Whenever people talked to me about boycotting certain products because of their political or religious affiliations, I always rolled my eyes and said with my most defying tone “give me decent alternatives and I will boycott all the way”! No one could ever give me alternative brands for my list of products, and I think I can pretty much dare whoever feels like it.
My father and my baby sister boycotted for a couple of years (my dad still does to his best knowledge since he has no idea the kinds of products ma gets into the house). My sister ended up changing her mind because she thought it was futile since she was the only one in her big circle of family and friends who took the matter that seriously. My father still says that I have no principles “ma3andeesh mabda2”, truth is, I have my own set of principles, only they do not serve any of the well respected causes; they serve my own benefit.
Yes, I said it, I am selfish and I have every right to be.
So this post could either be a logical way of tackling the whole Going Local campaign*, or could simply be my own way of rationalizing not being able to completely support it. Either way, please take the time to read this through without prejudice.
First of all, I am not a 3o2det el khawaga kinda person; I am however a quality freak kinda person yet I don’t like overpaying for whatever I get. This could be very hard to prove (the not 3o2det khawaga part) since most of my stuff are not made in Egypt, but I think I will make my point clear as I go, or at least try.
Please take the time to observe the Egyptian market, and then take more time to observe the Egyptian brand names more closely. I know I have!
The Egyptian quality has no standards whatsoever. International franchises have issues with maintaining quality control over our Egyptian production. Compare any Egyptian made product of an international brand to that made in a Gulf country for example, you might feel the urge to cry! Moreover, go check all the "stock" stores, you'll find tags of international brands with the phrase "made in egypt"; in case you never wondered, those were attempts of those brands to produce in Egypt for cheap labor only the quality of the products were too bad to leave the Egyptian lands! That being said, you can imagine what it must be like with Egyptian brands that undergo less strict supervision!
In textiles, if the fabric has any sorts of stripes or patterns (God forbid), it’s almost impossible to follow that stripe or pattern from the front through the back with the side sewing (I am not sure of the technical name). Not to mention how recklessly buttons are "not" fixed, or how some sewing just un-sews for no reason whatsoever! And please, do not get me started on how un-standardized the sizes are; you can easily find a Medium item of clothing twice as big as the next Medium one, OR you can be a size 12 (US) and find your Egyptian brand pants to be size 48!!!!
As for shoes, although shoemakers all over the world (at least the hip and fashionable ones) hate feet, Egyptian shoemakers hate both feet and fashion! Poor leather, extremely poor “glue” or whatever it is they use to keep the shoe together! And the whole structure of the average pair of shoes looks just abusive, not to mention how shoemakers go to extremes to make a pair of shoes look tacky and cheap!
When it comes to food, we all go by buying Egyptian fruits and vegetables, and truth be told, they taste a lot better than those I’ve tasted elsewhere! But let’s talk about the manufactured foods, the whole biscuit and chocolate industry comes to mind, bringing along too much shame; yes yes, I know it’s good enough for its price, but can you see how Cadbury and Galaxy decreased their prices once they started producing locally, which of course will take us back to how different the products of both brands are when compared to their equals made in KSA for example!
I read on one of the comments on a blog that Salé Sucré has competitive chocolate delicacies, but it does not compete with the price of a locally made Galaxy Bar; I would go for Salé Sucré any time of the day, I would go for quality over price any time of the day, but that would not be competition; for me it would be a matter of preference, but it would be abuse for people who simply can’t afford decent quality and feel obliged deal with Corona’s sad and sorry excuse for chocolate just to support local brands!!
Now, that brings me to the other factor, price. I am not millionaire; in fact, I spend much more than I make and I maintain a certain living standard with my father’s help whom I know also maintains a higher living standard than his real income, like most of the upper middle class that seems to be diminishing. So I hate paying more, even though a lot of my friends say that I get ripped off on daily basis buying the things I buy.
The Egyptian products don’t give me any sort of satisfaction not just because of the quality issues discussed above, but also because the ones with quality that live up to my relatively high bar seem to overcharge for it! Yeah yeah, quality should cost more, I agree, but no one said a locally made brand should cost as much as an imported one. That would only tempt the average Egyptian consumer to buy an international brand, and then I wouldn’t blame them; if my country men are screwing my wallet for the quality they SHOULD provide, then screw them, I’m giving my money to the international brand.
I know it sounds selfish being said that way, but come on, any customer is entitled to serve their best interest, they taught us that in our first economics class! Which reminds me, competition is there for a reason; to best serve the consumer. International competition should teach local brand owners to live up to the same quality standards and yet offer their brands for a competitive price especially that they do not need to take into consideration factors like customs, shipping charges, currency value, that’s why international brands cost less than its price in Egypt when you buy them from their country even with the exchange rate and the ridiculous value of the Egyptian pound.
So if we decide to overlook all the above and go local, what would that do to our economy, aside from all the other political and religious reasons people keep throwing around? Would that mean that we endure the abuse done by owners of Egyptian brands who either overlook quality** or overcharge? Would that be our surrendering to the way things are? What would happen if everyone goes local and international competition diminishes to a minimum that would make Egyptian branding a scary monopoly? (speaking of monopolies, can't you see how monopolized brands terrorize a couple of sectors in our market?!!)
Before answering all those questions, please bear in mind that the distribution of wealth in Egypt is majorly screwed; successful business owners are not necessarily successful because they are the fittest or the best (with all due apology to the actual fit and good ones here). Moreover, keep into consideration that the Egyptian market is not as transparent as it should be and that some of the “Egyptian brands” are no longer owned by Egyptian owners (Chipsy comes to mind), which makes me think of how non-existing the consumers' rights are, but I can't get to that now!
I know the economies do not change between day and night, and I know that the core of the idea is really good, but I couldn’t help but wonder about all the other implications and all the potential consequences of such change taking place; is that the change we want?
So yes, the idea of going local is pretty, but only as pretty as utopia I’m afraid and let’s face it, the way things are run in Egypt is anything BUT utopia!
Finally, I realize I only ranted without giving any alternatives. I hate doing that, but I'm afraid there is nothing for me to do that would change the way most of things are; my little part is to go local when I all my terms are met and to demand the level of quality I think I deserve when I can. I wish there was more for me to do, who knows, perhaps this will be read by someone who can do more!
* The idea is originally Juka's whom I've been following for almost a year now but without any contribution!
** I first read Will's lines on Global Voices of Egypt (don't have the link for that article now) and it I was glad someone spoke of it; it's the same as my point of view but it's only fair to give Will as much credit for it since he said it somewhere before I got to write that post.
Disclaimer: My above post does not by any mean deny the existence of good Egyptian products for affordable price; there are of course some. I couldn't help but think of that when I took off my shoes to find my Egyptian-made socks. Point is, there must be other good products out there, God help us all find them and may He help their owners maintain the quality and price!