In a new development in Egypt, modern and luxurious cemetery plots have hit the market recently at very high prices. This is happening in a country burdened with debt and suffering several crises, including high prices and low living and economic conditions.
The new cemetery plots come with distinguished architectural standards and services for wealthy people, celebrities and businesspeople. Meanwhile, contracting companies are competing to advertise these cemetery plots, combined with the tendency for the government to invest in the funeral business.
Social media platforms in Egypt are filled with advertisements for cemetery plots of different sizes and luxurious rest houses equipped with attractive equipment, ceramic floors, walls of pink stone and granite, marble stairs, Islamic-style decorations, iron gates, private security and small gardens. Prices of the plots range from one to two million Egyptian pounds (about 33 to 65 thousand dollars).
What is striking is the high volume of investment in the Cemetery Stock Exchange and contracting companies’ tendency to put part of their investments into building cemeteries in various locations, including at the borders of Cairo, the New Administrative Capital to the east of Cairo, 15th of May City to the south, Giza to the west and Fayoum in the centre. Old cemetery plots are currently crowded, and the infrastructure is damaged because of sewage leaks.
There is no official data on the size of this investment that has imposed itself in recent years amid a government trend to acquire a large share of it by offering pieces of land allocated for this purpose and facilitating the necessary licences for construction.
One of the investors in a contracting company that buys and sells cemetery plots told Middle East Monitor that the price of a plot is determined based on the area, the level of finish and the proximity to main roads. He pointed out that the price of a cemetery plot with an area of 20 square metres reaches 250 thousand pounds (about eight thousand dollars), while the price of a 40-square-metre cemetery plot ranges from 370 to 500 thousand pounds (about 12 to 16 thousand dollars).
As for cemetery plots with an area of 60 square metres, the price ranges between 650 thousand to one million pounds (21 to about 33 thousand dollars), based on required specifications and the quality of construction, including external walls, internal stairs, floors and an iron gate. He stressed that the sale is finalised after the customer inspects the site. Sales are carried out with official documents and licences approved by the 6th of October City Authority, west of Cairo.
The price increases significantly the closer the burial site is to the main roads, as the price of a cemetery plot of 80 square metres on the Egypt-Fayoum Road, west of Cairo, is over a million pounds (about 33 thousand dollars). In addition to the plot’s price, customers must pay the government about 5,000 pounds (162 US dollars) for the licence and an annual guarding fee, while maintenance fees are determined according to the customer’s needs and requests.
What is more interesting is Al-Kawthar Company’s offer for land and cemeteries. The company advertised its offer as exclusive, saying it has competitive advantages such as having the plots within compounds with lighting poles, internal sidewalks, streets paved with interlock tiles and Islamic-style finishings. They also include guard services, surveillance cameras and a private mosque with a prayer room for women.
A popular ad on social media is for an offer for plots at the Obour Cemetery, northeast of Cairo. It is a burial place containing two underground lots, which can accommodate eight people, a stone box to collect bone remains after the lots are full and a rest house. All this is for an advance cash payment of 25 thousand pounds (810 dollars) and instalments over 30 months. There are discounts if paid in cash, with free inspection and immediate handover.
This has become popular through sponsored ads on social media platforms and media outlets, with pictures, video clips and delivery date schedules. In addition, there are special offers for unions, companies and factories within the Greater Cairo governorates (Cairo, Giza and Qalyubia).
Months ago, the Egyptian government, represented by the New Urban Communities Authority affiliated with the Ministry of Housing, announced the launch of reserving 423 cemetery plots with areas ranging from 40 square metres to 60 square metres in various cities inside and outside Cairo.
Reserving the plots is made possible by purchasing the conditions and specifications booklet. Applicants who want to reserve cemetery plots must be Egyptian, not legal entities such as companies or institutions. According to the Egyptian press, they must be residents of the cities of the 10th of Ramadan, Al-Shorouk or Al-Obour and have not previously been allocated a cemetery plot for themselves or their immediate relatives (husband, wife or underage children).
In the past two years, the Egyptian government expanded the cemetery business, especially after it became popular, and the prices of cemeteries doubled, mainly after the removal of historical cemeteries in Old Cairo, under the pretext of expanding roads and building bridges.
This business is supervised in each governorate by the Governorate Cemeteries Authority after being a small administration affiliated with neighbourhoods and city councils. The business is now shared between contracting companies associated with the Egyptian army and organisations aligned with public bodies, which construct graves for the benefit of their members only.
Last June, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi ordered the establishment of the Cemetery of the Immortals under the pretext of including the remains of those who made significant contributions to the country’s history. This step was taken to contain the controversy surrounding the transfer of the cemeteries in the Sayyida Nafisa and Imam Al-Shafi’i areas in central Cairo.
Last month, one of Egypt’s largest real estate companies put 500 luxury cemetery plots up for sale. The plots are near the New Administrative Capital, east of Cairo, with areas up to 40 square metres and payment instalments of up to 12 months. These plots were put for sale at a price of one and a half million pounds (about 50 thousand dollars). The company justified the high prices, saying that the cemetery plots contained distinguished facilities, surveillance cameras, periodic maintenance operations and integrated services, such as a mosque, an event house, parking lots, a service area, an administration building and a unified appearance for all units.
The company is owned by businessman Talaat Mostafa, who is close to the ruling regime. Mostafa was released in 2017, with a presidential pardon from Al-Sisi, after his conviction in the murder of the Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim in Dubai in 2008.
The price of a cemetery plot varies from one governorate to another and, of course, varies according to the proximity and distance from the capital. The price also varies from urban to rural. It is much lower in villages, especially in Upper Egypt, south of the country, where a plot (which can accommodate one person) is two thousand pounds (about 65 dollars).
This boom in the sale of graves has enhanced the prosperity of the death business. It led to establishing offices that take care of burial procedures, issuing death certificates, washing and transporting the body of the deceased and holding memorial and funeral ceremonies, in addition to the services of setting up mourning pavilions or renting halls for that purpose and hiring Qur’an readers. They also provide drinks and water, distribute donations and alms to people experiencing poverty and publish obituaries in the media.
Obtaining decent burial grounds in Egypt, especially in the capital, has become difficult. It is subject to increased demand and limited supply amid a crazy price rise that has affected all services and goods in the country. Add to that the major collapse in the value of the Egyptian pound, whose exchange rate has fallen to more than 50 pounds for every dollar on the black market, compared to 30.9 dollars currently on the official market.
But, according to experts, the matter may, in many cases, be linked to displays of ostentation and prestige, especially among large families, officials and celebrities, who search for graves worthy of their names and history, even after death, especially since funeral news has become rich material for the media and social networking platforms.
This also extends to middle-class families, who consider it shameful to bury their relatives in charitable cemeteries affiliated with charitable organisations, so they resort to buying new cemetery plots and may build a second floor. Burying the dead is becoming a dilemma for Egyptians, added to the daily burdens they continue to face as they welcome the new year.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.