EGY.COM - PROBLEMS & ISSUES
by Samir Raafat
EGYPTIAN MAIL, January 6, 1996
YOU can forget about winning the lottery or receiving your first million from the tooth fairy. Becoming a millionaire is an art. And once you make it, don't forget to flaunt it, or then what's the point?
BECAUSE of exaggerated media coverage of Egypt's "new" millionaires, this article will help you wade through the collection of myths, cliches and stereotypes associated with this growing specie. It will give you the a-b-c on how to take apart new money from inherited money . In other words it will attempt to separate the rich from the raff. But first, let’s be clear on one thing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being or becoming a millionaire. On the contrary, it shows a combination of skill, initiative, motivation, hunger and creativity.
The fact one makes big money through opportunism, bribes, abuse of power, arms or drug deals should not, according to prevailing rules, stigmatize anyone who has more than 30 million! It's no fault of their own if our homegrown millionaires stand out so garishly in almost every crowd. After all, had Egypt been less broke, our new millionaires would have been far less conspicuous. Look at St. Mortiz, Marbella and Beverly Hills, can anyone actually figure out who's a millionaire out there?
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
The "rich-raff" phenomenon started in the mid-70s when President Anwar al-Sadat launched his infitah or Open Door policy. From 21 July 1961 up until then, with the exception of the ruling clique and their cronies, everyone had become moderately poor thanks to socialism. In the rare event one made money overseas, he kept deadly quiet for fear that Big Brother would appear suddenly and walk off with the cash.
This oppressiveness changed drastically with the 1973 October War and the petrodollar crisis that followed. Sadat had hardly launched his Infitah and unprecedented opportunities for making quick'n easy money poured in.
Money, money, money! Egypt's infrastructure was in shambles and an unprecedented shortage brought on by indefinite austerity measures resulted in a consumer-starved population just itching to buy everything and anything, from color televisions and Japanese cars to Kellog’s corn flakes and milky chocolate bars. And as foreign banks arrived by the dozen flooding the economy with liquidity and inflation, the mood was spend, spend, SPEND!
Failed socialism and the absence of an effective regulatory agency resulted in a befuddling three-tier dollar exchange rate and a thriving black market. Enter the Cambio Millionaires or moneychangers. Overnight, one learned of the heretofore unthinkable. The corner grocer and the makwagi-turned-moneychanger had purchased the smart apartment building next to yours. Not only that, but he was running for the directorship of the local sporting club. The dubious boutique owner on Shawarby Street meanwhile was in the market for a ten-room villa in Agami and Marina.
This category of millionaires is recognizable by their coarse manners. While the cambioniare lacks a secondary school certificate, he holds a Ph.D. in street smartness. Cambionaires stick to their old ways and continue to deal in small change. They are extremely stingy with employees working them to the bare bones beyond the limits of decency. Yet they are in deadly fear of their superstitious spouse who makes a rowdy appearance from time to time. A strong believer in baraka, the Cambionaire refuses to part with the old shop or blessed kiosk. The clever among this moneyed category are money-laundering consultants.
After the Cambionaire comes the Madiounaire --madioun being the Arabic word for debtor. Madiounaires sought and received large commercial loans from the plethora of eager-to-please banks that sprung up during the infitah. Unlike other categories of millionaires, the Madiounaire has know-how and flair, is worldly and usually well educated.
Always ready to talk business the Madiounaire is marked by a father or uncle who suffered during Nasser's regime. He recalls how his family assets had been confiscated, sequestrated or nationalized. The Madiounaire tends therefore to invest comically, making sure liabilities are always one step ahead of his assets. He is not about to be caught with his pants down in case the infitah turns sour.
For every borrowed dollar, the Madiounaire will place 20 percent into the short-term project for which the moneys had originally been disbursed. In direct breach of the loan agreement, an equal amount is spent on a downpayment for a newly built 300 to 400 square meter apartment in Zamalek, Heliopolis or a 600 square meter villa in Katameya courtesy of some High-rise Millionaire (see separate article).
The Madiounaires' apartment or villa is entirely refurbished by a top decorator with a penchant for peinture marbré and trompe 'oeil motifs. The Madiounaire registers his assets in his wife's name to complicate any attempted foreclosure. Another ten percent of the borrowed funds go towards purchasing a Volvo and/or Mercedes and the must-have Japanese 4-wheel drive. Another 30 percent is stashed in a numbered Zurich bank account. What remains is spent on business class travel to Europe or the US. Any leftovers will go towards wining and dining the bank's credit officer to ensure the loan is rolled over or a new one approved.
