Egyptian-owned small businesses send aid

February 1, 2011

The way immigrant-owned small businesses sustain relatives back home is a testament to entrepreneurial ingenuity underscored as the political unrest unfolds in Egypt.

Take Sharif Alexandre, the 38-year-old Egyptian-born founder of an electronic payment service in Philadelphia called Xipwire. He’s betting technology like his – which lets people send secure payments within the U.S. using mobile phones – will help centralize money for delivery to Egypt.

“This can be an organic effort,” said Alexandre, a Coptic Christian who is launching a Twitter campaign to rally like-mind Egyptian Americans. Earlier this year he ran a texting effort to send aid to a Christian church in Egypt following a bomb attack.

“Hopefully with this situation now gaining more mainstream press and attention that maybe people will be motivated to act within their own communities,” he said.

But even then, getting money from here to there, especially during times of government upheaval, remains a daunting task.

Just ask Selim Khiry, the 61-year-old owner of Maggie’s Deli in Jersey City, New Jersey, one of several enclaves for Egyptians in the United States. According to the 2007 U.S. Census, the number of U.S. residents claiming Egyptian ancestry was estimated at 195,000, but some put the numbers much higher.

Khiry, who has been working in the U.S. since 1976, typically sends $200 a month overseas to aid an extensive family that includes a dozen siblings and some 50 nieces and nephews.

“Even by wire, it takes a week,” he said, adding: “Sometimes if somebody is going, I send a couple of months in advance.”

Other times he’ll phone friends in Egypt that keep bank accounts in The States, asking them to hand-deliver much-needed cash to relatives, with the assurance that he’ll reimburse them later.

“The income in Cairo can’t be enough for anybody,” he said.

Photo credit: Protesters wave an Egyptian flag during a huge demonstration against Egypt’s ruler in Tahrir Square in Cairo February 1, 2011. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

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