While finding a way to boost computer ownership and bring Egypt more online has been a conundrum exercising many minds of late, the country?s communications minister has predicted a major jump in IT sales for the year ahead. The hope in Cairo is that within a decade, software exports will top $15bn, with the government planning to make the country?s burgeoning IT industry a major economic force. Critics point to a string of obstacles blocking Egypt?s path to a high tech future, such as low computer literacy, low market penetration and high costs.

However, Communications and Information Technology Minister Ahmad Nazif says that all that is changing and the IT sector is expanding fast. "We are still seeing a lot of growth," he told Reuters on February 5th, "mainly because our penetration numbers are still swelling to catch up with the rest of the world." Nazif added that the country’s personal computer market is expected to grow by one-third in 2003 and "We expect to sustain this kind of growth rate, in the 30%, for the next few years." The minister went on to attribute the rise in part to a pubic-private scheme launched in mid-November that allows Egyptians to purchase computers in instalments.

What makes these computers unique is that they can be purchased on a favourable credit scheme. With this, the customer starts off making a 10% down payment, then pays monthly instalments of between 70-100 Egyptian Pounds at a low 7% interest rate at telephone exchanges participating in the programme. High interest rates on loans had previously been an impediment to costly purchases. The government had hoped to sell 32,000 computers in the first six months of the programme, building to a regular annual turnover of 150,000, and Nazif said they were on target. Since the launch, 15,000 people have signed up to buy their computers through the scheme, he told Reuters. According to the minister, the Egyptian market is expected to grow in 2003 by at least 100,000 computers up from its current figure of 300,000.