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A woman shops at a La Vie En Rose store (LARRY MACDOUGAL/CP)

A woman shops at a La Vie En Rose store

(LARRY MACDOUGAL/CP)

Egypt upheaval puts damper on companies' operations Add to ...

Canadian companies doing business in Egypt are scrambling to ensure that employees there are safe, reassure worried shareholders and decide whether to keep operations open.

"We are trying to respond to our shareholders with as much information as we have available," said Tony Anton, president and chief operating officer of Sea Dragon Energy Inc. "Egypt is still a great place to do business."

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His Calgary-based energy company has interests in two concessions in the country's desert. Both are located far south of the unrest that has made global headlines in recent days. All of Sea Dragon's six employees are safe. Yet it has temporarily suspended drilling operations because supplies of diesel fuel are intermittent, since trucks aren't running on a regular basis.

More than half-a-dozen Canadian companies, from lingerie retailer La Vie en Rose to engineering giant SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. , have a presence in Egypt. It's the Arab world's third-largest economy, with the sixth-biggest oil reserve in Africa and a population of about 82 million.

Global companies, too, are affected. Coca-Cola Co., Cisco Systems Inc. and Volkswagen AG are curtailing operations in Egypt as protesters take to the streets for the seventh day to demonstrate against President Hosni Mubarak. Commercial flights have been cancelled, international banks, such as Barclays PLC and HSBC, are temporarily closing their doors and the country's stock exchange is closed.

SNC-Lavalin, Canada's largest construction and engineering company, has a contract to do consulting work on an electricity interconnection project between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The Montreal-based firm has about 50 employees in its Cairo office.

"Our Cairo office is closed today and will remain closed until the situation is determined to be more stable," said Leslie Quinton, vice-president of global corporate communications. "The health and safety of our employees is our No. 1 preoccupation, and we're pleased to report that all our employees are safe."

Montreal-based La Vie en Rose has five stores in the country. A spokesperson wasn't available to comment, though the company said in an e-mail that it is planning to add two more, to bring its total to seven by the end of this year.

Others are also looking to expand their presence. IMW Industries, which makes equipment for natural gas fuelling stations, has a technician stranded in Cairo. "It is stressful - he can hear gunfire from his hotel," said Brad Miller, president of the Chilliwack, B.C.-based firm. "Egypt is actually one of the countries we were looking at setting up a presence in. I'm a little surprised - I didn't expect to see this."

Disruptions have also hit the tourism sector. Transat A.T. Inc. says it has a dozen Canadian vacationers on tour packages in Egypt now, some of whom are on their way home. New bookings continued last week through Wednesday and Thursday, before halting on Friday. Now, the company is steering people to Morocco.

Other companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange with a presence in the country include gold producer Centamin Egypt . It says staff and operations so far "have not been impacted in any way" by the recent events in the country. Methanex Corp. , whose shares have skidded in recent days, said the commissioning of its new 1.3-million-tonne-a-year methanol facility in Egypt is on schedule despite the protests.

Among global companies, Statoil ASA , Norway's biggest oil producer, halted drilling offshore, while London's GlaxoSmithKline PLC , which has about 900 employees in the country, closed offices and plants yesterday.

The unrest, which erupted across Egypt a week ago, has threatened the government's stability, disrupted Internet access and increased the risk of looting for retailers. Thousands of demonstrators gathered again today in central Cairo after defying a curfew during a night of looting and gunfire. As many as 150 people may have died in the protests.

"We expect that the situation will become even more unstable," Eckhard Cordes, chief executive officer of Metro AG, the world's third-largest retailer, said in Berlin. "That's why we decided to get our people out."

Metro's two stores in Egypt were looted, and one of them was damaged by fire. Peter Wuebben, a spokesman at the Dusseldorf-based company, said about 25 expatriate employees and family members were evacuated from Egypt yesterday.

For now, most company executives are watching events unfold with concern, and hope. "We don't see this as a reason to stop doing business in Egypt," said Mr. Anton of Sea Dragon. "They're going through a bit of a hard time right now. But down the road, hopefully the upcoming elections will reflect the desire of the people. It's something we all aspire for, and it's reasonable for them to be demanding it."



With files from Bloomberg News and Canadian Press

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