Narcissism on the Nile

Wealthy Egyptian youth enjoy a Western-style party at the TGIFridays nightclub.

It's well past midnight in the upper-scale Zamalek suburb of Cairo, and a slew of expensive cars are parked in front of a packed disco on the Nile where a DJ blasts Bob Marley from the speakers. In the United States, TGIFridays is a family-oriented hamburger restaurant. In Egypt, though, it's a sultry nightclub with a 50-pound cover charge - more than many Egyptians make in a week.

"It's not very expensive. We have a lot of money," says Hani Afifi, a 30-year-old accountant sitting at the bar, adding, "Not everybody does."

By 5 a.m., TGIFridays is still packed. Egyptian girls wearing skimpy blouses with plunging necklines, mini-skirts and high-heels continue dancing with guys in fashionable stone-washed jeans and gelled hair.

"Nani," 21, is wearing a tight beige blouse and black pants as she moves her hips seductively to the music, a beer in hand. Echoing the words of other young Egyptians she says, "I come here once a month to drink and dance."

Like the majority of the young rich Egyptian elite, the main concern is to stay rich and have fun. The latter they do in places far different from the traditional qahwehs, or old-style Middle Eastern coffee shops, frequented by their fathers where the call to prayer by the muezzin fuses in the air with the sound of honking cars and Um Kulthum. Instead it is the sound of female laughter, clinking glasses, and pop music that fills the air.

Across town an Egyptian band playing an excellent rendition of Santana's song "Maria" fills the air of another dark and smoky Cairo nightclub. In qahwehs men customarily sit near tiny round tables smoking shisha, or water-pipes, and drink from small glasses of tea. At the Jazz Bar, a popular haunt among rich guys and girls in their twenties, American-made Marlboro cigarettes and French-made Galouises are the smoke of choice, coupled with glasses of wine, beer or cocktails.

Ahmed sits at one of the high tables with a couple of friends, beers in hand. Ahmed tells me he is part of the "Egyptian aristocracy." He studied in France and works as a stock market analyst.

His friends, Carol and Faramawy, are both drunk. Faramawy, a tall lean 27-year-old wearing a tight sports shirt, had trouble keeping his hands off Carol, 23, a voluptuous dark-haired Christian Armenian-Egyptian girl, who clearly seems to enjoy his advances.

When asked what they want for their future both Carol and Faramawy say they had one goal: to be rich. Carol wants to be a millionaire. Faramawy wants to retire at the age of 40 with $2 million; he says he's halfway there.

"Everyone here is rich," says Faramawy, blankly looking around him at the people in the bar. "We represent the top five percent of the population."

Unlike the majority of the young Egyptian elite, Ahmed is from the few who were groomed to lead the country. His father was a high-ranking official and a member of the ruling National Democratic Party. Ahmed is involved in politics, which he explained is part of his family tradition.

His friends, however, have no such inclination. Will they lead the country 10 years from now? Faramawy shrugs his shoulders and takes a swig of beer. "Yeah, maybe."

Ahmed raises his eyebrows. "Not likely," he says quietly. "They're too spoiled. What politicians except Bush came from a wealthy family?"