Monday, 1 February 2021

The Oxford vaccine has landed in Egypt



Good morning, friends, and welcome to February, where the big news here at home as we start a new month is that the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine against covid-19 has received regulatory approval just as the first doses arrived in Egypt. We have miles to go before we sleep on this whole pandemic thing, but if you want the world (not just Omm El Donia) to “go back to normal,” you’ll want to follow this story — and roll up your sleeve at the earliest chance.

TWO BIG STORIES ABROAD are duelling for your attention this morning:

Myanmar’s military TV broadcaster has confirmed that the armed forces have taken over the country “for one year” after security forces arrested Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior members of the country’s ruling party early this morning. The news is everywhere on front pages globally, from the New York Times and Financial Times to Reuters and CNBC.

The “Reddit horde” is moving on to silver, Bloomberg reports, with futures “topping USD 29 an ounce within minutes as the Reddit-inspired frenzy that roiled stock markets last week spills over into commodities.” The world’s largest silver-backed exchange-traded fund “recorded almost USD 1 bn in inflows on Friday,” the Financial Times reports, saying “the jolt of investments came after a user in Reddit’s r/WallStreetBets forum urged people to buy shares and options to put a squeeze on banks.”

ON A MORE PROSAIC NOTE, here are some domestic news triggers for the coming weeks:

  • Purchasing managers’ index: January PMI data for Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE will land on Wednesday, 3 February.
  • Foreign reserves figures for January should be out toward the end of this week.
  • Inflation figures for January will be released on 10 February.

It’s interest rate week, and there could be conflicting signals on a rate cut: The CBE will meet on Thursday to review rates, and our poll of economists forecasts a hold, with Pharos being the only house out of the 12 surveyed to call a cut. But Reuters suggests that the National Investment Bank’s move to slash yields on investment certificates over the weekend suggests it is bracing for a rate cut. Look for an announcement late on Thursday afternoon.

Keep your eyes on:

  • French visit: France’s finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, is set to visit Egypt some time this month to finalize more than EUR 715 mn in financing from development arm AFD to support water, transport, education and health in Egypt. The funding is part of a EUR 1 bn strategic partnership between the two countries this year, the International Cooperation Ministry said in a statement.
  • Putin visit in March? Russian President Vladimir Putin is reportedly due to visit Egypt sometime around March, with an end to his government’s ban on direct flights to the Red Sea being at the top of our wish list.
  • Egycomex delayed again: Trading on the long-awaited commodities exchange (Egycomex) won't happen before the end of 2021 or early 2022, EGX boss Mohamed Farid said yesterday.

PSA #1- You just got a tax filing extension. Businesses, sole traders, and anyone who generate income outside of their day job will now have till the end of February to file wage tax returns through the electronic filing system, Finance Minister Mohamed Maait said in a statement, extending the deadline that was meant to fall yesterday.

PSA #2- It’s not just you — your mobile internet really is getting slower. Mobile internet speeds at all four of Egypt’s mobile networks slowed considerably during the final quarter of last year, according to results of a quarterly quality of service (QoS) survey by the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (NTRA). Orange Egypt and Vodafone boasted the fastest average speeds yet both operators saw declines, with Orange falling to 23 mbps by the end of December from 34 mbps in October, and Vodafone falling to 23 mbps from 25 mbps. Data speeds offered by Etisalat and We were also considerably slower.

There are three days left in CI Capital’s 5th Annual MENA Investor Conference, which kicked off on 26 January and runs until Wednesday, 3 February. The virtual event gathers 320 investors representing 100 global institutional investment firms who together have over USD 10 tn assets under management, according to a press release (pdf).


*** It’s Blackboard day: We have our weekly look at the business of education in Egypt, from pre-K through the highest reaches of higher ed. Blackboard appears every Monday in Enterprise in the place of our traditional industry news roundups.

In today’s issue: In December, we followed up our June poll on online learning — widely seen as needing to be more interactive and less dependent on parental involvement — with one asking whether blended learning is any better. The verdict? 67% of respondents preferred blended learning to fully online, mainly because of its in-person component. But hybrid learning models still need to give students more chances to interact online, and more robust physical safety measures should be in place to allow more time in the classroom, many say. Today, private school leaders respond to this feedback.



