Egypt, and specifically Cairo's Al-Azhar University, has long been an important destination for Chinese Muslims seeking Islamic learning. The earliest Chinese government-sponsored students to attend Al-Azhar were a group of four sent in 1931. However, individual Chinese scholars, such as Yusuf Ma Dexin, the first translator of the meanings of the Qur'an into Chinese, had been going to Al-Azhar on their own as early as the 19th-century. Exchanges were interrupted during the Cultural Revolution, but resumed in 1981; the group of ten sent from China to Al-Azhar that year included three Uyghurs, six Hui, and one Kazakh. By 1992, that number had reached thirty-four students, of whom twenty-eight were Uyghurs. As of 2006[update], there were about 300 international students from China in Egypt, of who the major portion were studying at Al-Azhar. China also provides scholarships to students at other universities, such as Cairo University; some students privately complain that the Chinese government prefers to sponsor those studying science and place various obstacles in the way of those studying religion.
Chinese construction companies began making inroads in Egypt in the early 1980s, soon after the reform and opening up of China's economy; they were able to underbid local construction companies by importing labourers from China, despite high unemployment in Egypt. Chinese workers have a reputation for being skillful, diligent, and efficient. Dru C. Gladney states that the number of Chinese construction workers in Egypt peaked between 1985 and 1987, at about 10,000 people, but declined again to around 5,000 by 1992.
Individual Chinese traders and entrepreneurs began arriving in Egypt in the late 1990s and early 2000s; they came largely from Zhejiang, Fujian, and the Northeast. They commonly open businesses in the restaurant, garment, and telecommunications sectors. Many of their restaurants serve Cantonese cuisine due to its popularity among Egyptians, though there are few migrants actually from Guangdong. As of June 2008, the more than 500 Chinese companies in Egypt had invested a total of US$450 million of capital. Manufacturing products in Egypt allows them to take advantage of cheap local electricity and water, as well as local labour which may actually be cheaper than that of China in some sectors, such as garments.