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Page last updated at 06:19 GMT, Tuesday, 30 September 2008 07:19 UK

Egyptian TV show gives away homes

By Yolande Knell
BBC News, Cairo

Winning couple Rabab Mahmoud and Ashraf Aboubakr
Teachers Rabab and Ashraf, the proud and happy owners of a new flat

A new quiz show in Egypt has focused attention on one of the country's most pressing social problems: the severe shortage of affordable housing.

Every night during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan a popular television programme has been giving away a new flat to a couple who cannot marry simply because they cannot afford a home.

During rehearsals on the bright, flashy set of al-Beit Beitak (The House is Yours) nerves begin to show.

Hazem Abd Raouf, a factory worker in his late-20s reaches for the hand of his fiancee of eight years, Shaimaa Shawky, a dental assistant.

Standing opposite them behind touch-screens two English teachers, Rabab Mahmoud, 30, and Ashraf Aboubakr, 31, exchange encouraging smiles.

Both couples are about to compete for a prize that will change their lives: a new apartment.

'My dream'

"The main pressure when you're trying to get married is finding a flat," Rabab explains.

"My dream is to have our wedding soon. This is our chance and we are praying for it."

The institution of marriage is in crisis. You have serious economic problems but also you have consumer culture taking over. It's rigid - dictating what a married couple should have. The family exerts a lot of pressure
Dr Mona Abaza
American University in Cairo

"I have been waiting for so long," says Shaimaa. "If we win an apartment tonight we will run to get married."

The catchy theme tune plays out as the programme goes live on-air and the contestants are introduced to its audience of millions.

Neither Hazem nor Shamaa has a privileged background. Ashraf and Rabab earn low wages in the state school system.

All four live at home with their parents. Many young Egyptians can identify with their situations.

"It is a striking problem," says television producer, Yara Hassan. "There are a lot of people who can't afford to have a proper home and they are suffering.

"They face a psychological problem because of the financial and social burden."

Marriage in crisis

Marriage in Egypt is the gateway to adulthood yet it is estimated that almost half of all Egyptian men remain unmarried at the age of 30.

The main reason is the cost which typically involves buying and furnishing a home.

Cairo rock fall
A recent rock fall in the impoverished Duweika area killed more than 100

"The institution of marriage is in crisis," says Dr Mona Abaza, a sociologist at the American University in Cairo.

"You have serious economic problems but also you have consumer culture taking over.

"It's rigid - dictating what a married couple should have. The family exerts a lot of pressure."

A drive on a main road out of Cairo reveals no housing shortage. In fact there are thousands of acres of new developments.

Many are gated compounds with their own swimming pools and gyms. Some have their own private schools and clinics.

Here, those who can afford it live in relative luxury.

Slum life

But head to the areas inhabited by the masses of Egyptians on lower incomes and the contrast is stark.

There has been little investment in homes for the less well-off at a time of increased urbanisation.

Millions of people live in old, overcrowded tenements and unplanned, fast-expanding slums.

Earlier this month in the impoverished Duweika district on the eastern outskirts of Cairo a section of hillside collapsed crushing dozens of homes and killing more than 100 people.

The government is now under growing pressure to show it can provide better-quality, affordable housing.

But back at the TV studio the competing couples try to take matters into their own hands.

Ashraf and Rabab quickly take the lead following the general knowledge questions.

There is a late rally from Hazem and Shaimaa but the teachers clinch their win in a final round about each other's likes and dislikes.

"I can't believe it I'm over the moon," declares Rabab. "This is heaven's gift."

"I'm very happy because God willing I will marry soon," says Ashraf. "This is something great in my life.

"The main problem was the apartment. Anything else could be solved."

The pair are wasting no time. They are already planning their wedding for the first of January. In the new year they will finally start a new life together.




SEE ALSO
Egypt tastes Ramadan austerity
29 Sep 08 |  Middle East
Pain haunts Cairo rockfall slum
10 Sep 08 |  Middle East
Food price crisis bites in Egypt
03 May 08 |  Middle East
Fallout from Egypt food protests
22 Apr 08 |  Middle East


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