It has been 100 years of success, 100 years of international and local relations, 100 years of developing markets and companies, 100 years of trade agreements, and 100 years of boosting made-in-Egypt products.
The Egyptian Chamber of Commerce in Alexandria is celebrating its centenary this year, having been established in April 1922. It was the first national chamber of commerce to be established in Egypt, Africa, and the Arab region. Situated near the Raml Station in Alexandria, it acts as a national economic and business institution that fosters economic and business development in Alexandria and the Arab and Mediterranean region.
The idea of setting up the chamber developed after the 1919 Revolution, which demanded the freedom and independence of Egypt’s industry and commerce. With the agreement of traders and industrialists, the chamber’s first board members were elected in 1922.
Its first elected president was businessman Mohamed Effendi Tawfik. According to a report published by the chamber, 129 members joined it when it was founded, a large number, and in addition to the president 15 board members were elected.
The centenary of the chamber coincides with the 40th anniversary of the foundation of the Federation of Mediterranean Chambers of Commerce (ESCAMI). This brings together more than 500 chambers from 23 countries overlooking the Mediterranean and more than 22 million companies. It is headed by Ahmed Al-Wakeel, president of the Chamber of Commerce in Alexandria.
The ESCAMI chambers implement regional projects financed by the EU with a budget of more than 180 million euros in the sectors of the food and textile industries, tourism, transport and logistics, new and renewable energy, environment and training for employment, regional development, transport and logistics, and the participation of workers abroad in the development of their countries. There is also a regional programme for the development of trade and investment.
At a press conference held to announce the centenary, Al-Wakeel said that the Alexandria chamber was working on automating all the services provided to its affiliates by the end of this year at a cost of LE7 million as part of the country’s larger commitment to digital transformation.
“The process includes the establishment of an electronic portal for the chamber, in addition to launching an electronic application on mobile phones,” Al-Wakeel said. He added that it also includes the internal systems of chamber employees and financial and administrative aspects.
The chamber has begun to provide online services to its members, such as obtaining certificates and getting acquainted with the laws that regulate the business environment as well as regulations and tenders. In terms of financial inclusion and the electronic transformation, the chamber is currently studying ideas for signing a protocol with an electronic payments company.
During the press conference, Al-Wakeel stressed the leading role played by the software industry, not only at the level of the Egyptian market, but also globally in the light of the availability of suitably qualified professionals. “Our professionals compete globally and are considered one of the sources of our national income,” he added.
He also highlighted the importance of updating the laws on intellectual property rights in Egypt after the launch of the Egyptian Strategy for Intellectual Property, which guarantees the rights of companies and individuals.
DEVELOPMENT ROLE: One of the core roles the chamber undertook just after its establishment was to resolve the economic problems that resulted from World War I.
“Among these problems were the lack of sugar in the markets, the tram tariffs, the issue of reducing freight fees and freight for ships and railways, and reducing floor fees and many more,” said Ahmed Sakr, a board member of the chamber.
“The then council addressed all these problems to meet contemporary concerns and needs.”
Since its establishment, the chamber has paid special attention to fostering and developing national industry and made-in-Egypt products. In 1940, it held its first permanent exhibition for national industries in Said Al-Awal Street in Alexandria. Then king Farouk visited the exhibition and hailed it as a success.
To hold the exhibition, the chamber made an agreement with Banque Misr to allow exhibitors participating in it to pay an interest rate on loans for exhibitions not exceeding two or three per cent. This succeeded in encouraging and assisting manufacturers and Egyptian-made products at the time.
A hundred years on, the chamber is still keen on taking the necessary steps to cope with global developments and the environmental changes associated with the climate change crisis. “The chamber is one of the first buildings that uses solar energy in its historic building in the Raml Station area,” Sakr added.
The chamber also uses solar energy in the wholesale market in the Ameriya district, making it the first of its kind in the world to operate on solar energy. The market was opened last February in the presence of Ali Moselhi, the minister of supply, Mohamed Al-Sharif, the governor of Alexandria, and Christian Berger, the EU ambassador to Egypt.
“We are always striving to play our important role in terms of social responsibility and sustainable development,” Sakr said.
WOMEN’S ROLE: Realising the important role that youth and women play in the economic sector, the chamber has helped strengthen their roles in society.
It activated an amendment introduced to the chambers law in 2002 that allowed the election of women as board members of the Chambers of Commerce. In 2015, the chamber established its first committee for businesswomen to represent female entrepreneurs and others. The committee aims at helping them to solve their problems and providing them with opportunities and workshops that can help them to promote their own businesses.
In an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, Al-Wakeel stressed the importance of women’s participation in the economy and comprehensive social and economic development. “It is an essential role that works to enhance Egypt’s long-term prosperity and stability,” he said.
He expressed his hope for more cooperation with embassies and other chambers in the field of women’s economic empowerment. The chamber is seeking networking opportunities and shared experiences with other countries in order to achieve a women’s economic renaissance and an effective developmental footprint, he said.
Reem Siam, founder of the Economic Council for Businesswomen, reviewed the Alexandria Chamber’s actions over the past seven years, praising steps taken to support female entrepreneurs and the programmes that the chamber has sought to implement in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.