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Cairo''s Middle Class - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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In Cairo , social trends appear and disappear very quickly. On my last visit, I noticed luxury has taken hold amongst the middle class in the Egyptian capital. This was evident when I look at some people, their modern vehicles, the shopping malls, the restaurants, cinemas and other entertainment venues that have recently opened, across the city. The situation is far removed from the days of market liberalization, in 1974, and the age of “fat cats” and corruption.

Without wishing to give exact figures on the size and direction of this social development, I can safely say that Egypt is booming demographically and economically, with government and private sector revenues surging. A third of the country’s revenue is generated from the oil industry, proceedings which have increased in all oil producing countries as the price of a barrel of oil continues to rise. The increase in oil profits in neighboring Arab countries also reflects on the Egyptian economy in the form of a surge in investments and tourism. For example, three major companies from Saudi Arabia , Kuwait , and India , are locked in a fierce battle to purchase the Egyptian Fertilizers Company.

Undoubtedly, the growth in the size and living standards of the middle class in Egypt has a number of positive consequences, and a few negative ones. The constructive effects are evident the economic and social stability of the country. More tellingly, the middle class has fulfilled its aspirations becoming, increasingly, involved in domestic affairs. Of course, the rise of the middle class is not without problems, as it demands political change and is ready to use its influence in this respect, an aspect long overlooked by many. The middle class is constituted of doctors, accountants, engineers, private sector administrators, businessmen and others. Together, they form a powerful grouping with influence in all aspects of society, act as the pillar of political stability in any country, and when angry, they can bring down a regime.

Throughout the years, Cairo has been known as the city of luxury for the middle classes. This is despite the city going through a period of austerity during the socialist era, after the Monarchy was abolished, when all its citizens became public sector employees and government dictated all aspects of their lives. Cairo is also known as the old Arab city to have a prosperous middle class and, also, one of the first capitals in the region where modern technology was introduced.

Cars were seen in Cairo for the first time in the last years of the 19 th century, reaching 110 cars by 1905. Congestion first became a problem in the Egyptian capital in 1930, with over 700 privately owned cars and 80 taxis on the road, a phenomenon unknown in any other regional city.

Cairo is currently suffering from immense problems that will not be solved by its population’s lively spirit or the growth of its middle class. The capital’s population continues to increase dramatically because of a high birth rate and continued urbanization, making life in the city more difficult by the day. Cairo is also a very old city, with a rapidly decaying infrastructure, both below and above ground. Solving all these problems comes at a very high price, one that the government is, currently, unable to afford. Hope in the future resides squarely with the middle class continuing to prosper and financing renovations projects.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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