Egypt’s capital city, Cairo, is among the largest in Africa. It is also revered around the world for its beauty and location on the banks of River Nile—the longest in the world. However, Cairo has been criticized in recent times for its lack of proper planning which has led to its clustering. To deal with the overpopulation problem, a new administrative city is emerging 45 km to the east of Cairo. Egypt’s new city is a marvel. However, will it be for everyone?
Upon completion, the government wants the city to be 700 square km. This means it will be larger than Birmingham or Madrid and nearly the size of Singapore. The yet-to-be-named city now called the New Administrative Capital is the brainchild of former army general, President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi. President al-Sissi came into power in 2014. Egypt’s new city is the biggest of several huge projects by the government. Others include the expansion of the Suez Canal, housing projects, and new roads.
The Iconic Tower which will exceed 385 meters to make it the tallest building in Africa is already raised up to 80 meters. in Egypt and Africa.
What is so spectacular about the new city?
The most astonishing part of the project is that it is built in the desert. The company in charge of the development, Administrative Capital for Urban Development (ACUD), is a joint venture between the military and the housing ministry. The former has a 51 percent stake while the latter has 49 percent. The government wants to start running the country from Egypt’s new city as early as June 2020. The estimated cost of the project is $58 billion.
Upon completion, the city will have a central park twice as long as the one in New York. Also, the park will be three times bigger than Hyde Park. Other features of Egypt’s new city include the largest church in the Middle East, the tallest tower in Africa, and the biggest opera house beyond Europe’s borders. According to Property Week, the first UK publication to have full access to the site, it is one of the most ambitious urban projects in history.
The Challenges of Building Egypt’s New Capital City
The first challenge was finding the right location for the city. Consequently, when found, ACUD had to wait a few months after the announcement for the construction of a highway connecting the site. The main work on the site began sometime in 2016. Also, ACUD had to deal with the shortage of funds following the pulling out of some investors. In an interview, the deputy minister of housing, Khaled Abbas said,
“We started looking for potential locations in late 2014. We chose a very prime location. It’s 60km from the Suez Canal and 45km from Cairo.”
The second major challenge the developers are currently facing is getting people to subscribe to the project. Abbas said phase one of the residential district is almost complete. He also said with satisfaction that 85 percent of the plot has been sold to developers. Speaking on the shortfall in sales, the head of the real estate sector at ACUD, Magdy Amin said,
“[The first phase consists of] 40,000 feddans (168 square km), of which 17,500 feddans have been sold so far. We plan to sell 6,000 feddans (more) by June 2020.”
The first phase of Egypt’s new city project will cover the construction of a new government quarter. The government quarter will house Egypt’s 34 ministries. Other constructions that will follow are the Supreme Court, the presidential palace, stock exchange, the central bank, and residential houses. The director of planning and urban design at Dar Group in London, Daniel Horner believes that moving the ministries to the new city will attract residents.
“The challenge of any new city is to stimulate growth; to get people to live there. Moving the ministries is a very clever idea. It acts as a Kickstarter. The ministerial district is the economic catalyst of the whole project.”
Who Cares About a New City?
Some critics believe Egypt’s new city is a vanity project. However, the majority of the fears are on the living cost. Many believe the money would have been better used to rebuild Cairo. One of the most captivating criticisms of the new project was from a political science lecturer at Cairo University, Hassan Nafaa. He said,
“Maybe al-Sissi wants to go down in history as the leader who built the new capital, but if Egyptians don’t see an improvement in their living conditions and services, he will be remembered as the president who destroyed what is left of the middle class.”
According to the Egyptian government, not all jobs will move to the new capital. Although the housing in Egypt’s new city is of better quality, a Cairo-based urban planner and author of ‘Egypt’s Desert Dreams: Development or Disaster?’, David Sims, thinks they will not be affordable by the middle class.
“People [living in the informal settlements] or even the lower middle classes can’t afford anything in the new capital. [However], it’s still early days and we don’t know how it will work out.”
At this point, it may not really matter what anyone thinks about the project. It is obvious the government is keen on seeing the completion of this project. Abbas has made it clear that Cairo will remain Egypt’s capital. However, the big question is whether the new city will be a success.
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