investors and young workers will stick with post-Mubarak Egypt
As the dust settles in Cairo, BusinessBecause.com talks to the head of Grenoble’s Egyptian graduate recruitment office about the implications of the recent crisis.
John Antonios, speaking from Beirut, explains why he’s optimistic about the future of social media in Egypt but worried that a wave of young economic drivers could emigrate.
“There’s no doubting the impact on businesses here,” he says. “Many were closed for up to 12 days during the worst of the protests. Groceries were shockingly expensive and economic stagnation immediately set in. The internet shutdown also hit those reliant on email.”
But John, who also freelances as a social media and social branding consultant, nonetheless acknowledges a silver lining for marketers.
“One of the main reasons I returned to Egypt after my MBA was for the 16 million internet users - bigger than any other country in the region.”
“Five of those 16 million online Egyptians are Facebook users,” he says. “The revolution meant this was the only outlet that the people had.
“I predict that, post-revolution, social media will take on an even bigger weight in Egypt. Business owners and customers should get onto social media now they understand its power.
“It has affected my business already – the number of people following me on twitter shot up in just a couple of days.”
Despite his optimism, John recognises why many young Egyptians are now straining to leave.
“There were a lot of jailbreaks and loose security - I had to help protect my own neighbourhood.
“On my street, a 600 metre strip, we had 10 checkpoints. Each was manned by members of the community on a 24 hour rota. Everybody came together in that sense - poor man, the guy who ran his own company. People had sticks, chains, like a street gang.”
John also says that, at least before the crisis, Egypt was traditionally less prone to brain drains. Whereas students in his native Lebanon would study abroad with the intention of staying to work, young Egyptians tended to return immediately after graduation to seek opportunities at home.
“Now people are keen to stay abroad. I had [an Egyptian] guy who was accepted into the Grenoble MBA programme and deferred his entry. But when the protests happened he said ‘I've got to leave right away!’ People who can afford it want to stay abroad.”
John sees this as bad for Egypt. He spent much of his youth in Lebanon, where he witnessed an exodus of young educated workers during the Israeli war.
“If you're unmarried there's no opportunity to come to Lebanon. We have a six to one ratio of women to men. It's terrible.”
He returned to Egypt himself last year after graduating from Grenoble and spending a few years working abroad.
“I would love more people to work abroad, get experience and then come back…. Get exposure to add value to the company, country and yourself. Then go back - and help the recovery.”
He claims that employment prospects in the region are exceptional despite the current situation. “You have a 100 per cent chance of getting a job if you try. Search for jobs in the Middle East area and you’ll see they haven’t scaled back.”
“One reason is that big companies have a lot invested in Egypt. They’re not going anywhere.”
But John does recognise that investors’ confidence may have taken a knock.
“I met another Lebanese businessman in Beirut airport who had finished setting up an insurance company in Egypt. His main concern was his administrative deposit of 2,000,000 Egyptian pounds. He was worrying – ‘when I take my money back, I'm getting less because the inflation has fluctuated.’”
It will be interesting to see how events like this will affect future investment. For the time being, John is anxious to get back to normal life and the anticipated flux of new customers.
You can follow John Antonios' social media & personal branding blog here
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