AstraZeneca jab gets regulatory green light as first doses arrive + Sputnik V is on its way

Egypt gave emergency approval yesterday to the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, the cabinet said in a statement. The vaccine will be produced by the Serum Institute of India and marketed under the name Covishield. Egyptian Drug Authority (EDA) spokesperson Ali Al Ghamrawy said Egypt’s review met global standards. This makes Covishield the second vaccine to be approved in Egypt after China’s Sinopharm jab was cleared for use last year.

This came as Egypt received the first 50k doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine yesterday. The British firm has agreed to supply Egypt with 20 mn doses, which is enough to inoculate 10 mn people. Still don’t know the difference between Sinopharm and AstraZeneca? Al Azhar cardiology professor Ayman Aboul Magd breaks it down (watch, runtime: 12:05).

Sputnik is on its way: Egypt is expecting “large shipments” of vaccines within two weeks from Gavi, the global vaccine alliance, Health Minister Hala Zayed told El Hekaya’s Amr Adib yesterday. The shipments will include doses of Russia’s Sputnik V jab, the minister said (watch, runtime: 34:29). Sputnik V and Sinovac’s inoculation are expected to soon receive clearance.

So, how’s the overall timeline looking now? Medical professionals should be inoculated by mid-February, at which point the vaccination program will be rolled out for the elderly and people with chronic diseases, Zayed said. With global vaccine production slow, the game changer will be domestic production, where Egypt is working to get a license to manufacture at Vacsera’s facilities in Cairo.

The vaccination program is pushing ahead as daily cases drop: The Health Ministry reported 533 new covid-19 infections yesterday, down from 547 the day before. The ministry also reported 53 new deaths, bringing the country’s total death toll to 9,316. We now have a total of 129,636 confirmed cases that have fully recovered. Egypt has now disclosed a total of 165,951 confirmed cases of covid-19.

Egypt’s Orthodox churches in Cairo and Alexandria resumed mass and other services yesterday, following a two-month suspension, the Church said in a statement carried by Masrawy. Churches that violate precautionary measures could be closed for 15 days, it said.

Egyptians may not get the chance to make the Umrah pilgrimage this year: Saudi Arabia’s decision last week to keep its borders partially closed until 17 May will likely mean that the Umrah season is canceled so that the Hajj, which falls on 11-21 July, can go ahead, Masrawy reported, citing a government source.

The EU’s recently imposed vaccine export controls will not impact supply chains, the bloc said in a bid to quell concerns from Canada, Japan, and others, the Financial Times reports. The export constraints do not apply to MENA countries and 92 low income nations, but do apply to rich nations such as the Gulf states, the UK, the US, and Canada.


Egypt’s current account deficit widens to USD 2.8 bn + tourism revenues mount slow recovery

Egypt’s current account deficit doubled y-o-y in the first quarter of FY2020-2021 to USD 2.8 bn, from the USD 1.4 bn recorded in 1Q2019-2020, the central bank said in a statement (pdf). On a quarterly basis, the account deficit shrank 27.2% from USD 3.8 bn in 4Q2019-2020.

Tourism revenues still plunged, but are slowly getting better: The sector scraped together USD 0.8 bn in revenues from July through September 2020, compared to USD 4.2 bn over the same period in 2019. This is a 162% increase from the meagre USD 305 mn registered the previous quarter with the grounding of international commercial flights to stop the spread of covid-19. Transport receipts also took a USD 524.5 mn y-o-y hit off the back of the struggling aviation industry, with bringing in only USD 1.7 bn during the quarter.

Trade deficit widened: The non-oil trade deficit widened to USD 8.7 bn, from USD 8.2 bn in 1Q2019-2020, due to non-oil and non-raw material imports rising 4.1% y-o-y to USD 13.4 bn, compared to USD 12.9 bn.

Suez Canal revenues dipped to USD 1.38 bn from USD 1.5 bn in 1Q2019-2020, though the figure was a slight improvement from the USD 1.34 bn recorded in the previous quarter.

Meanwhile, foreign direct investment decreased 31.8% y-o-y to USD 1.6 bn from USD 2.4 bn, due to net outflows of USD 75.3 mn from the oil and gas sector, a USD 55.6 mn drop in non-oil investments, and the contraction of greenfield investment inflows by USD 27.7 mn. The CBE also cited a drop in real estate purchases from non-Egyptians during the quarter.

