In the news, whenever the country Egypt arises, we are greeted with very bad news of the state of the country. Whether it be a revolution, an economic struggle, or simply a dissatisfied country. Moreover, because of the negative media, Egypt has suffered in the tourism industry, which is a major component of its economy. However, President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi hopes to change this through plans of constructing a mega-project on a yet to be named city.
Over the weekend, Egypt held an Egyptian Economic Development Conference “in the seaside resort of Sharm El-Sheikh aimed at boosting the country’s flagging economy”. The plan is to build a new capital city to the east of Cairo, close to the Red Sea, and span 150 square miles and home close to 7 million people, for a projected cost of $45 billion, an ambitious project. Thanks to this summit, Egypt pocketed “$12 billion in investment pledges from an array of wealthy Gulf states”. This new city would be built in partnership with a well-known private developer from the United Arab Emirates Muhammad Al-Abbar, known for the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world), and “would take only five to seven years to complete, according to Egyptian Housing Minister Mostafa Madbouly”. Additionally, “the summit delivered a message that Egypt is safe and is able to protect tourists and tourism investments. It further presented a future vision for projects, to be implemented by international companies”.
The project is meant to make Egypt an attractive investment by demonstrating stability, reinvigorate the collective national spirit, and allow for sustainable long-term growth. This ambitious project is to build “660 hospitals, 1,250 mosques and churches, and a theme park four times the size of Disneyland”. Other extravagant ideas include a “green space twice the size of Central Park in New York… the centre will feature soaring skyscrapers and a structure best described as the metallic offspring of the Eiffel Tower and Washington Monument”. Even far reaching is that a 200-metre-high skyscraper modelled after the famous Pyramids in Cairo is to be built that would be “composed of two pyramids – one tall and slim, and the other broad and short” and would be the country’s tallest building. The cost of this part of the project has not been disclosed yet, only that it will be completed in conjunction with real estate developers and Egypt’s New Urban Communities Authority. The developer SOM says, “The Capital Cairo complements the national vision for an Egyptian renaissance”. Partner of SOM, Philip Enquist, says, “While we are at the earliest stages of design, the new city will be built on core principles that include places of education, economic opportunity, and quality of life for Egypt’s youthful population”.
These are certainly aspiring goals that many countries can learn to adopt but a certain extent of skepticism is needed with such projects. These are lavish projects that need to be planned accordingly, specifically financially. “The impulse for a leader to create a new capital is as old as history itself” and there is nothing as symbolic as the “centralizing authority of a new regime than a shining edifice, built in its supposed image”. However, these new capitals and dreams have been executed in other countries, such as Brazil, Nigeria, and Malaysia, with the eagerness to break down the walls of division with a modern view of unity and the future but never succeed. To model, in 2005, “the Burmese junta quit the capital at Yangon, a former British colonial center, for Naypyidaw, a new city built literally out of the jungle. To this day, the capital is widely described as an artificial ‘ghost town’”. The bitter truth is that more often than not, the ground of these skyscrapers outweigh the dreams of their architects.
Although this plan is in its early stages, there are still unanswered questions. An urban planning expert in Cairo, David Sims, says, “How are you going to do the infrastructure? How are you going to get the water? How will they move all these ministries?” “Mr Sisi has made progress in this area, cutting fuel subsidies, reducing the budget deficit and making investment easier” but inducing such a project has adverse impacts on the budget, which could be used for education, health, and other simpler tools to improve business. Amr Adly of the Carnegie Middle East Centre is not completely in agreement with Egypt’s plans. He says, “the government does not have a plan to spread the benefits of growth. Moreover, it is looking for inspiration in Dubai whereas India might be a more suitable model given Egypt’s size and poverty”. Mr. Adly makes an interesting point, although Egypt does have over population, it is not to the extent of that of India and Egypt is just pulling itself back together after the revolution that took place recently. At first “there might be many construction jobs for a time. But the main benefits will accrue to Egypt’s dominant big firms, and to the Gulf companies that follow their government’s investments. Most small and medium-sized enterprises will be left on the sidelines”. A shiny capital is nice and generates good publicity but “kick-starting these engines of growth would do more for his people”.
This is the message that Egypt must deliver, that it is a safe country with aspiring goals. The future city must strengthen and diversify Egypt’s economic potential by creating attractive new places to live, work, and welcome the world. For too long, the treasure of Egypt has been hidden as the city of Egypt became a spectacle for the world as the people of Egypt struggled to obtain an appropriate leader. Now, the plans to find this treasure are in place as the entire country risks almost everything to find this treasure, which is admirable. But in seeking this treasure, Egypt must have counter-measure plans, as this is the real world, and the real world is not a fantasy. Egypt must make sure that during this period of heavy investment a steady economic supply is found, so as to be able to continue a decent lifestyle for the people and not uproot another crisis.