Egypt's new high-tech capital: a path to better government?

Egypt’s government is decamping from crowded Cairo to the aptly named New Administrative Capital, a new city being built 28 miles to the east. Despite delays, the first civil servants are preparing to move in July.

Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters
Construction continues in the business district of Egypt's new capital city, known as New Administrative Capital, 28 miles east of Cairo, March 8, 2021. The finished city is expected to eventually house at least 6 million residents.

Egypt is racing to prepare a grandiose new capital city in the desert east of Cairo before the first civil servants move in this summer and ahead of the delayed official opening of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s flagship project.

At the heart of the city, workers are putting finishing touches to an avenue of ministries that echo the architecture of pharaonic temples and adjoin a raised Islamic complex, two domed parliament buildings, and a sprawling presidential compound.

There will be a monorail passing through a business district where a 1,200-foot central tower is close to completion. Beyond, the contours of a park stretching to a giant mosque are taking shape.

The city, known simply as the New Administrative Capital, is designed to operate with smart technology on virgin land away from the clutter and chaos of Cairo. It will boast universities, leisure facilities, and a diplomatic quarter.

But it has made halting progress. After funding from the United Arab Emirates fell through shortly after it was announced in 2015, the military and government took on the estimated $25 billion cost of the first phase, injecting off-budget investment.

Some foreign loans and financing have been secured.

The coronavirus pandemic also slowed progress, and the first of three planned phases, covering 65 square miles, will not be completed when the government begins to move in.

“The rate of completion of the first phase has passed 60% across all projects,” said Khaled el-Husseiny, spokesman for the new capital.

He added that the delayed transfer of civil servants would begin in July, ahead of an official opening planned for the end of 2021.

High-tech

The city is being designed as a high-tech model for Egypt’s future.

Control centers will monitor infrastructure and security electronically, roofs will be covered in solar panels, payments will be cashless, and 161 square feet of green space are allocated per inhabitant, officials said.

“We are trying to solve all the problems we had in the past in the new capital,” said Mr. Husseiny.

The finished city is expected to house at least 6 million residents, with its second and third phases being largely residential.

That will take decades to complete, although the government will be able to function normally while construction goes on, said Amr Khattab, spokesman for the Housing Ministry, which is responsible for executing parts of the city.

How far and how fast Egypt’s center of gravity shifts away from Cairo to the new capital 28 miles from the Nile is unclear. For now, thousands of residential blocks stand empty either side of a highway leading into the new city.

The completion of the business district, yet to be marketed, is set for 2023.

Electric train and monorail links are under construction. The first 50,000 civil servants expected to relocate to the new capital from this summer will be offered shuttle buses to get there.

Around 5,000 out of 20,000 housing units have been sold in the first residential district expected to open in May, said Mr. Khattab.

On Monday, Sisi’s office announced 1.5 billion Egyptian pounds ($96 million) in incentives for civil servants selected to move to the city.

Land sales

Officials say the city will eventually include social housing and is meant to finance itself through land sales, though it is unclear how much revenue these have generated.

Of the $25 billion cost for the first phase, about $3 billion is being spent on the government district, said Mr. Husseiny.

Some international financing has been secured for rail links, and a $3 billion Chinese loan has helped fund the business district, built by China State Construction Engineering Corp.

Mr. Sisi, who has embarked on multiple infrastructure mega-projects and national development programs, says other regions will not be neglected.

“We are not leaving Cairo, or Alexandria, or Port Said, or other provinces. We are moving forward with the old and the new together,” the president said last week. The capital’s opening would mark the “birth of a new state,” he added.

Though there is support for the government’s argument that the new capital can reduce congestion in Cairo, there is also concern that it will be unaffordable and inaccessible to many.

“Some classes will be able to live there, others won’t,” said Alaa Ibrahim, an electrician in Cairo’s impoverished Imbaba district. 

This story was reported by Reuters.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.