On the bright side, remittances are looking up: Egyptian expats sent USD 8 bn back during the first three months of the fiscal year, up 19.6% y-o-y from USD 6.7 bn, and up from the USD 6.2 bn recorded the previous quarter.

And portfolio investments turned positive, recording net inflows of USD 6.7 bn compared to outflows of USD 2 bn during 1Q2019-2020. Overall, the capital and financial account witnessed net inflows of USD 3.9 bn, compared to USD 657.9 mn for the same quarter the year prior.

The overall balance of payments registered an improvement from the previous quarter, coming in at a deficit of USD 69.2 mn compared to a deficit of USD 3.5 bn in 4Q2019-2020. The BoP still hasn’t recovered to its 1Q2019-2020 performance, when it recorded a surplus of USD 227 mn.


EBRD sets aside EUR 1 bn for Egypt in 2021

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has earmarked a combined EUR 1 bn in financing and investment for Egypt this year, Deputy Regional Director Khaled Hamza told the local press, without disclosing which projects may receive funding through the rest of the year.

What projects are currently in the pipeline? Among the major infrastructure projects still awaiting final sign-off are a USD 250 mn loan to improve the efficiency of an oil refinery owned by the Alexandria Petroleum Company, a EUR 200 mn loan for Cairo Metro upgrades and USD 54 mn in financing for a 200 MW solar plant at Kom Ombo. The bank will direct more EGP-denominated financing to the private sector and is also eyeing investing directly in the pharma and tech sectors, which have grown more attractive post-covid, says Hamza.

Funds are part of the plan: The bank will contribute towards two or three investment funds focused on Egypt and the Middle East this year, Hamza said, without going into further details.

Priority sectors: The EBRD is interested in funding transport, water desalination, and irrigation projects, and has been particularly intrigued by the government’s bid to partner with private sector players on building dry ports, Hamza added.

Egypt was the EBRD’s top destination in the southern and eastern Mediterranean (SEMED) region last year. We accounted for more than EUR 1 bn of EUR 2.2 bn in financing, and were the leading beneficiary for the third consecutive year.


Mansour retail, Ibnsina, Multi-Apex announce 2021 investment plans + lots of debt news

We have a smattering of investment and debt news that may be relevant to your industry, depending on where you hang your hat during the nine to five:

Ibnsina Pharma is planning to invest EGP 180 mn in 2021 to set up new distribution hubs and improve its tech capabilities, IR manager Mohamed Shawky tells Al Mal. The pharma distributor plans to grow its network, which currently spans 63 branches, and its portfolio of 9.5k products. It also wants to begin accepting e-payments from pharmacists and continue improving an app it launched last year. That’s about on par with the EGP 180-200 mn it invested last year after cutting back plans to commit EGP 300 mn to growth initiatives thanks to covid-19 and the government’s ban on construction.

Mansour Group eyes nationwide retail expansion: Mansour Group wants to accelerate the expansion of its supermarket footprint this year, adding 80 new branches of its Metro and Kheir Zaman supermarket chains across the country, the division’s Corporate Affairs Manager Seif El Batanouni said. The company established 45 branches of the upmarket and mid-range grocers last year, El Batanouni added, without disclosing how much the company invested.

Multi-Apex Pharma is reviving its plans to set up a 15k sqm production facility in Saudi Arabia, with Chairman Magdy Elba telling Souq Al Dawaa that the company plans to establish the factory within the next year. Multi-Apex had announced the plans towards the end of 2019 without specifying a time frame, but appears to have put the plan on hold last year as the pandemic broke out. The facility’s output will primarily be used for the Saudi market’s needs. Multi-Apex is part of the Ezaby Group and was formed after Apex and Multi-Apex Pharma merged in 2011.

ALSO FROM THE PHARMA INDUSTRY- Sales of meds grew 3.9% y-o-y in 2020 to hit EGP 80.5 bn, Souq Al Dawaa reports, citing unnamed industry sources. Novartis, Sanofi, Amoun, GSK, and EvaPharma were the top sellers last year, according to the sources. The sales also grew m-o-m, with December recording a 5.5% increase over November.

