The Islamic Garden
Egypt Today – A Growing
However, this layer of mounting economic growth is rather thin and really only affects a very small percentage of the population. There are still vast areas of
About thirty-five years ago
This ever-increasing economic wealth is felt mainly by the middle-class. The poorer classes remain as they have been for ages; scrambling to survive. In the main streets of
These workers have developed their own culture and form groups and share tea and tip-offs. The wives of such workers are most commonly employed as cleaning ladies in homes. In times gone by it was a mark of the higher classes to have a cleaning lady come in once or twice a week to clean but now with the increase in working mothers and higher incomes this is no longer a luxury but a necessity of life. These cleaning ladies can easily earn more money than their husbands which in turn is often the root cause of many a troubled home.
Most buildings in inner Nasr City have a ‘bowab’; a man and his family from the country-side who live in impoverished conditions mostly in the garage, basement of the building, or a hut next to it. The bowab and his family serve the people of the building. The whole family will arise very early in the morning to wash the cars and do any shopping for the families. Even the older children are expected to run errands and be at the beck and call of the residents of the building 24 hours a day. There is a lot of competition for country people to get residence as a bowab, and once in place the bowab family is not easily removed. Each flat in the building will pay the bowab a specified amount every month and according to the amount of flats in the building this can add up to quite a substantial sum. Along with this the bowab’s family members, mostly the wife, get paid for cleaning flats and the children get small tips for running errands. But this is not automatic and some more miserly residents may not pay the bowab and his family anything for their services except for the monthly rate. The monthly rate paid by an affluent family can be as little as 20 Egyptian pounds a month. To understand the significance of this amount, it costs 20 LE to see a film in the cinema.
More and more people from the countryside are moving to
particular cleaning lady I met has three children. Her husband left her
time ago to raise her children alone. Now her son has a steady job in
and her daughter has nearly finished a university degree while the
child is still in school. These children were raised on the money
earned by the
mother as a cleaning lady. There are many cases where poor families
resources and mutually support each other out of crisis situations. On
other hand, there are also cases of domestic violence where the
Many middle class women work in order to send their children to ‘better’ schools. Fluency in English is vital for young people to secure good jobs for themselves. There is a growing amount of language schools that range in price for 4-5000 Egyptian pounds a year up to 15,000 Egyptian pounds. These language schools teach all subjects in English except Arabic and Religion. It is not often that students emerge from these schools with solid useful skills, as the education is rote learning and the lessons are in English but are often taught in the colloquial language.
Only the higher classes have access to international schools which take a holistic approach to education and all subjects are taught in English. However, these schools vary in price from 20,000 to 80,000 Egyptian pounds a year. With an average of three children a family this is impossible except for the very rich.
As incomes rise, businesses open, malls are built, and new international schools are opened every year, sections of the Egyptian society are becoming more and more affluent. The poorer people are still struggling to survive but see education as a means to economic growth. However, that only applies to financial security. Many opportunities to develop and get ‘good’ jobs in government departments depend on ‘who’ you know. But at the same time, in order for a person to be accepted into the ‘society’ of the wealthy or the would-be wealthy, the person must come from a professional background. For example, a person with money whose parents were cleaners or workers would never be accepted into the private sporting clubs and would never become officers in the police or army. The poor who are emerging from poverty still have a long way to go.