Consumer and Economic Trends in Egypt: June 2010

Ready to spend with credit cards

Mashreq Egypt launched a new suite of premium MasterCard credit cards, in addition to Standard MasterCard cards in June 2010. The company has announced that the product offerings are in line with the bank’s commitment to offering a unique combination of convenient banking services and privileges to consumers in Egypt.

Mashreq Egypt’s credit cards have claimed they are designed to be the credit card of choice for customers. It remains to be seen whether this is the case since it is well-known that Egyptians still prefer cash payments. One travel blogger wrote about credit cards in May this year: “those aren’t a whole lot of good in a country where most purchases involve forking over cash, and people ask for “baksheesh” to aid with the simplest of tasks.”

Public Smoking Ban

Egypt, the biggest Arab consumer of cigarettes, is beginning an attempt to ban smoking in public places. Alexandria is to be Egypt’s first no smoking city, beginning with a ban on lighting up in government buildings (a beginning that most Europeans would consider tame). It is believed that it will be a challenge to convince Egyptians to quit smoking. According to Euromonitor International, Egyptian consumers bought a huge 77.2 billion cigarettes in 2009.

Traditional shisha water pipes are also very popular and can be found in many coffee shops. Alexandrian local authorities have announced that within two years, the ban will be extended to include cafes. Dr Hassan Salam from the University of Alexandria is heading the research. Euromonitor International data shows that 56.5% of the adult male population smokes.

Popping diet pills to be thin

The Elaph news site reported in June about dieting habits in Egypt. They claim that in Egyptian pharmacies, weight-loss pills are sold more than medication for chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Ahmad Diab, a pharmacist in Cairo told Elaph that the increased consumption of slimming pills reflected a “thin craze” among Egyptian women of all ages, who want to be slender like famous movie stars and models. Yasmine Rashidi, a Cairo-based writer and cultural critic, says women choose drugs over exercise or diets because they provide a quick fix: “In a culture like this one, where social gatherings are a core part of life, and where those gatherings all revolve around food, weight-loss medications take on added appeal,” she told The Media Line.

“As a culture, beauty has historically been important to us – look at Cleopatra, for example – but our ideals for beauty have now become much more aligned with those of the West, so skinny is the current standard,” she explained.