ON THE DEBT FRONT- Egypt could see sukuk issuances worth EGP 20-25 bn in 2021, Sarwa Capital CFO Ayman Elsawy said at a webinar on the sharia-compliant debt instrument last week, according to Al Shorouk. Our friend Bahaa Alieldean, managing partner at Alieldean Weshahi and Partners, echoed Elsawy’s forecast, saying he expects to see EGP 20 bn-worth of sukuk issuances going to market this year. A law allowing the government to issue sovereign sukuk on local and international debt markets is due to be put before the House during the current legislative cycle.

Need a refresher on how Sukuk work? We’ve got one here.

Who’s in the market for debt?

  • The National Bank of Egypt is considering providing EGP 2 bn in long-term loans to the National Railways Authority to be used to modernize its fleet of carriages over the next three years, sources told Al Shorouk.
  • The National Bank of Egypt and QNB AlAhli will provide part of the EGP 500 mn funding for Future Pharma’s new factory, sources told Souq Al Dawaa, with the rest of the funding provided by UK investment fund SPE.
  • Memaar Almorshedy subsidiary Degla Group for Investment is negotiating an EGP 300 mn leaseback agreement for one of its assets in its Zahra project in the North Coast with Al Taamir Mortgage.


Auto component industry feels the covid burn

Sales of auto components fell 20-30% in 2020 as the pandemic caused a slowdown in the domestic auto assembly industry, said Abdel Moneim El Kady, deputy head of the Chamber of Engineering Industries, according to Al Mal. Suppliers were hit as assemblers reacted to the fall in consumer demand by reducing or delaying orders, he said.

Strong auto sales don’t necessarily mean that suppliers had a good year: Despite the partial lockdown of the economy in 2Q, auto sales otherwise held up through 2020 rising 2.8% in the first 11 months of the year. But El Kady said that the strong sales didn’t translate into more orders for suppliers, suggesting that assemblers were clearing out accumulated inventory.



Big plans for Egypt’s fintech space

Digital Finance Holding (DFin) has launched a new platform that will invest in fintech startups, it said in a statement (pdf). The company, which just appeared on the scene, will offer crowdfunding services to budding entrepreneurs through portfolio company Shekra. It is also launching robo-advisory and digital wealth management through Optofolio.

The investment thesis: The company plans to make equity investments in fintech players that would give it minority shares in these startups, in addition to setting up subsidiaries such as Optofolio to become “clear majority shareholders” in other fintech companies, founder and CEO Shehab Marzban (LinkedIn) told us. DFin is regulated by the Financial Regulatory Authority (FRA).

DFin plans to launch Camel Ventures — a venture capital fund billing itself as the first “venture debt fund in the region,” in 2H2021. The firm is now fundraising for the venture, Marzban told us, noting that investor appetite will ultimately determine the fund’s size.

Partners: Marzban is joined by Mohammed El Beltagy (LinkedIn) as well as Cayesh co-founders Adel Boseli (LinkedIn) and Mahmoud Hassan (LinkedIn). Marzban previously led government-backed VC Egypt Ventures, until resigning last summer to run a VC platform for Beltone Financial. He left Beltone in September to work on DFin, he told us.


Chefaa joins Google startup accelerator

Egypt-based pharma delivery platform Chefaa is among the 10 MENA startups that have joined Google’s regional startup accelerator. Ten tech startups from six Arab countries spanning the e-commerce, fintech, health, education and travel sectors have been accepted onto the program, Google said yesterday (pdf), with Chefaa being the only Egyptian firm to make the list. Chefaa was founded in 2017 and has held two successful funding rounds, raising six figures (USD) from Flat6Labs and 500Startups in a seed round in 2019 and closing a seven-figure USD pre-series A round last year. The company operates an AI-powered platform for buying pharma products, which allows customers to scan their prescriptions, locate their nearest pharmacies and order meds online.


Eastern Company posted a EGP 1.38 bn net profit in 2Q2020-2021, up 19% from the same period last year, according to the company’s earnings statement (pdf). Revenues increased more than 6% to EGP 4.21 bn during the three-month period. “All financial and sales indicators this quarter are the highest ever,” CEO Hany Aman said, pointing to record sales volumes and production. Management has targeted improvements in operational efficiency to deliver “sustainable and stable growth rates,” he said.


