Egyptian officials dropped a bombshell during the Egyptian Economic Development Conference in Sharm El Sheikh this week, when they announced plans to build a new capital city on the outskirts of Cairo to alleviate some of the pressure on the problem-laden city.
Cairo’s problems – high population density, ailing public infrastructure, congestion and pollution, among many others – have seemingly been deemed too out of hand to waste funds trying to fix. The only logical step, naturally, is to move away onto better, and well, shinier things…
With the help of Emirati real estate developer, Emaar (which brought us projects like Marassi and Uptown Cairo), and $45 billion – the source of which is undisclosed – Egypt plans to build its very own Dubai. The new city will be full of glistening skyscrapers and open green spaces, where it intends to migrate all its administrative offices, major businesses and about five million people.
What better place to break such news than a room full of rich private investors, right? The magnitude of this announcement can only be compared to that of the invention of a point-and-shoot AIDS-curing device last year.
For years, Egyptians from across the country have been flocking out of their undeveloped towns and into Cairo in search of more lucrative, educational and professional opportunities. Cairo’s exponential population growth over the decades has left its unmaintained public infrastructure in shambles and in severe need of an upgrade or two (or a hundred).
But, rather than directing investments from Sharm El Sheikh to Tanta or Mansoura or Suez, and potentially building them up to encourage people to stay (away from Cairo), Egypt will just create another Cairo, only farther away and even more inaccessible to the general populace.
The government has plans to build a railway that connects other cities to the new capital, but with our track record – the train stations in both Alexandria and Cairo have been undergoing renovation works since 2007 – we could be waiting a while.
Now the rich have their cars and the means to afford Emaar-built housing, but what about those of a lower socio-economic status, the construction workers and those whose only mode of transport is the microbus?
The government’s idyllic vision of the new capital city– let’s not kid ourselves, it’s essentially another gated community – seems to assume that the issues that have plagued Cairo to the extent that we need a new capital won’t creep beyond the glass and steel façade and force us to have this conversation thirty years down the line.
And what of Cairo and its 20 million or so inhabitants? Will their access to things like health care, education, transportation and social security get even worse? Is the largest city in the Middle East – the second largest in Africa – to be left to descend into post-apocalyptic anarchy?
You can check out the pictures on the official new capital website right here – and no, this is not an Emaar advert.
By Ingy Hassieb