The Madiouniare is not loud. He is recognizable from his clean-cut appearance. Discrete wife has sophistication and style. Mixes three languages in one sentence. Usually has second passport, preferably US, Canada or EU. He tops the social totem pole in view of good breeding and savoir. Four times out of five the Madiounaire is a descendant of old money from the pre-1952 era.
With all that infitah money pouring in, it was a matter of minutes for corruption to soar to stratospheric heights. How couldn't it? Temptation lurks everywhere, especially in the corridors of public sector administrations and state-owned banks. Ditto the labyrinths of the investment and port authorities not forgetting the dingy dungeons of government ministries, state companies and media concerns; and tritto, Parliament House. Everyone is ready to talk bribe-ology.
The bribers in most cases are Western military-industrial conglomerates including aircraft corporations, communication giants and multinationals. Paving the way are the so-called development agencies, especially those operating through thinly disguised proxies calling themselves consultancy firms. These are staffed with bribees: part-time ruling-party faithfuls, ex-officials and the notorious gang of sons. All are willing go-betweens making full use of their government connections and family networks. Since most Fat Cats live in Hollywood-type mansions tucked behind enormous walls they are not easily identifiable. Nevertheless, a sample of this mutual admiration society can sometimes be found camping in the whereabouts of the American Chamber of Commerce.
Fat Cats differ from the Madiounaires in that they are not accountable for their newly acquired wealth. How can that be when the money is supposedly not there. Whoever heard of anyone declaring his payola, mordida and pot de vin to the tax authorities! Yes, these funds don't exist because they are untraceable. Unless of-course you know a snitcher in the Cayman Islands, Switzerland or Liechtenstein. Yet, occasionally, one hears of a Fat Cat being caught red handed. This has nothing to do with the Anti-Fraud Squad or the Corruption Brigade. It is due to an inter-Fat Cat conflict or a vindictive settlement of an account --a Fat Cat had gotten too gluttonous!
Professional rectal navigators, Fat Cats are self-important, egocentric and pompous. This is because in a previous life of socialism they held important sinecure posts and were accountable to no one. Pathetic know-it-alls, Fat Cats are beyond overbearing and crave recognition. Fat Cat children are a boorish imitation of their dads.
The latest Fat Cat trend is to take tacky full-page obituaries. Doesn't really matter who actually died as long as he/she or it is a 1st or 2nd degree relation to the powers that be.
Another tendency is to drive around in a luxury car with Saudi Embassy diplomatic plates. In other words our avaricious fat cat worked out a deal with some low level Saudi embassy employee whereby he buys the car in the latter's name in order to circumvent custom duties. Yes, Fat Cats are forever looking out for a deal that avoids them doling out their dirty money.
Nowadays Fat Cats are politicizing. Having spent fortunes on their respective trophy MPs they are contemplating cost-cutting measures. Hence the new tendency to buy their own seat in parliament which both allows them to recoup their 'hard earned' investments while enjoying immunity from common law. They are Egypt's new Mamluks!
Definitely not to be confused with Fat Cats for they form a category alone. They're hot, they're savvy, they're smooth and naturally they're glib salesmen. Well groomed and well tuned the commissionaire will make all kinds of megadeals, whether it's the import of turbines for the High Dam or a new fleet of Air Buses for the nation's flag carrier the notoriously corrupt Egyptair. The commissionaire will usually ambush his targets (CEO's of multinationals) at international events or within the cozy confines of First Class on a flight from Zurich to Cairo, or better still at a famous European lakeside health spa or on the treadmill of the most coveted London gym. It is all made to look like a coincidence or a chance meet but of-course its all been meticulously planned ahead.
The commissionaire, who usually works on his own for fear of a son or a brother running off with the deal, is a high roller. After stashing 5 million dollars in a Swiss bank and paying the final advance on his Paris apartment he will start collecting beautiful paintings and vintage wine. He will be seen at concerts and benefit galas attended by the international money-spinning crowds. Expect him to pop up in Cannes, Cape Town or Shanghai… anywhere that's fashionably in. In the process he might even become the honorary consul of some entity you've never heard or Chargé for a far away country with an unspellable name.
The commissionaire's primary God is Mr. Gulbekian, the original Mr. 5% who helped shape the borders of Iraq in the 1920s making sure the famous oil concessions remained in British hands. Lesser divinities include high officials most of whom receive their fair share of the mega commission.
When she is not entertaining lavishly in one of her designer homes, the redone spouse of the Commissionaire seems to live in the airport for she is either coming or going. Despite hiding behind enormous sunglasses she is recognizable from the display of Louis Vitton bags and paraphernalia that surround her.