ElGameya founder Ahmed Mahmoud Abdeen (LinkedIn) has been tapped as the fintech company’s CEO, while our friend Amr AbouElazm (Linkedin) has been appointed non-executive chairman of the board, according to a statement (pdf). AbouElazm is chairman of Tamweely Microfinance and was co-founder of microfinance firm Tanmeyah.

The Information Technology Industry Development Agency (ITIDA) has two new vice presidents after Communications Minister Amr Talaat appointed Hazem Nabil (LinkedIn) VP of electronic transactions security and Amani Rabei (LinkedIn) VP of IT markets development, ITIDA said in a statement (pdf) yesterday. Nabil has spent 25 years working at IBM, occupying several senior positions at the company, while Rabei worked in management positions at US tech giant Oracle for 20 years before heading up customer care at Vodafone Intelligent Solutions from 2018-2020.

Khaled Sakr has been named chairman of the Egyptian Atomic Energy Authority (EAEA), replacing Atef Abdelhamid, according to Al Mal. Sakr was previously the vice chairman for training and international cooperation at the authority.

Mamdouh Salman was appointed acting head of the Export Development Authority for six months, according to the local press. Salman has worked to promote Egypt’s exports around the world and was head of the economic and commercial office of the Egyptian embassy in China.


Besides the AstraZeneca vaccine updates, the talk of the town on the airwaves was a rumor of a fresh viral outbreak in China. Chest disease professor Ali Al Waari poured cold water on the reports that the Nipah virus is spreading in Wuhan in a phone-in to Kelma Akhira with Lamees El Hadidi (watch, runtime: 9:10).

President Abdel Fattah El Sisi reiterated Egypt’s commitment to reaching a binding agreement on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) with Sudan and Ethiopia during a meeting yesterday with African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Fakih. Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry also sat down with Fakih for similar talks

The AU is now headed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but the organization is still being held responsible for resolving the impasse, Egypt’s ambassador to Ethiopia and permanent representative at the AU Osama Abdel Khalek told Al Hayah Al Youm’s Lobna Assal (watch, runtime: 6:09)

Also on the airwaves last night:

  • The IMF’s review of Egypt’s USD 5.2 bn standby loan agreement earned coverage after Finance Minister Mohamed Maait presented the report to cabinet members. (Lobna Assal on Al Hayah Al Youm | watch, runtime: 2:33 and Ahmed Moussa on Ala Mas’ouleety | watch, runtime: 19:24).
  • Oil Minister Tarek El Molla broke down the government’s natgas conversion scheme for MPs in his policy address yesterday, while Transport Minister Kamel El Wazir vowed to patch up more roads and push ahead with developing the country’s railways, MP Alaa Essam said (Lobna Assal on Al Hayah Al Youm | watch, runtime: 8:47).


It’s a quiet morning for Egypt in the foreign press: Water security is getting ink from the Financial Times’ Heba Saleh, who note the government’s efforts to encourage smallholders across the country to abandon traditional irrigation methods in favor of techniques designed to save water. Meanwhile, the Washington Post looks at how the Mersal Foundation is saving Egyptian lives during the pandemic, often acting as a facilitator to find empty ICU beds and oxygen tanks for people with covid-19.


Export subsidy payout program carries forward to 2021: Exporters will be able to apply to receive back-due subsidy payments in a lump sum between 7-28 February, Finance Minister Mohamed Maait said yesterday. Companies who apply will receive payment either at the end of February, the end of April or the end of June, he said. The government last year allowed exporters to receive their subsidies in a single payment rather than installments spaced out over several years, provided they agree to take a 15% haircut. As of the end of December 2020, 1069 exporters made requests and received EGP 13.5 bn in subsidies, Maait said.

Other things we’re keeping an eye on this morning:

  • Domestic and foreign players will be invited to participate in two rail tenders to construct and operate a line connecting Abu Tartour to Hurghada and a cargo rail extending from the dry port in Tenth of Ramadan City to the seaport in Damietta.
  • Hassan Allam Holding and Emaar Developments have signed an agreement to develop the EGP 1.2 bn Address Beach Resort in the North Coast. Emaar is also developing a second hotel worth EGP 2.3 bn in the North Coast in partnership with Orascom.
  • F&B outfit Juhayna has launched five, plant-based milk products.
  • Investment bank Prime Holding will launch an equity and a fixed-income fund after obtaining a license from the Financial Regulatory Authority.
  • Food exporters have reached an agreement with the supply and trade ministries to exempt frozen and canned fava beans from an export ban on beans and legumes due to expire in April.


