by Paul Gadalla
Rai Insights Contributor
Beirut: The still yet to be named new capital of Egypt will soon join the ranks of the country’s urban planning failures. It is merely another of President Abdel Fatah el Sisi’s grand schemes in which he attempts to show his regime is advancing the country’s economy and the nation.
Even before its completion, Sisi’s much touted ‘new capital’ is hitting snags. According to Reuters, a $3 billion investment with a Chinese company has fallen through this year and the original investors, a UAE company, have also pulled out from the proposed gleaming new capital. So far it seems Egyptian companies will attempt to plug the hole left behind.
This is not the first, and most likely not the last of Sisi’s grandiose projects, which are being billed as a solution to Egypt’s decaying infrastructure, and creation of new jobs. In reality they are meant to boost morale and the image of the regime.
The yet to be named new capital’s plans border almost on the absurd. At a cost of over $40 billion dollars, it will: span 700 sq km, include a park twice the size of Central Park, include thousands of schools, a new airport the size of Heathrow and a theme park that is four times the size of Disney World. Government ministries will also be moved to the new metropolis as well. And to top it off, the government has said it would be completed in 5-7 years! Indeed, it does sound like quite the city so much so it is hardly believable that it will come to fruition knowing the efficiency of the Egyptian government.
This is much like Nasser’s announcement of the famous Aswan High Dam. The Dam was meant to be his crowning achievement, giving cheap electricity to thousands and ending years of possible floods and draughts. Instead, Egypt still currently suffers from electricity problems and the High Dam continues to have a mixed legacy.
This isn’t Sisi’s first grandiose project. In his first year of office he announced an entire new Suez Canal. The original canal was considered a major engineering feat and what better way for the Sisi regime to bolster its image but to build an entire new Suez Canal. The $8 billion project was projected by the Egyptian government to bring in annual revenues of over $13 billion. Instead it has only brought in revenues of around $5 billion. Even when the canal was inaugurated, Sisi was photographed waving to non-existent crowds, a far cry from when the original canal’s opening was attended by world leaders.
An even more relevant example, shows how the times are merely repeating themselves. Nasser too dreamt of a new shining capital, aptly called Madinat Nasser (Nasser City). It offered organized streets and new buildings. For a time it was considered an upscale new district of Cairo but thanks to poor planning it succumbed to Cairo’s chronic problems of overcrowding and traffic congestion.
Egypt’s new cities and suburbs are usually meant for the wealthy. Desert cities like 6th of October and New Cairo have failed to draw away the masses from Cairo. Instead they are the destination of the upper classes of Egypt.
Sisi’s new capital will most likely follow the same path. It has already been noted for lacking public space, a great way for the Sisi regime to govern from a capital that doesn’t allow for protests. Its construction has been put on full throttle but locals are skeptical of such a grandiose plan and what it means for them. Now people will have to commute 45 kilometers into the desert to access government ministries, not something easy for most Cairenes.
If Sisi wanted to actually to create more jobs and improve everyday living for Egyptians, he would actually work to improve Cairo and its infrastructure. Its metro system is only halfway built and the city suffers from massive air pollution and traffic. Garbage pickup is still done through informal networks. Also other regional cities deserve investment which would help relieve Cairo of its congestion. There is no real guarantee that Cairenes will move there, especially since new housing will most likely be too expensive for most average Egyptians. Not to mention it will take years to have the proper infrastructure and pull to draw in the hordes away from Cairo. As the example of Nasser City shows, simply building a whole new district will literally solve nothing except as another distraction from the government’s constant failures.
*Paul Gadalla is a New York native communication specialist and aspiring political analyst based in Beirut, Lebanon