Impenetrable barriers separate the richest Egyptians from the rest of society.
They are real walls of cement and iron, not just symbolic walls describing class structures figuratively.
The wealthiest class is increasingly becoming alienated from the rest of society. They have shut themselves in to enjoy the wealth of a country they know nothing about except what would fill up their coffers.
This minority live in new housing compounds with names like Hyde Park, Beverly Hills, Palm Hills, Evergreen, Utopia, Kattamia Heights and others.
It is a phenomenon unknown to Egypt before the 1952 revolution, whose 52nd anniversary is tomorrow.
Justifying the coup, the revolution’s leaders said that a small number of citizens, less than half percent of population, monopolized the entire country’s wealth. At the time this percentage was equal to about 20,000 people. The same percentage (half a percent) is now equal to about 80,000 people, given the fact that the population has increased nearly four-fold.
However today’s elite minority, which lives behind within the walls of isolated housing compounds, has not reached that number, although the upper social class in Egypt is now bigger than what it was before 1952. It is more than half a percent, perhaps no less than three or four per cent.
Reuters recently reported on one of these compounds in Kattamia, Cairo, to demonstrate the contrast between the palaces and Lexus cars and the adjoining small rooms of service workers and gardeners where up to five are crowded in one room.
When I raised the issue at a symposium a few days ago, someone argued that this was a healthy phenomenon indicating that the Egyptian economy is growing. He also demanded not to expect all Egyptians to have access to the fruits of this growth so soon, adding that this phenomenon exists in countries that achieve significant progress rates, such as India.
He is right. India is one country where walls separate two worlds: one for the rich and the other for the poor. There are many residential compounds that look like isolated islands, as we see now in Egypt but on a smaller scale.
However, this defense of class separation neglects or ignores two big differences between India and Egypt. The first is historical, as this isolation has been known in India for a long time. India s class hierarchy has been stable in a rare way that has never been seen anywhere else in the world.
Yet this separation is now waning in India because economic growth has brought about unprecedented social mobility, unlike the situation in Egypt, where this growth leads to unprecedented social class separation.
The second big difference is that India has achieved tremendous breakthroughs, catapulting it into the club of developed countries that are changing the global economic map, along with China and Brazil.
India now ranks in twelfth place among the world s economies. Poverty rates have declined as a result of economic growth and significant technological leaps over the past ten years, unlike the situation in Egypt.
Improvement in the living standards of a growing number of Indians, as well as Chinese, is one of the factors that increases pressure on global resources, hence one of the reasons for high oil and food prices.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a funny comment in this regard, as she said the global food crisis was due to reasons including the fact that the Indians and the Chinese are now eating three meals a day. The tragedy here is that no one recognizes that some Egyptians, who used to eat three meals a day, have almost lost the ability to do so.
India, like China, is an inspiring experiment for those who want to build their country, not for those who wish to justify the collapse taking place in their countries. It seems that those who defend the walls separating the richest Egyptians from the rest of the people, not just the poor, do not realize the consequences of what they are doing.
Dr Waheed Abdel Meguid is an expert at Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.