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Saudi Arabia is trying to rebrand Riyadh as the new Dubai: The kingdom has already attracted 24 multinationals to set up regional headquarters in Riyadh by flaunting Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious economic reforms that aim to shift Saudi’s dependence away from oil and open up more of the economy, reports the Financial Times. The new entrants to Riyadh include US construction giant Bechtel — who will also be project managing a futuristic 170km city strip planned in Neom named “The Line” — as well as Canadian coffee chain Tim Hortons and Indian hotel group Oyo which hopes to ride the wave of increased tourism in the country.

Dubai is taking measures of its own to attract more foreign investment into the country, which (as we noted yesterday) involve easing citizenship rules.

The EM bond rush shows no signs of slowing: Investors have bought a record USD 115.2 bn of sovereign and corporate emerging-market debt so far this year, the Financial Times reports. The boom in issuance is being driven, not just by a need for liquidity, but by the knowledge that bond yields will not remain at rock-bottom forever.

M&A WATCH- Emirati F&B player Agthia Group acquired Kuwait’s Al Faysal Bakery for an undisclosed sum last Thursday, a move that will quadruple its footprint in Kuwait. EFG Hermes acted as Agthia’s sole financial advisor, it said in a press release (pdf).




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The EGX30 fell 0.3% yesterday on turnover of EGP 1.5 bn (7.6% above the 90-day average). Domestic investors were net sellers. The index is up 6.5% YTD.

In the green: Pioneers Holding (+2.4%), Ibnsina Pharma (+1.2%) and CIB (+0.6%).

In the red: Ezz Steel (-2.5%), Qalaa Holdings (-2.3%) and Elsewedy Electric (-2.3%).

Asian markets are mostly in the green this morning, but futures suggest European and North American markets will all open in the red later today.


School leaders respond to our blended learning poll: Before the Education Ministry’s early-January covid-driven directive that all schools move online again, most private schools had in-person or hybrid models in place. In early December, we ran a survey to see how effective students and parents found hybrid learning. 67% of respondents prefer blended learning to fully-online because of its in-person component. But many say interaction among students and with teachers needs to be upped even further — either online or physically, with safety measures. We took this feedback to several school leaders.

School leaders know that more interactivity is better: Schools are prioritizing interaction in their hybrid models by introducing more group and non-academic elements online, and enforcing good safety measures in person, leaders say. They understand how important interpersonal contact is for students.

Holding live online classes is the key to keeping interaction high, say many school operators. Live online classes offer students the chance to interact with one another and ask questions of their teachers, says GEMS Egypt CEO Ahmed Wahby. This is a more effective model than sending children off to complete tasks in their own time, without live sessions, several leaders say.

Live lessons with compulsory attendance enhance student engagement: Overall student attendance rates were even higher online than in person when Schutz ran live online classes, with compulsory student check ins, as part of its hybrid model, says Assistant Head of School Massimo Laterza. And there was no hit to student performance: the school’s Advanced Placement exam results were even better than those of the previous two years, Laterza says.

Live lessons aim to provide consistency: Implementing a consistent online schedule is a good way of providing continuity for students and parents, says El Alsson Executive Director Karim Rogers. Live classes start at 8am, with children wearing uniforms. “Yes, it’s more screen time, but the kids know what to expect. Parents feel it’s really improved our efficiency,” he adds.

And include non-academic and group activities, tackling loneliness and boredom: Only 3% of parents surveyed felt blended learning models effectively facilitate group work. Many reported their children feeling isolated or unsupported. Schools are setting more group assignments and competitions, including sports and creative activities, to address these issues. “Students like the competitive element and it pushes them to talk to each other,” says Wahby. El Alsson added music, drama, art and PE to give variety to the academic program, says Rogers.

