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Amid protests, Egypt's tech chief goes to work

Egypt won't 'let go' of its IT ambitions, Yasser El-Kady says

February 4, 2011 06:00 AM ET
Yasser ElKady
Yasser ElKady, head of Egypt's Information Technology Industry Development Agency. (Image: PRNewswire)

Computerworld - As protests in Egypt continue, the head of the Egyptian government agency charged with developing the nation's tech sector, Yasser ElKady, has been heading into work, speaking on conference calls with tech firms, and planning for the future.

"We were all in the office today," ElKady, the head of Egypt's Information Technology Industry Development Agency, said Thursday by telephone in his Cairo office. And those workers who couldn't get to the office could work via their homes, he said.

"We have this ambition and we are not going to let it go - we are here to grow and we are a believer that Egypt is the proper and right place in the Middle East, not just for offshoring and outsourcing, but to provide the ICT (information and communications technologies) in the rest of the region."

Egypt wants to develop its tech economy, promote innovation and entrepreneurship, grow its offshore outsourcing industry -- estimated by the government at about $1.1 billion -- and foster the adoption of IT throughout the local economy. With some 80 million people, Egypt is about the same size as Germany.

"ICT is a real catalyst for economic growth," said ElKady.

As ElKady discussed his plans, there were reports of foreign journalists being detained and harassed, and new images of violence on the Web and on television.

But those protests are somewhat removed from ElKady's offices in Smart Villages, which is a 600 acre high-tech office park on Cairo's outskirts and home to government IT agencies and several U.S. companies such as Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard.

The roads leading to Smart Villages are being protected by the army, and the area itself is secure, said ElKady. The protests being shown around the world are downtown.

Egypt has seen a relatively rapid rise in investment by tech firms, and has won largely positive reviews from IT analyst firms for its workforce and government support of IT. But with uncertainties ahead, analysts are now less than sanguine about the outlook.

Ovum's lead analyst Peter Ryan, in a prepared assessment, said that for "nearly 10 years, executives, consultants and site selection specialists have been fed a steady diet of positive rhetoric from Egypt's government, quasi-government affiliates and the Egyptian private sector, touting the country's political and economic stability in order to secure BPO and IT service investment. It is unlikely that these same investors will be quick to take such declarations at face value in the future."

ElKady was appointed CEO of the agency three months ago. Before that, he was managing director for Cisco Systems for the Middle East and Africa.

"There is a big expectation that everything is going to settle down slowly within the next 10 days or next week," he said. For now, "people are very interested in protecting their jobs and their businesses in the country."

As the protests continue, ElKady has been on conference calls with the general managers of many of Egypt's tech firms and multinationals, and said none have plans to relocate elsewhere. Many of these firms are focused on developing the Egyptian market, he said.

The country has been partnering with multinational companies, and "the talent pool is not going go anywhere," said ElKady.

He said he knows there will be work ahead to smooth over recent problems, such as the government's decision to cut off access to the Internet, so he plans to focus on ensuring business continuity and meeting telecommunications, infrastructure and security needs.

Said ElKady: "We are here to stay."

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at Twitter @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed Thibodeau RSS. His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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