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Egyptian Start-up Offers End-to-End Undertaking Service

Egyptian Start-up Offers End-to-End Undertaking Service

Wednesday, 9 June, 2021 - 16:45
Employees of Sokna funeral service company stand near service desk of Quran and prayer beads during training amid the coronavirus pandemic on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt May 19, 2021. (Reuters)

An Egyptian start-up is looking to shake up the undertaking sector by offering a full package of funeral and burial services to clients it finds at hospitals.


For a price, Sokna - Arabic for "calm" or "repose" - says it gives the bereaved space to mourn, free from the usual logistics and bureaucracy. This can be stressful in Egypt, partly due to the Muslim custom of burying people swiftly after death.


Sokna gets nearly 90% of its clients through deals with 15 hospitals, circumventing established networks for services to the newly bereaved.


One of the company's agents, 23-year-old Mariam Mohamed, waited one recent afternoon at a table in a hospital lobby in Dokki, near central Cairo, ready to offer potential customers a menu of burial packages.


Bundles range from 4,500 to 9,000 Egyptian pounds ($287-$574), plus add-on services that go up to 5,000 pounds ($320). At funerals, uniformed staff are on hand to arrange chairs, umbrellas, and napkins.


"As a team, and as people, we really believe that death doesn't discriminate between rich and poor," said Ahmed Gaballah, who worked at Facebook and Google before founding Sokna in 2019.


Traditional Egyptian undertakers like Mohamed Mahmoud provide coffins, a car and driver, but with less of the sleek presentation favored by Sokna.


White shrouds, bottles of fragrant water and lacquered coffins line the walls of his traditional undertaker's parlor in Cairo's Shobra district, where Mahmoud, 65, was born and raised.


For him, Sokna's deals with hospitals can be a source of frustration, and he says he's been squeezed out of hospitals where he used to find business.


"I would take 1,000, 1,200 pounds," Mahmoud said. "And then this company comes, and tells you 6,000, 7,000 pounds. As the hospital administration, how are you okay with that?"


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