But blended learning models don’t work equally well for all age groups: Our survey saw parents split 50-50 over the question of whether their child’s blended learning model works well for their grade. This makes sense to the teachers we spoke to. “I imagine there’s a giant disparity in what people are reporting depending on how old their kids are,” says AIS Director Kapono Ciotti.

For older students, it’s a good vehicle for content delivery: “We’ve become really good at delivering content online to high school kids, so their in-person time at school can be dedicated to other things,” says Ciotti.

But parents of young children still carry a heavy burden: There are three key issues, says Ciotti: any blended learning model still deprives parents of childcare; parents don’t necessarily know how to teach; and for young children, learning is more skill-based than content-based. “The science of teaching a kid to read — things like phonemic awareness and blended sound — isn’t best delivered virtually.”

So in-person contact for younger children is absolutely vital, as long as it’s safe: “If we’re given the green light to resume a hybrid model, and bring children in — say at 50% capacity — we’d prioritize bringing in primary school students,” says Rogers. “What we’ve been hearing loud and clear from the parents of younger kids is that they need as much in-person time as possible,” says Ciotti.

In-person health and safety remains paramount: 64% of parents in our survey were generally happy with safety measures taken for classroom learning. 27% wanted more student spacing, and others wanted break times eliminated and covid messaging more strongly enforced. Schools take these concerns very seriously, say leaders. Teachers are trained on how to maintain social distancing in school, says Wahby. Several El Alsson parents who work with the NHS and WHO have given lectures on their experiences with covid to raise awareness and promote best practice, says Rogers.

OPEX investment in safety and sanitization remains high: Schutz undertook a lot of construction work to amplify its use of outdoor space, and set up an on-site clinic with covid tests available, says Laterza. El Alsson has hired extra full-time nurses and doctors. Spending on protective equipment like masks and shields remains high, all leaders say.

Still, it’s impossible to completely eliminate in-person risks: With hybrid or fully in-person models in place, older students socialize a lot outside school, says Laterza. Schutz shortened its breaks to try to limit exposure, but couldn’t control what students did outside of school.

Even limiting on-site mixing is hard: Schools are doing everything they can given the limits of their physical infrastructure, but even with a 50% attendance rate you still have crowded areas at peak times of the day, says Ciotti. “We can’t ask teachers to monitor the hallways on top of everything else they’re doing, and we don’t want to bring more people on-site for that.”

For teachers, blended learning essentially requires them to do two jobs in one: School leaders understand parents want more interactive online classes, but say teachers need time to prepare them. “If you’re actually teaching the kids three days in person and two days online, when do you have time for extensive preparation?” Ciotti asks.

Training and pooling knowledge is one way to leverage resources: AIS purchased software to crowdsource teacher training, with teachers sharing skills and resources to build collective knowledge, says Ciotti.

And strong communication systems enable adjustments of the model: “We regularly ask parents and students which modes of teaching are most effective, which platforms work best, what problems they’re having, how they find the schedule —and then adjust accordingly,” says Laterza.

There’s room for improvement, but schools are committed to learning on the job: “From a parent’s perspective, I see there’s room to get better,” says Rogers. “As a manager, I think teachers are generally doing a good job and schools have learned a lot from past experience.” For as long as online or blended learning continues, schools will refine their models to deliver the education students need, he believes.

Your top education stories for the week:

  • CIRA entered the nursery business with a 51% stake acquisition of early education startup Innovvette for Education and plans to open 25 nurseries within five years.
  • Mauritius-based Olympus Victory acquired Al Rowad International School in the first transaction implemented since the Education Ministry lifted the 20% foreign ownership cap.
  • This month’s midterms will commence as planned after Education Minister Tarek Shawki said that there are no plans to abandon or postpone the exams.
  • The cabinet signed off on an agreement with the French Development Agency to support teaching French at public schools.
  • The National Bank of Egypt has approved an EGP 400 mn loan to Global Academic Foundation for the establishment of a branch of the University of Hertfordshire in the new administrative capital.


Sophia the Robot will either take care of grandma or give her a heart attack: Hanson Robotics plans to mass produce four models of its humanoid robot in 2021 and market them as a way to take care of the sick or elderly, reports Reuters. Sophia can communicate, give therapy and provide company to people during lockdown, the robot said itself.

