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Thursday, 11 June 2020

My WFH Routine: Ismail Selim, director of the CRCICA

Ismail Selim, director of the Cairo Regional Centre for International Commercial Arbitration (CRCICA): My Morning / WFH Routine looks each week at how a successful member of the community starts their day — and then throws in a couple of random business questions just for fun. Speaking to us this week is Ismail Selim, director of the CRCICA, an independent organization responsible for domestic and international commercial arbitration, and the oldest arbitration center in Africa and the Middle East.

My name is Ismail Selim and I’m the director of the Cairo Regional Centre for International Commercial Arbitration (CRCICA). I’ve been fortunate to travel widely and be connected to different cultures all my life. My father was a diplomat, so as a child I lived in Egypt, Geneva, the Ivory Coast, and China, and then I did my PhD in France. The CRCICA is based in Cairo, but I work with people all over the world — notably within the region and in sub-Saharan Africa.

My role comprises legal work and admin work at the same time. International commercial arbitration is a process of dispute resolution, and the CRCICA is like a private court chosen by the parties to settle commercial issues. Our community of arbitrators are like the judges and I’m like the justice minister. I don’t decide upon cases, but I have to take all the decisions to make sure they are administered properly. So I decide whether to register a case, and I oversee all the services related to it: admin, appointment of the arbitrators, financial services, the relationship with the lawyers defending the parties, coordinating with tribunals in the state courts that enforce the awards rendered. I also work with arbitration centers around the world to promote best practice, which usually requires frequent travel. And we organize training courses and conferences at the CRCICA. These are just a few of the hats I wear.

Thanks to technology, we’ve been able to organize virtual or semi-virtual hearings during the lockdown. So for example the tribunal might be sitting in our hearing rooms, but the parties might speak from their offices through Zoom or Microsoft Teams. And we might have lawyers sitting in different rooms in the center, because we can’t have more than a certain number of people in the room to ensure social distancing.

Working from home has reduced my commuting time, but I get more daytime interruptions from my children. I still wake up early, around 6:30am, and start work before working hours. Most of the day I’m on my computer or on Microsoft Teams. I only go out two days a week to the CRCICA, where I meet with people. There I’ve enforced mask wearing, and everyone uses sanitizer. WFH has given me the chance to spend more time with my wife and three children, which is something I always missed because of my heavy travel schedule.

Last year, I fainted in Siwa and it was a turning point for my health. A doctor said I needed to change my lifestyle, so since January I’ve been dieting and exercising every day. I now start the day with a cup of hot water and lemon, followed by a breakfast of salad with chia seeds and apple vinegar. Generally I’ve substituted tea for ginger tea, but occasionally I might have a cappuccino if I need a pick-me-up. I eat much earlier in the day than before, and I’ve cut out carbohydrates and soft drinks. And in the evening after work, I ride my bike in our compound or work out in the gym with my daughter.

Staying up to date on the Egyptian economy is vital for my work. I’m used to reading Al Mal every day. Enterprise is a recent discovery for me, and reading about the Egyptian economy and the companies operating here with added international context interests me greatly.

The covid-19 crisis has actually allowed us to highlight the value of arbitration. During the period where state courts were closed, we held our virtual hearings and everything ran very efficiently. We’ve been able to show that the CRCICA is a very cost-effective alternative to arbitration centers in the big European capitals — which is relevant to small and medium-sized businesses in particular. Unfortunately, disputes will arise out of covid-19 because there are businesses that simply won’t be able to fulfil their contracts. We will keep supporting dispute resolution through arbitration and through our mediation services.

What do I really miss during lockdown? Going to the movies. The movies I’ve most enjoyed watching recently were Al Mamar and the remake of The Lion King. Both were extremely well produced.

I also can’t wait to travel to Europe again. I used to go abroad at least once a month, so this is definitely something I miss.

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