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by Samir Raafat
EGYPTIAN MAIL, April 6, 1996

Nouveaux Pauvres stop right here! Do not pass the next full stop.

Everyone else, the good news is Rolls Royce, Jaguars, Christian Dior, Davidoff, Zuber de Mulhouse (wallpaper) and priceless Nileview penthouses are here. And so are the upscale malls, condo palaces, golf country clubs, private schools and Cheesecake Factories.

I'm bringing up these trendy names and geegaws because of an observation made by Laila Jardin in relation to an essay which appeared on this page a while ago Rich-Raff, a Peek at our Rising Millionaires. While Jardin, Guzine, Zonzon and others found delight in the article, they were curious as to whether I intended publishing something about the nouveaux pauvres. Were they not entitled to equivalent space under the Equal Representation Act?

Well, since they bothered to ask, then please read on and find out what I learned during interviews with two pillars of the growing parvenu brotherhood.


To my startling surprise, I detected that mainstream urban society doesn't want to hear about the nouveaux pauvres. They find them dull, boring and passÚ. According to al Hag Megabucks, chairman of Korrupt & Sons, the nouveaux pauvres are a snobbish dying breed who prefer to cling to the past.

Here is how Hag Megabucks summarized the situation:

The nouveaux pauvres are a mongrel cocktail forever telling you how they are either of Syrian, Turkish or Circassian descent. They congregate in chintzy apartments littered with Orientalist gravures and portraits of decorated Albanian generals. They love to evoke the old Semiramis roof-garden and Sidi Bishr No.2 then frequented by tarbooshed men and suave women in daring decoltÚs. With the Royal taken out of the Automobile Club, the nouveaux pauvres prefer to entertain in their own homes claiming they can no longer cope with five-star hotel prices. Their living rooms are jammed with old mementos and priceless karakib, which is why they cannot accommodate a live singer let alone a takht with a belly dancer! Do you call that living?

Hag Megabucks went on to comment that in their spare time the nouveaux pauvres run around in closed circles talking about cleaning up the town and saving some crumbling old building or “hahaha!” a worthless tree. "These bizarre people prefer Siamese cats and French poodles to their neighbors!" And although he couldn't pronounce it, Hag Megabucks pointed out how so many of the nouveaux pauvres refuse to wear "chinchillas" because they pretend to like animals while in actual fact they sold their mother's coats and family jewels a long time ago in order to keep up appearances.

"The nouveaux pauvres are a snooty lot," Hag Megabucks confirmed, "they refuse to befriend al Hagga Megabucks although she bought most of their silver and tohaf at twice the market price!"

Here, Hag Megabucks pauses and takes a few puffs of his one-foot cigar before he sounds off some more. I quote:

"And in order to embarrass her, they address al-Hagga in foreign tongues. The nouveaux pauvres prefer the company of khawagas with whom they organize fund-raisers. Little do they know that if they had come to Korrupt & Sons, or any other company I own for that matter, I would have given them a couple of ambulances free. But no, the nouveaux pauvres are too haughty! Fine, let them do it the hard way. See if they'll get invited at my daughter's million dollar wedding at the Marriott!”

Once again al-Hag Megabucks takes a short pause and a few long puffs before he passes on the following words of caution.

"What I've just told you applies to the real nouveaux pauvres, collectively a harmless transparent lot. But mind you, there are also the fakes.”

“What do mean by fake nouveaux pauvres?” I eagerly ask.

“They are the worse kind for while they pretend to be nouveaux pauvres deriding everyone else for their uncouth manners and modest origins, they themselves are far richer today than they had ever been in the pre-1952 days. They are the true beneficiaries of the infitah and of privatization. Outwardly they display highborn manners and sing their pedigree while underneath it all they are shrewd cutthroat businessmen. They never shirk at claiming their fat fee and commission. They will be the first to bite the hand that feeds them. If you don't believe me, just check out their fancy apartments in Paris or their numbered accounts in the Bahamas. These princely rogues are not what they appear to be and to this day have successfully duped their own gullible fraternity."

With that parting comment al Hag Megabucks took off in his Rolls Royce. He had an important meeting with an accommodating cabinet minister to discuss a joint venture between Rapacious Co. and Korrupt & Sons regarding the new food chain with the golden arch.