It may be terrifying, but at least it’s not racist: Watch Sophia explain how tolerant it is (presumably as a preemptive defense against folks wanting to kill it with fire…) (watch, runtime: 4:37).


26 January- 3 February (Tuesday-Wednesday): CI Capital’s 5th Annual MENA Investor Conference takes place virtually with the participation of 100 global investment banks.

4 February (Thursday): The CBE’s Monetary Policy Committee will meet to review interest rates.

8 February (Monday): Egypt leads an emergency Arab League minister-level meeting on the Israel-Palestine peace process.

12 February (Friday): Deadline to reach a settlement with the Tax Authority on overdue income, value-added, or real estate taxes without all the late fees. Late taxpayers are still eligible for a 50% exemption on interest fees and late penalties until 12 February under a bill passed last year, Tax Authority boss Reda Abdel Kader said.

6-18 February (Saturday-Thursday): Mid-year school break (public schools — enjoy the break from bumper-to-bumper traffic).

7-28 February (Sunday-Sunday): The Finance Ministry will receive applications from companies wishing to take part in the second phase of its program for the immediate payout of export subsidy arrears to exporters, minus a 15% fee.

22 February- 5 March (Monday-Friday) Egypt will host the World Shooting Championship in 6 October’s Shooting Club, with 31 countries set to participate

28 February (Sunday) Deadline for businesses, sole traders, and those generating income from sources other than their day job to file wage tax returns through the electronic filing system.

March: Potential visit to Cairo by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

18 March (Thursday): The CBE’s Monetary Policy Committee will meet to review interest rates.

8-10 April (Thursday-Saturday): The TriFactory’s Endurance Festival at Somabay.

13 April (Monday): First day of Ramadan (TBC).

25 April (Sunday): Sinai Liberation Day.

29 April (Thursday): National holiday in observance of Sinai Liberation Day (TBC)

29 April (Thursday): The CBE’s Monetary Policy Committee will meet to review interest rates.

1 May (Saturday): Labor Day (national holiday).

2 May (Sunday): Easter Sunday.

3 May (Monday): Sham El Nessim.

13-15 May (Thursday-Saturday): Eid El Fitr (TBC).

25-28 May (Tuesday-Friday): The World Economic Forum annual meeting, Singapore.

31 May-2 June (Monday-Wednesday): Egypt Petroleum Show, Egypt International Exhibition Center, New Cairo.

30 May-15 June (Wednesday-Thursday): Cairo International Book Fair.

1 June (Tuesday): The IMF will conduct a second review of targets set under the USD 5.2 bn standby loan approved in June 2020 (proposed date).

17 June (Thursday): The CBE’s Monetary Policy Committee will meet to review interest rates.

24 June (Thursday): End of the 2020-2021 academic year (public schools).

26-29 June (Saturday-Tuesday): The Big 5 Construct Egypt, Cairo International Convention Center

30 June (Wednesday): June 30 Revolution Day

1 July: (Thursday): National holiday in observance of 30 June Revolution

30 June- 15 July: National Book Fair.

1 July (Thursday): Large taxpayers that have not yet signed on on to the e-invoicing platform will suffer a host of penalties, including removal from large taxpayer classification, losing access to government services and business, and losing subsidies.

19 July (Monday): Arafat Day (national holiday)

20-23 July (Tuesday-Friday): Eid Al Adha (national holiday)

23 July (Friday): Revolution Day (national holiday)

5 August (Thursday): The CBE’s Monetary Policy Committee will meet to review interest rates.

9 August (Monday): Islamic New Year

16 September (Thursday): The CBE’s Monetary Policy Committee will meet to review interest rates.

1 October (Friday): Expo 2020 Dubai opens

6 October (Wednesday): Armed Forces Day

7 October (Thursday): National holiday in observance of Armed Forces Day

18 October (Monday): Prophet’s Birthday

28 October (Thursday): The CBE’s Monetary Policy Committee will meet to review interest rates.

13-17 December: United Nations Convention against Corruption, Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

16 December (Thursday): The CBE’s Monetary Policy Committee will meet to review interest rates.

Note to readers: Some national holidays may appear twice above. Since 2020, Egypt has observed most mid-week holidays on Thursdays regardless of the day on which they fall and may also move those days to Sundays. We distinguish below between the actual holiday and its observance.

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