Gulfionaires are those enterprising fellows who made untold fortunes in the Arab Gulf. This category is characterized by a highly visible subculture, which at first was removed from mainstream society. Their alien cultural values heretofore unknown in cosmopolitan Egypt have infiltrated the entire country's grassroots. Most of their paradoxical values are by-products of a schizophrenic, socially backward and morally repressed Gulf society.
Gulfionaires promote their own schools, hospitals (both of which have become serious money-making machines) and, more importantly, their own financial organizations all in the name of Allah. Their so-called saving associations offer tempting dividends in lieu of straight interest.
Members of the poorer communities look up to the Gulfionaires. They are bona fide heroes and role models. But one day, naive and greedy depositors alike, read in the papers that the Gulfie finance institutions had gobbled up their life savings. That was when the Gulfionaire bubble burst bringing the country's shaky economy almost to its knees.
Gulfionaires are recognizable by their cliquishness. Their lack of identity prompts them to dress and behave in a peculiar manner. Will talk in dinars or riyals as opposed to dollars. Unlike the rest of the above categories Gulfionaires give generously to religious charities and institutions. They have successfully introduced new fashions ranging from peculiar head covers and untrimmed goatees to skullcaps and Gulf-style mansions with marble arches and six-port garages --Salmiya follies.
Carpetbaggers have a distinctly spend, spend, spend attitude. They profited from all of the above categories selling them anything and everything. They come in the guise of architects, designers, estate agents, fast food promoters and advertising consultants. They are importers, exporters and franchisers. They are sidekicks to Gulf sheiks. They are racketeers, smugglers and Libya sanction-busters.
The Carpetbagger is basically capitalizing on the insatiable demand for every conceivable consumer item, from the Peugeot and BMW car to the Jacuzzi pool, from the condo to the condom, from ceramic tiles to soda pop. His motto: stash the cash before the crash.
The Carpetbagger's motivation is a bizarre cocktail of rage, envy, jealousy and desire. In extreme cases, the above combination can be lethal giving the carpetbagger a Jekyl-Hyde aspect. He is recognizable by the size of his pool, his patio and his chimney. Keeps house or luxury flat somewhere in Europe in case of a need for a buyuk firar (Turkish for great escape). He loves sleek BMWs and Mercedeses with multiple antennas. Beepers and the latest cellular phone are a must. The Carpetbagger is a cigar-smoking macho with a bimbo wife dabbing in shlocky interior decoration. They both drop names constantly and will do anything for publicity. They will even buy time on television or space in some regional glossy magazine or newspaper. Some of the self-promoting coverage appears as disguised editorials. Like the Fat Cats, Carpetbaggers resort to huge one-page obituaries. They will give interviews to anybody waving a microphone.
Carpetbaggers will splash their children with designer wear and shower the Asian help with abuse. Later in the game, one hears that the Carpetbagger discarded his wife for a VVV (voluptuous, vulgar and vicious) companion. In view of his lack of social standing, the carpetbagger craves acceptability from the Madiounaire. He will even create a bogus family history with a pasha thrown in somewhere. He loves titles and will buy a colored Ph.D. from a stateside institution nobody heard of.
A Carpetbagger will resort to hiring bodyguards for visual effects. Criticizes everyone else in his own category as either a nouveau riche or a social climber. Eventually he will buy a seat in parliament sitting side by side withhis commissionaire buddies.
While Europe boasts top models Claudia Schiffer and Naomi Campbell each with her own showbiz rating, we have our very own Top Bellies, the region's new superstars with the megabucks to go. They perform at Fat Cat and Carpetbagger weddings and, for a couple of millions, will contract a weekend wedding in Jeddah or Kuwait City.
Showbizionaires travel in large retinues, which aside from make-up artists and wardrobe assistants, also include a dietitian for the blobs and a masseur for the mega-income-producing waist and thighs. The Top Bellies are surrounded by a bevy of Asian slaves. Also on the payroll are a slick lawyer, a doctor and a couple of beefy bodyguards. They reserve entire wings in five-star hotels, live in deluxe apartments, drive the latest Mercedes and swallow diet bonbons from Fauchon.
If you are considering buying one of those 700-meter apartments on the Nile built by that budding new cast of Constructionaires, be prepared to have one or two Top Bellies for neighbors. It may come in handy if you plan an impromptu party for a visiting Gulf delegation craving for a photo opportunity.
Welcome to upward mobility, infitah-style.
Just in case you thought you recognized someone living near you please note the above groupings are not based on true characters. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
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