My first question with the clever chairman of Engulf & Devour was how did he make it big in only six years -- from a small-time contractor in Libya to the country's 4th richest man. Today he lives in a huge house hidden behind high walls in the suburb of Moneyria. He runs around in two Mercedes cars, wears Armani suits and LE 1000 silk shirts, and waves a diamond-studded Rolex the size of a golf ball.

The reply was that he was only taking 'reasonable' advantage of opportunities brought on by the new economic order. Since regimes come and go, each one with its own ludicrous economic theory, he had to make his money fast. This is why there are so many Speedy Gonzales millionaires.

The chairman of Engulf & Devour admitted that the glorious rich and the money angels only want to read about themselves which is why they are tumbling over each other financing glossy society magazines. They love luxury consumer goods and chic imports. They derive confidence from the latest electronic pagers and cell phones. They only attend each others million-dollar weddings thriving on fancy cuts and imported meats. But in the brotherhood’s defense, my interviewee claimed that every big city in the world has its fat cats. After all the original Rockefellers were looked down on as nouveaux riches whisky merchants by the Vanderbilts and the Astors! 

"Like it or not we are the nation's new Rockefellers." claimed the chairman of Engulf & Devour. "We are living the American dream with the help of our wonderful American friends at US-AID. We represent the first wave of real Egyptian millionaires who are neither from the former landed gentry or these exploiting money-grubber pashas! We all know how they made their money pandering to the dithering khedive and his contemptuous patrons the British! Now its our turn to milk the Americans."

Visibly agitated, the chairman of Engulf & Devour added some more tell-alls. "Thank God these dreadful days are gone. And now that socialism is in the dustbin of history, it's our turn to live, to spend, to eat foie gras, to consult nutritionists, to cruise the chic hangouts and to frequent the busy fashion spots. In short, it's time to shell out money lavishly, publicly and with such noisy abandon, everyone will hear about it! Otherwise what good is it to be gloriously rich?"

The chairman of Engulf & Devour agreed that society was becoming brazenly materialistic. "So what? As it roars through the cycles of boom and bust there is always the risk of losing it all and somebody else getting rich instead. Diamonds aren't forever." 

This is why the chairman's farsighted colleagues have already stashed the cash in the Bahamas and bought luxury hideaways in Marbella and Cannes, right next to the new Promenade des Egyptiens. And for added insurance, Engulf & Devour’s chairman keeps tabs with friends in low places and certain militant mosques. "You never know when they'll be at the forefront of events. Only yesterday some of the other nouveaux riches were groveling their way out of these very low places."

In response to criticism leveled against the nouveaux riches that they tend to engender disgust among the more cultured nouveaux pauvres, the chairman had this to say: "Tough luck for these decrepit old timers. We are the nouveaux riches and we have to live up to our designation. If our critics want to see some philanthropic work on culture centers and museums, they'll have to stick around for a couple of generations."

At this point the chairman of Engulf & Devour was interrupted by an aide showing him the blueprints of his new 46-meter yacht currently under construction in the United States. After a few observations the chairman turned to me and announced, "As for Laila Jardin and the rest of that nouveaux pauvres gang, I bet you anything they'd love to see some of our money recycled into their useless pet projects and into the general benefit of the community! (Ha ha ha). What community! Doesn't Jardin know we live in our own palmy enclaves and have no need for the outside community!"

At this point of the exposÚ we were again interrupted, this time by a voluptuous, much younger, botox-lined fake blonde. Munching on his cigar, my interviewee winked and told me this was his Madame Beugeot.

"Madame who?" I asked with incredulity.

"Ya sidi, this is my secret Madame Beugeot. Am I less of a man than that old French fart Mitterrand? If I'm going to be a nouveau riche and probably a future cabinet minister, I might as well go all the way and be akher moda.  I'm taking her to see top model Klodia at the most talked about fashion show. Thank God it's a LE 10,000 per plate benefit, this way we won't have to sit next to your begrudging friends, the carping nouveaux pauvres!"

articles posted on were published in the following books by Samir W Raafat: THE EGYPTIAN BOURSE, Zeitouna, Cairo -- CAIRO THE GLORY YEARS, Harpocrates, Alexandria -- HISTORY & SOCIETY IN A CAIRO SUBURB; MAADI 1904-1962, Palm Press, Cairo -- PRIVILEGED FOR THREE CENTURIES, printed digitally and bound by Elias Printing, Egypt

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