Eco-friendly, utterly modern and well-planned administrative and business capital of Egypt will appear to the east of Cairo, linking it up with the Suez Canal zone. The mega-project was unveiled during the three-day economic summit held in Sharm El-Sheikh on March 13-15.
“It is a project as ambitious as Egypt's ancient pyramids”, British newspaper The Independent writes about the project of the new currently nameless capital-to-be city that will cover an area of 700 square kilometers, and will be situated along the corridor between Cairo and the Red Sea, providing linkages to significant shipping routes.
The cost of the initial phase of the construction is set at $45 billion; it implies 135-kilometer expansion of the current outskirts of Cairo eastwards. The first stage which includes building of 2,000 schools and colleges, as well as 1,250 mosques and churches must be completed within 5-7 years from now, Egyptian Minister of Housing Mostafa Madbouly announced at the Egypt Economic Development Conference (EEDC).
The new leafy megalopolis built in the desert from scratch will consist of over 100 new neighborhoods with 1.1 million residential units that will house about 7 million people. The Minister of Housing promised “The Capital” to be pedestrian-friendly with vibrant recreational spaces and a park twice as big as New York City's Central Park; its airport will be larger than London’s Heathrow and amusement park four times the size of Disneyland; a building taller than Paris's Eiffel Tower will be another highlight of the city. According to Madbouly, the city will have 663 hospitals and over 10,000 kilometers of boulevards, avenues and streets, universities, shopping malls, skyscrapers, solar energy farms and efficiently arranged public transport.
According to the plan, “The Capital Cairo” will become administrative and financial center; presidential palace, ministries and other governmental institutions as well as foreign embassies will be moved to the east.
The new city planning is led by the specialists of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM) – one of the leading architecture, interior design, engineering, and urban planning firms in the world.
“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. The new city will be designed and built in harmony with nature as a showcase of environmentally sensitive development,” the leader of SOM urban planning department Philip Enquist said, ABS-CBN News informs.
Daniel Ringelstein, SOM architect and urban designer, asserts “The Capital Cairo” complements “the national vision for an Egyptian renaissance”. “This is a rare opportunity for the people of this vibrant nation to express and build their aspirations of a better life for all. The future city will strengthen and diversify Egypt's economic potential by creating attractive new places to live, work, and welcome the world,” he stated.
As for funding the construction of the city, it is financed mostly by rich Gulf states, though the driving force behind “The Capital Cairo” will be an Emirati Capital City Partners. The project is led by Mohamed Alabbar, real estate tycoon, chairman of Emaar Properties, the Emirati real estate developer behind the record-breaking Burj Khalifa skyscraper, the world’s tallest building.
According to Alabbar, clear profit incentives will encourage the private sector to lead the way. “If you really want growth, if you want a great percentage of return, then this is the place in the Middle East … For us as businessmen, the numbers make sense,” he said in Sharm el-Sheikh. “I like to do big things in big countries where I know the economy and the people, and I know how eager the government (is) to move forward… In Egypt, I’ll bite any risk any day,” ABC News cites Alabbar.
“Master plan” of the project will be released on summer, as unnamed Housing Ministry official said. Based on the information spread by Egyptian El-Watan newspaper, the final agreement will be signed before September; the construction itself will start around November. However, Ahram newspaper cites Minister of Investment Ashraf Salman’s televised interview on private CBC Channel, in which the official assures that Egypt has agreed to start working on its new capital city within the next 50 days, and the President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi insisted on beginning ground work the very next day after closing the deal.
Why does Egypt need a new capital?
First and the most important, Cairo is overpopulated; it houses around 20 million residents, and Minister of Housing Mostafa Madbouly expects this number to double by 2050.
Second, according to Egyptian media, the state will hold only 20 percent of the shares in the company constructing the city. Gulf-based investors have already pledged $12 billion to provide funds urgently needed by the Egyptian government.
Third, the project will attract foreign investment and stimulate economic recovery; at the same time it will place in a job some 1.75 million Egyptians out of 11 million unemployed population.
Fourth, the new city will lie closer to the profitable trade routes of the Suez Canal, which is being expanded in order to let the ships to sail in both directions simultaneously.
And the last, the project is based on an election pledge by Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who last year promised to extend Cairo to the Red Sea and widen the Suez Canal, if voted into power. The head of the state has already succeeded in reducing the budget deficit by cutting fuel subsidies and improving the investment climate – since 2013 Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait have stepped in with more than $30 billion.
Many analysts believe that el-Sisi’s personal engagement in the project and the huge investment deals signed in Sharm El-Sheikh will make the project go ahead.