"I used to work in farming," he told me, "rabbits, chickens—but it's too tough. I heard about ostrich raising. It's become a little bit popular in Egypt—this is a new investment in Egypt. So I can't find anything about it—I went to the colleges, the libraries. I went to the zoo. Nothing." He visited some ostrich farms and they told him they had no problems raising ostrich. But he's not the type to undertake a new endeavor without the proper background and didn't feel comfortable with what he knew.
Having become interested in computers some years prior, he had a PC at home and had recently added internet access. So he did a search on "ostrich" and was overwhelmed by the 1035 returns on his query. That's when it hit him. "This is the business; this is the way! And I switched my mind from ostrich to internet. It's a funny story but that's what happened. I had used it prior to this but hadn't thought of it as a business. This is a very useful and powerful tool."
This was just six or seven months ago. Within one week Galal decided to get into the internet business because "this is the future".
According to Galal, the Egyptian government understood early on the importance of internet access. "At that time we didn't have big businessmen who would invest in a business like this. To start to provide for the whole country this is big money and no one can afford it. The government felt that this is the future—the way for the future—so they decided to start it. In the beginning they gave access to the internet for free—in government offices, in colleges, in public libraries—and after that they started to franchise it."
So these days, the government treats applications for internet businesses favorably. In Galal's case, "They helped me when I got the work papers—permission to open a place like this—they didn't say anything. I want to start a business—in one week, ten days I got the permission. For some other businesses it takes time."
What about censorship? I asked Galal if the government tries to limit access in any way. "They don't watch us," he told me. "They don't keep an eye on us. They don't even ask us anything. It depends on the owner. Some guys get to some very nasty sites. So it depends on the owner—he'll refuse this way or he'll turn his face. If you accept it—it's up to you."
Who's using the cybercafe, and for what?
More and more Alexandrians are getting computers at home. Purchases are typically financed, putting a home pc within reach of the middle class. Because the job market in Alexandria—and in Cairo—is so competitive, it is no longer enough to have a degree and to speak English. You need a third language. And you need computer skills—Office 97, Excel, Windows, Word.
But internet access from home is still a bit expensive. If all you need is the occassional email or web search, going to the cybercafe is cheaper. Also, according to Galal, parents limit their children's access from home. "Parents here are concerned about education. So if I give my son internet access at home in the summer time, I will not give it to him in the winter, during school time. So I cut it from home—and kids and teenagers start using the internet through the cybercafes."
These kids are using the internet socially—email and chat. Galal says he also gets teachers and doctors doing research and some businessmen—although many now have access from their offices.
Many are newbies and Galal helps them out—setting up email accounts (Hotmail and Yahoo mail are the most popular) or helping with a search. For this he doesn't charge extra. Three classes are offered for a fee; Intro to Computers, Windows 95, and The Internet. Most of the time Galal is running the show but he's relieved each day for a few hours in the late afternoon by his one employee—Hisham, a student at the Technology College.