A coastal enclave for wealthy Egyptians under media scrutiny
Egyptians who take summer vacations at home for years have quietly followed well-trodden routes to the coast that reflect their social status.
Like clockwork, the wealthy have headed to a Mediterranean coastal strip northwest of Cairo called the “Sahel,” while the less fortunate are staying in Alexandria or a string of lesser-known and somewhat austere cities mainly in the east, such as Ras El Bar, Gamasah and Balteem.
No one seemed to care where others were going or how much it cost them to get there.
TV talk show hosts, social media influencers and satirists have focused in recent weeks on exposing, defending or ridiculing the extravagant lifestyle of the country’s wealthy minority who summer in the Sahel, a coastal strip of 300 kilometers dotted with heavily guarded gated communities with exclusive access to some of the finest beaches in the country.
Their interest in what is happening there has seeped into the national conversation at a time when the country is crumbling under the weight of an economic crisis caused by the Russian-Ukrainian war.
He’s dabbled in everything from sky-high vacation home prices and rents in the Sahel to the prohibitive cost of restaurant meals, extravagant beach parties and concerts, and the fashion sense that raises eyebrows among the region’s late-night revelers. .
But like almost everything else in Egypt, the conversation has its funny side, including a flurry of TikTok videos and memes about the shock of ordinary people at Sahel prices and the rapid and outrageous expulsion of foreigners caught trying trying to sneak into the fortified enclosures.
The newly coined phrase “the good Sahel, the bad Sahel” surfaced this summer and became an instant hit. It is now used casually to refer respectively to the old and somewhat modest part of the Sahel closer to Alexandria and the area further west which is home to newer and much more expensive compounds.
However, the seriousness of the debate cannot be overstated. The conversation describes the complexity of Egyptian society and its entrenched class structure, exposing the wide and growing economic gap between the low-income minority and the poor and limited-income majority among Egypt’s 103 million people. .
“The Sahel has always been this enclave of extravagant lifestyles, but somehow it got out of control this summer and made headlines and talk shows,” said Mohammed, a 45-year-old businessman who has spent his summers in the Sahel since childhood and asked to be identified only by his first name.
“You’ll have to thank the new rich for that.”
The average apartment or house in one of the high-end complexes in the Sahel can fetch between $250,000 and $2 million, depending on size and location. A week’s rent for a house in one of these complexes is between 100,000 pounds ($5,200) and 200,000 pounds.
A 1.6 liter bottle of mineral water sold on the beach costs 100 pounds, 20 times its supermarket price. A simple pizza in the restaurant will cost you 1000 pounds and a coffee 100 pounds. The cost of a walk-in group training session overlooking the sea can cost up to 450 pounds.
“Holidays in the wrong Sahel now cost a small fortune,” said a 45-year-old mother of two whose family and her sister returned in late August after a two-week break at an upmarket resort in the Sahel. “We took a lot of supplies with us from Cairo so that we don’t buy too many things in the Sahel.”
The conversation about the Sahel ignited and captured national attention when a high-end developer in August sold homes ranging in price from $500,000 for small apartments to $5 million for the beachfront villas. Photos shared online of buyers, or their representatives, clamoring to take the new units have caused a backlash and led to a closer look at the lives of the country’s rich and powerful.
Commentators were divided on how to interpret the rush to buy the units – the developer reportedly sold over $400 million worth of units within days. Some, not entirely convincing, hailed it as evidence of a healthy investment climate.
They said about 35% of the units were purchased by non-Egyptians.
“This is what Egypt looks like. Some are talking about the price of cooking oil, asking about the price of tomatoes or complaining about skyrocketing egg prices while others are buying a villa for £118m Asked talk show host Ahmed Moussa, a staunch government supporter, “This is Egypt at its best,” he said.
But Mustafa Bakry, an outspoken lawmaker who also supports the government, saw the issue in a whole different light. He warned the rich against being socially insensitive by flaunting their wealth and pleaded for them to do more to help the poor cope with the recent price spike.
Speaking on his own TV talk show, Mr Bakry said: “People in the Sahel should stop provoking people so much. I say to them: ‘do not live only for yourselves, also live for the others.’ What they do has an impact on an already difficult and painful social situation.
Amr Adeeb, arguably the most popular talk show host in the Arab world, has taken a take-it-or-leave-it approach to the Sahel.
He dismissed as irrelevant and reckless the idea that the much-publicized sale of the multimillion-dollar villas would sow the seeds of hatred between Egypt’s poor and rich.
“I’m so sorry to tell you this now, but our world has included both rich and non-rich people since time immemorial,” he said. “It’s supply and demand.
There is a tendency to look at the Sahel from a classist angle, but it is simply a place where people of a certain economic level live.
Adeeb also chastised holidaymakers in the Sahel for complaining about high prices there, saying they should exercise their right to choose where to spend their money.
“People are posting their restaurant receipts online. Did you expect to receive free food? he asked on a recent episode of his show El Hekaya, or “The Story”, on MBC Egypt. “If the food is so expensive, then get up and go. But if you want to dine with celebrities, then cough up the cash.
The Sahel has not always been the summer destination of wealthy Egyptians.
For most of the 20th century, the wealthy and powerful spent their summers in Alexandria. When the city became overcrowded, they moved to the Al Agami region just to the west. They moved further west in search of pristine seas and golden beaches in the 1980s and then over the past 20 years buying properties in developments with catchy names like Hacienda Red, Hacienda Bay, La Vista , Bianchi and Caesar Bay.
The latest expansions are moving closer to the town of Marsa Matrouh, with new resorts springing up in the past five years near pristine beaches in once remote areas of the coastline such as Almaza and Sidi Heneesh.
Over the years, holidays in the Sahel, especially in the “evil” part, have become entrenched in the collective psyche of the rich; an essential social badge that secures a place in high society.
“You can buy a decent holiday home in Spain or Greece and use it all year round with the money you pay for a house in the Sahel, which you only use in July and August,” said a corporate real estate manager who did not want to. being named because he was not authorized by his employers to speak to the media.
“Buying in the Sahel is driven by the super-rich community. You are not considered a member of the elite if you do not have your own place there.
“Come to think of it, you also can’t get married well in Egypt these days if you don’t have a house in the Sahel on your CV.”
Updated: September 02, 2022, 03:57