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Exclusive - Construction and Politics: New Cities Shape Egypt’s Future

Exclusive - Construction and Politics: New Cities Shape Egypt’s Future

Sunday, 1 September, 2019 - 09:30
A model of a planned new capital for Egypt is displayed for investors during the final day of the Egypt Economic Development Conference (EEDC) in Sharm El-Sheikh, March 15, 2015. (Reuters)

Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi is seeking to shape his country’s future through 14 new fourth generation cities that have been designed according to the latest global standards. Since assuming power five years ago, Sisi has embarked on a mission to comprehensively reshape the country, defying political, economic and social challenges.

The New Administrative Capital, located 75 kilometers east of Cairo, is among the president’s most ambitious projects. The development of the capital does not mean that Cairo, with its historic, cultural and touristic importance, will be abandoned. The new capital will in fact only highlight the old city’s significance.

Other projects include the New Alamein City, dubbed the icon of the Mediterranean, and al-Jalalah City in the East.

Egypt is pursuing its Vision 2030 which calls for increasing construction in the country from 6 to 12 percent in order to accommodate its growing population, ease traffic in old cities and promote economic growth through major projects that will provide thousands of job opportunities for the people.

Sisi believes the construction projects are the “first line of defense” against terrorist groups that only seek to spread chaos in Egypt. Addressing critics, he said the projects are being funded by selling real estate to investors. Critics have said that the government was spending state funds on the new projects instead of tackling more pressing issues in the health and education sectors, among others.

Political science Professor at the American University in Cairo Saeed Sadiq said that the construction expansion was a primary goal for many previous governments, but none were able to achieve it.

“None of them have shown the political will displayed by Sisi,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The Egyptians have since ancient times lived on some 6 percent of the country’s area and governments have longed to expand it to 20 percent, he added.

Several cities were unveiled by former President Hosni Mubarak, including 6th of October City, Sharm El-Sheikh and others.

The idea was therefore, always there, but its implementation was slow, said Sadiq.

Sisi is now pushing forward this operation and he hopes it will promote economic growth, not just a construction boom, he remarked.

Furthermore, he noted that the current cities will be unable to accommodate the growing population, which is growing at a rate of 2.6 million per year.

This demands the construction of a strong infrastructure and the inevitable move to new cities, explained Sadiq.

Former Minister of Sports Alieddine Hilal said the accomplishments achieved by Egypt exceed those reached by Brazil, Nigeria and Kazakhstan that also moved their capitals to new cities.

Egypt will be doing this at a faster rate, he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

He credited this success to Sisi and the military that is overseeing the execution of projects by hundreds of private companies.

The new capital is expected to take in some 500,000 people during its first phase, in addition to some 40,000 to 50,000 government employees who will be transferred to new headquarters. The capital is planned to accommodate 6.5 million people in an area of 170,000 feddan.

Sadiq acknowledged that the move to the new city could sharply expose the divide between social classes in Egypt, whereby the wealthy would be able to move to the new capital. It would also deepen the divide between the people and authority.

Hilal said the construction of new cities should be seen from a broader angle and as part of a greater plan to rehabilitate infrastructure and shift towards digital transformation.

Moreover, the authorities have started to hold televised events and campaigns that raise awareness among the people about the new cities and therefore, make them part of their collective memory and conscience.

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