Drivers brace for Egyptian ride-hailing laws

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Ramez Wagih, an accountant in the morning and Uber driver in the afternoon, poses in his car in the Egyptian capital Cairo, on April 19, 2018. (AFP)
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New legislation regulating ride hailing services in Egypt may have been welcomed by Uber and competitor Careem, but some behind the wheel fear they could be driven out of business. (AFP)
Updated 23 May 2018
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Drivers brace for Egyptian ride-hailing laws

CAIRO: New legislation regulating ride-hailing services in Egypt may have been welcomed by Uber and competitor Careem, but some behind the wheel fear they could be driven out of business.
After various twists and turns, including a ban on ride-sharing as recently as March, Egyptian lawmakers passed a bill in early May, pending approval by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
The laws will require drivers to pay 3,000 Egyptian pounds ($170, 140 euros) for a special license, a huge outlay in a country where the average monthly salary is around $200 and many people take multiple jobs to make ends meet.
“It is too much for an Egyptian,” says Khaled, who has been bolstering earnings from teaching Arabic by working for Uber these past few months.
“As soon as the law is implemented, I will leave Uber,” he adds, since 20 percent of each client’s payment goes to the firm, making it hard to turn a profit.
Another driver, Mohamed, 27, bought a car to work for the firm, so may invest in the license, but only if Uber guarantees earnings and provides support.
“If I have to pay fees without having the security of a normal job, I might as well be a taxi driver,” he says.
But the legislation has been given the thumbs up by the ride-hailing firms, with Uber Egypt managing director Abdellatif Waked describing it as a “historic step,” after years of legal uncertainty.
He says it paves the way for “increased investment, the creation of many jobs” and further Uber expansion in Egypt.
For Ramy Kato, Egypt managing director for UAE firm Careem, the new bill “sends out a strong signal that Egypt continues to be open for business and investment.”
A couple of months ago, the firms feared that would no longer be the case.
In March, a lawsuit brought by conventional cab drivers saw a court ban ride-sharing.
Uber and Careem appealed, securing a suspension of the ruling in April, pending a verdict by a higher court.
Both ride-sharing companies have invested heavily in Egypt.
The country is “one of Careem’s largest markets” where the company has invested $30 million and has more than 100,000 drivers, according to Kato.
With a local customer base of four million people, Uber plans to invest around $100 million in Egypt over the next five years.
The firm says it created 150,000 new job opportunities in the country during 2017 alone, including at one of its largest worldwide customer service centers.
The ride-hailing market is enhancing “investment, development and transport,” said Mohamed Badawi, a businessman and member of parliament’s transport committee.
Demand for the service in this country of around 100 million people is high, amid frustration with traditional taxi drivers, who sometimes refuse to turn on the air conditioning or the meter.
But some fear passage of the bill will not end the political and legal uncertainty, especially since taxi drivers will continue to fight the loss of their turf.
Ramez Wagih, an accountant in the morning and Uber driver in the afternoon, spent weeks tied up in bureaucratic red tape, before officials gave him a temporary license.
And the 36-year-old is buckling up for more mishaps ahead.
“The problem has taken too much time to settle and it will still take more,” Wagih says.


Brexit bullion: Fear of no-deal triggers Irish gold rush

Updated 28 min 36 sec ago
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Brexit bullion: Fear of no-deal triggers Irish gold rush

DUBLIN: In a vault under the streets of Dublin a pot of gold owned by anxious investors is growing every day Britain edges closer to leaving the EU without a deal.
“They’re worried about a significant devaluation in sterling if there’s a hard Brexit,” said Seamus Fahy.
Fahy is co-founder of Merrion Vaults, a gold brokerage and safe deposit facility in the center of the Irish capital.
Over 2018 — as the prospect of Britain crashing out of the EU turned from a scare story into a very real prospect — he has seen a 70 percent rise in clients from the British province of Northern Ireland.
“Customers are taking money — physical money — out of the bank and they’re buying gold bullion with us to store it, and it’s a hedge,” Fahy explained.
There is no equivalent facility in Northern Ireland.
With the border only an hour away it is no long trip to secure peace of mind as Britain risks a split with the EU critics are branding a “cliff-edge Brexit.”
Set in the basement of an unassuming grey office block, Merrion Vaults does not advertise its presence to passersby, marked only with a coy plaque reading “Merrion Private.”
Down an elevator, past a manned security booth and a fingerprint scanner — as well as a hefty metal safe door — is a caged vault, ranked with 3,000 double-locked deposit boxes.
Their full contents are known only to clients. But Fahy knows that inside many are glimmering stashes of gold.
Numerous customers have spent over £500,000 (560,000 euros) on their precious nest eggs.
The most popular items are one ounce (30 gram) gold bars and coins: handsomely polished South African Krugerrands, Canadian Maple Leafs and British Britannias worth in the region of £1,100 (1,200 euros) each.
They have increased in value by around 10 percent in the past six months, according to Fahy’s ledger.
When news of the 2016 Brexit vote broke, gold surged as sterling plunged to levels not seen since 1985.
The result was a historic 22 percent jump in gold valued in British currency terms.
In December, when British Prime Minister Theresa May pulled the parliamentary vote on her Brexit deal, Fahy also saw a “big uptick” in demand.
Pundits saw that as the most foreboding indication yet of a no-deal Brexit on March 29.
The prospect of the fallout sinking sterling seems to be making investors skittish.
“In times of crisis you always see what’s called this ‘flight to safety’ — so people go into US government bonds, gold bullion, Swiss francs etc.,” said Fahy.
The future status of Northern Ireland — the so-called “Irish backstop” — is at the crux of the Brexit conundrum and has added particular concerns on the island.
“You often see local events driving local demand,” said Alistair Hewitt, head of market intelligence at the World Gold Council.
But Hewitt said that the Brexit gold rush may have already peaked in the rest of Britain, with “an upsurge of activity” around the vote itself.
“Over the course of the past two years that’s probably petered out a little bit. I think lots of investors have probably suffered a bit of Brexit fatigue.”