Ahmad Abdel Baqui, 26, once loved and courted a woman for four years, but like most of his generation in Egypt, had little hope of marrying her.
The woman married a stranger -- an Egyptian who worked abroad in an oil-rich Arab country and returned with enough money to buy a future in Egypt.
"This man saw her walking in the street and proposed to her and talked to her father," recalled Baqui. "The family said to her, 'This man is ready -- he has money and a flat. You should marry him.' "
According to sociologists here, two-thirds of those Egyptians eligible for marriage cannot marry, primarily because of an acute housing crisis. The social fallout of this and other pressures, they say, is the disillusionment of a generation.
"This Ahmad is a typical man," said Milad Hanna, chairman of the housing committee in the parliament, during a recent interview. "There are thousands, millions like Ahmad feeling oppressed and with no hope for the future."
Baqui works as a waiter in a tourist restaurant, bringing home about $50 every month. He rents a room in an apartment, located near Cairo's vast cemeteries, for $14 a month.
In order to buy a small apartment, usually a minimum condition for marriage in Egypt, Baqui will have to pay at least $1,400 as a down payment.
"In the shadow of these conditions, there can be no marriage for me," he said, adding, "of course, I am very tired with myself, very unhappy."
Hanna analyzes the housing problem in facts and figures. The cost of construction, he said, has increased 15 times during the past 10 years in Egypt, and the cost of land 20 times, while wages have increased only two or three times.
In the same period, the population of Egypt increased by one-third to about 48 million, and continues to increase by 1 million people every 10 months.
"The mathematics is simple," Hanna said. "Any honorable, decent fellow cannot get a flat."
Egyptians have found various ways to cope with crowded conditions. Hanna told of a flat he visited recently where one bunk bed was shared by a man and his wife on the top bed and their son and his wife on the bottom bed. Families are known to share a room divided by a curtain.
According to government statistics, about 1 million people live in huts or tents built in the streets, under bridges, or between tombs in the two large, adjacent cemeteries, known together as the City of the Dead.
"People are afraid that when the new metro opens, it will become a house," opposition politician Mohammed Sayed Ahmad said. "It will be filled by people who will go down there to live."
Many people try to cope by working two jobs, although often a second salary is still insufficient to fulfill the requirements of marriage.
"For those who cannot live decently by honest means," Hanna said, "there are two options: corruption or Islamic fundamentalism."
Young people, he said, either become more deeply attached to religion in face of a hopeless material situation, or they become dishonest to overcome nearly impossible barriers to material success.
According to sociologists like Sayed Yaseen, the housing crisis is "related organically to Islamic resurgence in Egypt." It bolsters the fundamentalist view, gaining adherents in Egypt, that secular government has failed to satisfy the basic needs of the society, he said. Fundamentalists point also to increased corruption, conspicuous consumption by the upper class, and the importation of an alien life style, Yaseen said, to dramatize the inequities of the secular system.
Government subsidies for housing in this year's budget total more than $141 million. The subsidies are available first to Army and police officers, and then are distributed through local government offices, often on a basis of political favoritism, according to several observers.
Still, four times the number of flats are being constructed now in comparison with the Nasser period -- 160,000 new apartments every year. The major problem, according to Hanna, is that there are thousands of empty apartments in Cairo. About 100,000 are held by speculators, he said, and another 100,000 by families saving the apartments for their children, who are sometimes not yet born.
"Politically, it's a very serious situation. There are flats without tenants and tenants without flats," Hanna said.