Several factors have made Egypt, the Arab world’s third-largest economy, resilient and stand out in the Mena region. Unlike other countries that went into a full lockdown during the first wave, Egypt imposed a night-time curfew. The government avoided shutting down most businesses and services to protect people’s livelihoods and the economy.
The Covid-19 pandemic hit the business of moving people hard over the past year, but Egypt is a bright spot as ridesharing companies see a recovery on the horizon in the Arab world’s most populous country.
Careem Egypt has reached 67 per cent of pre-Covid operation rates, after seeing its activity plunge to 20 per cent a year ago. Uber Egypt has recovered to 80 per cent of pre-Covid levels. Both expect to recover fully this year.
Bus transport app Swvl, which paused operations from mid-March to July, has since seen demand grow in its home market as people opt for the service over public buses.
“It’s been to a large extent a swift recovery,” said Mostafa Kandil, Swvl’s founder and chief executive. “Because what’s the alternative? The alternative is taking a public bus crammed with 200 other people.”
Restrictions were more relaxed and more people started to go to work and back to their previous life, especially in the second half of 2020,” said Haitham Essam, general manager of Careem Egypt.
“This is one of the reasons why recovery has been faster in Egypt than in other Middle Eastern countries.”
Egypt is the only country in Mena whose economy grew last year, rather than contract, according to the World Bank. Egypt’s gross domestic product expanded 3.6 per cent in its July 1, 2019 – June 30, 2020 fiscal year. The economy is forecast to grow 2.7 per cent in the 2021 financial year and 5.8 per cent in 2022.
“In Egypt, we managed to adjust our lifestyles to adapt to the new normal,” said Ahmed Khalil, general manager of Uber Egypt.
Egypt has recorded more than 188,000 coronavirus cases, of which 145,418 people have recovered, according to Worldometer, which tracks the pandemic. The country has 31,815 active cases and registered over 11,120 deaths. Egyptian health officials estimate the number could be ten-fold due to limited testing and the exclusion of private lab results.
Daily Covid-19 cases in Egypt peaked at 1,774 in June and spiked again to 1,418 on December 31. However, the daily count has stayed relatively stable since early February when it dropped to 509 cases.
Careem, which was bought by Uber in 2019 for $3.1 billion, tentatively forecasts business might return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year.
It operates in 12 countries in Mena, including Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Pakistan. Out of 94 cities, 25 are in Egypt.
“All countries are contributing, but definitely Egypt has been our positive spot for Careem over the last year,” Mr Essam said.
Careem Egypt introduced Go Aman in June, installing plastic shields between drivers and passengers. It also cut prices of its standard Go services by 10 per cent and expanded coverage of its cheaper Go Offer product to 10 more governorates in Egypt.
New verticals in Egypt focusing on “the mobility of things” include Wasally (a pick up and delivery service) and Eshtery (a mobile based shopping application.
“Customers have the capability to use our Careem captains to either buy them stuff from shops or to deliver things from one point to another,” Mr Essam said.
Its last-mile B-to-B delivery service Careem Express nearly doubled last year, he added.
Uber, which had the world’s largest number of active users among ridesharing companies before the pandemic, posted a full-year net loss of $6.76bn for 2020, 20 per cent lower than in 2019.
In the Mena region, the company operates in Bahrain, Egypt, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
During the pandemic, “Egypt has been one of the better performers across Europe and the Middle East”, Mr Khalil said.
Like Careem, Uber introduced health and safety precautions, such as installing separators in its cars and sanitiser dispensers in Uber Bus.
Its new products include Uber Connect for the transportation of goods and Uber Black for rides from Cairo International Airport.