Earlier this month, Egyptian President, Abdelfattah El Sisi, hosted (link in Arabic) a conference in tandem with the Cairo ICT 2017 Convention that took place in Cairo from December 3rd to December 6th at the Egypt Expo Center. After the conference, the Egyptian President launched ‘Nile X’ as the first locally manufactured smartphone in Egypt. And while the launch of the smartphone served to bolster nationalist pride for the most populous Arab country, it also points to the growth of the country’s technology sector.

The Nile X smartphone is manufactured by SICO, a member of the larger ElSayed Salem Group, and was the product of an agreement between the company and the Chinese Megan Group signed in 2016 to expand electronic device manufacturing for the Egyptian market. Nile X is marketed by the company as a budget smartphone that is designed for the needs of Egyptians. According to Quartz, the smartphone operates on the latest Android software, boasts 4GB Ram and a 13-megapixel camera, competing with other smartphones on the Egyptian market. SICO also manufactures other smartphones and tablets that are priced between EGP 200 ($11) and EGP 4,200 ($235).

The timing for the launch may help to boost smartphone penetration rates in Egypt, where subscription to mobile services are at around 99 million, but smartphone ownership only represents 32% of the total population. This, however, does not suggest that Egyptians haven’t been buying smartphones. In fact, in between 2013 and 2017, 10 million more people purchased smartphones than in years past. 2018 is projected to see a two-three million increase in smartphone purchases as well, indicating that the market may in fact be ready for a budget, locally-manufactured smartphone.

Following the popular uprising that spread across the country in 2011, Egypt’s economy spiraled into chaos with surmounting debt and rising inflation. In November of 2016, the Egyptian Pound was officially devalued, which pushed inflation to heights that the country has not experienced in over three decades. Under El Sisi’s leadership, a plethora of governmental-pushed initiatives to jumpstart the economy have taken flight. Among these initiatives is one by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) that aims to both foster a thriving tech industry and expand urban development to other parts of the country. The Egyptian government’s unveiling of the Nile X as the first smartphone manufactured in Egypt is part of this campaign.

According to the MCIT, the government campaign aimed at boosting the tech industry in Egypt is split into seven segments that give an overview of the campaign’s efficiency, aims and rough timelines. A significant portion of the campaign is enabled by urban development in Upper Egypt, which has historically been marginalized. The first phase, which aims to see the opening of technological parks in Egypt, has already begun, with two parks erected: one in Borg El Arab near the coastal city of Alexandria and the second in the Upper Egyptian New Assuit City. Other parks to be opened are planned for Menofia, Sharkia and Damietta.

Alongside technological development, the governmental effort is also coupled with economic aims, like increasing foreign investment up to EGP 13 billion ($728 thousand) and increasing export capacities via the information and technology sector. The Ministry also claims that it has received 1,300 applications from New Assuit City, of which 70% are from the city itself, pointing to the government’s attempt to decentralize the effort and expand it to other governorates. The project’s social aims claim to target domestic migration to areas hosting these technological parks and, accordingly, develop marginalized areas of Egypt and increase job opportunities for Egyptian youth.

The Nile X is manufactured by SICO at their factory in Assiut -a region that is part of the government’s campaign to boost the tech industry in Egypt. In this sense, SICO’s contribution to the campaign is a win for both the government, which aims to boost the country’s dwindling economy, and for the company, which is granted governmental support and will become the first tech company to manufacture smartphones in Egypt. The company’s marketing manager, Mohamed Abelazim, said: “We used to manufacture solely in China and have worked with tech firms such as Google, Qualcom, Intel, and HP. What we are looking to do is to assemble the motherboards and electronic circuits in our newly built factory.”

In 2016, when El Sisi unveiled his plans for the new capital city, talks about developing a ‘technological valley’ in the city of Suez, east of Cairo, also surfaced. Although the government has been openly voicing its ambitions to boost the Egyptian tech industry and the economy, it has yet to deliver on the projected plans and schemes. But the unveiling of the Nile X smartphone earlier this month points to both the government’s commitment to potential social and economic growth in Egypt and the industry’s persistence to make it happen.

Nile X

The master plan for the technological valley that is planned for the city of Suez. (Courtesy of the General Authority for Suez Canal Economic Zone)

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