Why Arab states have lots of expensive villas

THE billboards almost seem to taunt motorists crawling through traffic below. They hawk luxurious town houses and villas with sumptuous pools in compounds that sound like Californian suburbs: Palm Hills, Eastown, Allegria. “Welcome to the greener side of life,” oozes one sign. But this is not California. It is Cairo, Egypt’s chaotic and crowded capital. The road is lined with endless rows of ramshackle redbrick buildings. Most are unfinished, their innards exposed, steel bars poking from the rooftops. The greener side of life is many kilometres away.

The drive along Cairo’s ring road is one sign of a paradoxical problem. Egypt has both a building boom and a housing shortage. At the high end, business is roaring. Developers are building tens of thousands of homes in upscale compounds, drawing young families with the promise of an escape from the city. But for most Egyptians these homes are out of reach. Villas can start at 10m Egyptian pounds ($560,000)—about 200 years’ pay at average wages….

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