The Egyptian government announced an ambitious plan on Friday to build a “new Cairo” in the desert east of the thousand-year-old capital, to the tune of $45 billion from foreign investors.
Housing minister Mostafa Madbouly made the announcement at the start of a 3-day international economic conference in the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, saying that he hopes to complete the 270-square-mile project in just 5 to 7 years.
The project, which is yet unnamed, reflects a recent wave of investment in Egypt, especially from wealthy magnates in the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf countries. The UAE and Saudi Arabia have been outspoken in their support for Egypt’s government since the current president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, ousted his predecessor, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, in 2013.
The Emirati businessman behind this particular enterprise is Mohamed Alabbar, the real estate developer responsible for the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. (RELATED: Abu Dhabi Jails American For Facebook Post Made In Florida)
Cairo and the surrounding urban areas are currently home to around 20 million people, and widely seen as crowded, congested and inefficient. The proposed new capital would be home to up to 5 million Egyptians, and include a 1,000-acre district to house the central government.
Other such projects on a smaller scale, including a town called New Cairo, have sprung up outside the Egyptian capital in recent decades. So far, they have not succeeded in attracting resettlement from Cairo’s urban core — many of whose residents cannot afford to move to such a faraway, high-rent new address. As a result, these well-intentioned projects often result in half-empty “ghost towns.”
Critics have complained that this lavish plan would be just as “utopian” and unrealistic as its predecessors. Britain’s The Guardian quoted urban planners saying that “trying to build a new city from scratch is a massive gamble.” While countries including Pakistan and Brazil have successfully established capitals in planned cities, in today’s Egyptian context the quixotic proposal comes across as “just desperation.” Instead of long-term solutions, they suggest that the government is narrowly focused on cultivating “prestige.”
And Khaled Fahmy, a professor at the American University in Cairo, wrote in the online magazine Cairo Observer that within the given budget for the project, the city “could easily solve the problems of transportation, housing, sanitation and garbage collection.”
But instead, Fahmy says, Egypt’s “Dubai-intoxicated” leaders “are willing to turn their backs to their own people,” more prepared to fail at an absurdly shiny project than to do the simple, everyday work of basic competent governance.
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