The New Egyptian Capital: Illusion or New Beginning?
President el-Sisi seeks to combat Cairo congestion by moving people to new satellite city
[Cairo] Egypt is racing to prepare a new capital city in the desert east of Cairo before the first civil servants move in this summer and ahead of the official opening of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi’s flagship project.
“We were supposed to open the New Administrative Capital, but we had to delay its opening for an entire year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The birth of a new country with the opening of the New Administrative Capital [is] the proclamation of a ‘new republic,’” el-Sisi said on March 9.
The as-yet-unnamed city, situated with the existing satellite city of New Cairo between it and the megalopolis, will span 270 square miles, more than four times the size of Washington, DC. It will include 20 residential quarters accommodating 6.5 million people, in an effort to reduce congestion in the old capital 28 miles to the west. The Central Business District is to have over 20 residential, administrative and commercial buildings, including the Iconic Tower.
Housing Minister Essam el Gazzar said in January that “53 floors of the Iconic Tower, Africa’s tallest building with a height of about 400 meters, have been finalized and fronts of other towers are currently under construction in the Central Business District (CBD) at the New Administrative Capital.”
The government district, located on an area of approximately 1,235 acres, will consist of 36 buildings, including ones for ministries, the parliament and the cabinet. Ninety-five percent of the work on the governmental district has been completed under the supervision of the Engineering Authority of the Egyptian Armed Forces. The ministries are supposed to move from central Cairo to the New Administrative Capital this summer.
Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, former vice president, former director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, tweeted in response to el-Sisi’s March 9 statement: “In politics and law, the classification of republics is linked to a comprehensive change in the form of government and the constitution, and it is a French custom where France has now lived in the so-called Fifth Republic since 1958. We have been living in Egypt with distinction in the shadow of the First Republic since 1954. Constitutions have changed, but the system of government is still the same.”
Tarek El Khouly, a parliamentarian and a member of the Coordination Committee of Parties’ Youth Leaders and Politicians (an unofficial gathering), told The Media Line, “I think the term ‘new republic’ expresses the period in which we are living. I am a supporter of the fact that we are building a new republic and a new country. … We are witnessing the re-establishment of the Egyptian state in various political, economic and social aspects, which came after revolutions, drawing up a new constitution, and drawing new relations between the authorities. So I think the term the president used is well-suited and expresses what we are living now and certainly that we are about the New Republic. Egypt is now turning into an example for the developed world of good governance. I believe that the new country needs to provide a new climate that will bring about new paradigm shifts.”
Mamoun Fandy, author, director of the London Global Strategy Institute and a former professor of politics at Georgetown University in Washington, told The Media Line, “We are not the first country to move its capital. There are many models around the world of new administrative capitals. Behind those new capitals were specific political goals. In Nigeria, for example, the move from Lagos to Abuja was in order to create a political balance within the state between ethnic groups.
“There will be a clear concept behind this move. I believe that the huge amount of money spent on the administrative capital could have been used to develop Cairo into a capital like Rome or Paris for a greater political benefit than moving to a new capital built from scratch in the desert,” Fandy said.
Hailed as a Green City, the New Administrative Capital will have 160 square feet per capita of green areas, including the keystone Capital Park.
Minister of Environment Yasmine Fouad said in a speech at a conference on the Future of E-Mobility and Urban Planning in Egypt back in November 2019: “We seek to create new cities and communities capable of addressing the effects of climate change and include an integrated system for sustainable and electric transport, in addition to the reuse of waste.” She pointed to the New Administrative Capital as a model of sustainable development.
Nadine Wahab, founder of Eco-Dahab, a sustainable destination management organization based in Sinai, told The Media Line, “While there are concerns over the sustainability of the New Administrative City (NAC), there are several points that I am happy to hear are of focus in the planning and implementation of the project.”
Fouad met last month with representatives of Bee’ah, the United Arab Emirates’s leading integrated environmental, recycling and waste management company, to review the company’s work plan including municipal management. Wahab commented, “It is also promising that an award-winning company has been contracted to perform waste management. This gives us hope that the NAC will be looking to become a zero-waste city.”
Wahab went to say, “The monorail project connecting the NAC to Eastern Cairo will ensure a reasonable commute time between 6 of October [City, a satellite town southwest of Cairo that hosts a hub for many companies in the IT and financial sectors and several private universities] and the NAC, with travel time of less than an hour.
“While this will significantly add to commute times from other parts of Cairo, this does provide a more sustainable alternative to using cars or buses. There is also talk that the employees whose jobs will be transferred to the NAC will receive transport passes from their employers. This is key to ensuring accessibility and the success of the project,” Wahab said.
The Capital Park, once completed, will occupy 1,000 acres, broken up into three segments. The first segment, the History and Gateway Park, covers 375 acres and includes a mosque, botanical gardens, a Bedouin camp and a monument plaza. The second segment, a 306-acre health and sustainability park, will feature jogging trails, multi-sport fields, a wetlands park and a community garden. The third segment, a 309-acre Civic Park, will boast riverfront commercial spaces including restaurants and retail shops, a sculpture garden, a Ferris wheel, an open library with reading gardens, and a recreational sports club.
“At the heart of the project is the Capital Park, which is set to be built around a body of water. A public space will help ensure social cohesion and create energy and movement within the city. My concern regards the utilization of already scarce natural resources and the long-term viability of desert greening,” Wahab said.