When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

Are Your Investments Sharia-Proof? Islamic Banking Starts Cashing In

Check out Islamic banking
Check out Islamic banking
Amira Salah-Ahmed

CAIRO -The economic stagnation of the past year and a half has taken a toll on many businesses, but a fleet of Islamic investment banks in Egypt sees opportunity in the emerging new order.

Ridge Islamic Capital, one such investment bank, has found a niche in the finance sector and made plans to capitalize on it. It offers Sharia-compliant investment banking, asset management and wealth management services to a market that experts say is primed for Islamic finance.

Launched in late September, the firm is among a slew of banks offering, or planning to offer, Islamic investment products.

Officials have repeatedly touted the resilience of Islamic finance, with the new government keen on broadening the industry. Officials said Egypt would introduce sukuk, or Islamic bonds, in a bid to ease the funding crisis brought about by diminished foreign reserves and a widening budget deficit.

The government is looking to raise the market share of Islamic finance to 35% from 5%, according to a Bloomberg report.

Egypt Independent sat down with the director of Ridge Islamic Capital, Ahmed Rizkallah, to discuss the bank’s mission and plans in Egypt, and why he thinks Islamic finance could help solve the speculation ills in the world economy.

First set up in May, Ridge Islamic Capital is the Islamic financial arm of Dubai-based regional investment company Ridge Solutions International Holding, which is part of the Angola-based Ridge Solutions Group.

In Angola, the conglomerate financed projects in the aquaculture, agriculture and industry sectors, amid the country’s real estate boom. At the peak of the financial crisis in 2008, though, the bank saw a new opportunity in the weaknesses of traditional free-market finance.

“Our chairman had a vision of capitalizing on the sustainable and resilient Islamic banking and finance industry,” said Rizkallah.

Bank officials saw over-speculation as one of the main causes of the financial crisis and saw Islamic finance as an antidote.

Less speculation means fewer market distortions.

“We believe that Islamic finance, in essence, is a very sustainable system,” he said.

An untapped market

The initial plan was to open an Islamic commercial bank in the region, Rizkallah said, but after some fine-tuning, the company decided to get into the specialty of Islamic investment banking.

In 2011, bank officials flagged Egypt as an ideal place for this expansion because of its “strong fundamentals.”

“For us, Egypt is the anchor of the region,” he said.

There was also room for expansion. Despite being the region’s most populous country, it is only seventh in terms of Islamic banking assets. The smaller Gulf nations have a much larger array of Islamic financial products.

It is estimated that less than 10 % of Egypt’s population uses banks. There are only three full-fledged Islamic financial institutions operating in Egypt, and 11 with Islamic banking operating windows, Rizkallah said.

It is an environment poised for growth, many experts say.

Angus Blair, founder of the Signet Institute, a Cairo-based think tank on Middle Eastern and North African economies, said some institutions have offered Islamic forms of products to clients, but not on a large scale. Previously, he said, a number of offshore companies offered services, but these transactions are now limited due to capital controls.

These customers will now have to go to local Islamic finance institutions for their banking and investment needs.

In comparison, there are more than 30 conventional banks in Egypt.

“The banking segment of Egypt is small but growing — there’s still a cash-based mentality — and Islamic banks have a niche they’ve been leveraging,” said Rizkallah.

It certainly seems the high rate of growth will continue. The Islamic financing industry — still nascent, compared with conventional banking — has expanded considerably in recent years, with experts putting the annual growth rate between 10 and 15%.

“Islamic banking is considered the fastest growing segment in the global financial system,” Jose Ramos, chairman and executive president of Ridge Solutions Group, said in a statement.

Islamic banking assets are about 5–7%, compared with banking assets in general in Egypt, according to Rizkallah.

“The theme is modern Islamic services,” he said. “By saying Islamic, we are not alienating anyone. It’s not about stereotyping or segregating investors, it’s about showing that we have a different way of offering services.”

The firm plans to launch a regional fund of funds soon, with a target size of $150 million. This has already been approved by the Central Bank of Bahrain.

“We’ll screen the Sharia-compliant funds in the region,” he said. Other products allow investors to put money in the stock market, in a Sharia-compliant way, using fixed-income securities.

Changing perceptions

Locally, there’s a negative perception of Islamic finance due to previously unregulated attempts in the market to provide these services. In the 1990s, the sector was marred by several scams, which gave the niche market a bad name.

“The result was that people divided into two groups: people who want Islamic because of religious reasons, without caring about the impact and regardless of the bank’s modernization or lack thereof,” said Rizkallah. “The other group is completely against it, thinking it’s just an emotional and sentimental sort of a business.”

He said residents in the Gulf, Europe and Asia have a better approach.

“People look at what you’re offering them and giving them in return,” he said. “They just care about how this is going to affect their wealth.”

On the political level, Rizkallah is confident that the people in power will continue to promote Islamic finance.

“After the revolution, politicians realized that we need to be open to everything,” he said. “We should accept anything that might benefit the country.”

This story originally appeared in Egypt Independent'sprint edition.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.


Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest