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There's a point at which parents get so desperate they sell whatever they can to make ends meet, including their daughters. I was in Cairo, Egypt, last week, and this topic came up as I was talking to some Egyptians at my hotel. An acquaintance named Ahmed was looking at his Facebook account on a small netbook computer on the check-in desk, when he said, "She's in Africa.
A flurry of Arabic went back and forth between Ahmed and two other men before the story was eventually explained to me. Ahmed had been dating a girl from rural Egypt who came to Cairo after the revolution to earn money to send to her family. Making ends meet for women and single mothers is not easy in Egypt.
The girl fell into prostitution, Ahmed said. And he quickly made it clear she floundered at the job: she was unable to demand payment and allowed men to do whatever they liked. It was an ugly tale. Even worse, the girl had disappeared and Ahmed hadn't heard from her in months, until that morning on Facebook. That started a conversation about prostitution in Cairo, which they all said had blossomed following the revolution. Prostitution in Egypt is a good indicator of wealth inequality.
I found that not only does prostitution seem to have expanded following the revolution, it appears to have settled into stark social and economic layers. When young men don't earn enough to get married, physical intimacy with women in their network of friends is out of the question. If a young man wants to have sex, he can go to a prostitute. These days, the least expensive girls are Egyptians who frequent certain coffee shops and apartments dedicated to that purpose.
My friends at the hotel explained that its selection of prostitutes is far beneath the Marriott 's, where foreigners stay and have their pick of beauties in the hotel's casino. That is indeed what I saw when I went to the Marriott. After about an hour of playing nickel slots, I managed to cash out the 20 bucks I'd put in the machine and leave with a good sense of the place.