The article presents a new overview on economic transition in Egypt, emphasizing the role of culture in shaping its recent economic history. Since partial independence, and culminating in the heyday of the Nasserite regime, 'economic nationalism' became a predominant national identity mark and a concept central to a local sense of authenticity. The article discusses the meaning of economic nationalism and why it turned such a powerful symbol of Egyptianness. The prevalence of this idea slowed down a transformation to an alternative economic regime when the development effort associated with economic nationalism partially failed. Instead, a huge and unregulated ('hidden') economy emerged, together with a corollary local consumer society. Fiercely resisted in a public discourse captivated by an older economic imagination, both have still shaped the Egyptian economy ever since.