Fancy the black Cadillac owned by Egypt's former President Gamal Abdel-Nasser? Or the gold-fitted white Rolls Royce used by the late Shah of Iran?
Both can be snapped up at a week-long charity auction that was launched at a gala dinner for Cairo's rich and famous on Monday to raise money for mentally handicapped children. “The work being done tonight is truly humane,” Parliament Speaker Fathi Sorour told Reuters at the event.
The grandest item on sale, the Shah's Rolls Royce, is parked in London and was not on show. “The gold fittings in it alone are worth about $50,000,” a prospective buyer said, as Egyptian crooner Hani Shaker entertained the glittering crowd.
A first round of bidding for the car involving American and Saudi businessmen ended at $135,000, but the London-based owner told her representative by telephone at the auction that she wanted at least $270,000, a third of which would go to charity. Items that failed to fetch their owners' minimum asking price on the gala night have been opened up to telephone bids for a week. Organisers said sellers were expected to donate around 50% of the proceeds to Egypt's handicapped.
“I know the car is worth about $300,000, but the worldwide economic slowdown has hit the collectors' market hard,” Mohamed al-Maghrabi, a member of the Saudi business family bidding for the Rolls, told Reuters. “It won't fetch more than $150,000.”
Also under the hammer are memorabilia from the late Arab singer Abdel-Halim Hafez, whose watch fetched 25,000 Egyptian pounds ($6,297), and an ornamental sweetjar owned by the late Umm Kalthoum, perhaps the Arab world's best-loved songstress.
A diamond-studded watch, the twin of one owned by Britain's Queen Elizabeth, is among other items on sale. “We need as many people to help as we can get because this is such a big project,” Amany Asfour, president of Egypt's Businesswomen's Association, said.
The association is collaborating with the Voice of the Handicapped charity to raise funds for a medical compound to assist some of Egypt's estimated 2 million mentally disabled, who get little help from a cash-strapped state health service. “We are building a state-of-the-art complex for the mentally handicapped,” Ali Abdel-Fattah, former health minister and chairman of Voice of the Handicapped, said.
This article was first published by Reuters on 30 January 2000.