In Brief

Why Egypt is building a new capital city to replace Cairo

Government says nearly completed metropolis will be bigger and better - but is it a symbol of optimism or a cynical ploy?

Egypt is preparing to officially switch capital cities from Cairo to a totally new settlement just 30 miles away, in one of the most ambitious engineering and construction projects ever undertaken.

Cairo has been the capital since 950 AD and is the largest city in the Middle East. But with more than 20 million people now living in its greater metropolitan area, pollution and traffic have become major issues.

Indeed, Cairo is “bursting at the seams”, The Independent reports, adding that “something needed to be done”. 

In March 2015, then-housing minister Mostafa Madbouly, now prime minister, announced that a new capital would be built from scratch.

“The idea to build the new city originated from our awareness that Cairo’s population will double in the next 40 years,” Madbouly said. “The master plan is to create a global city with smart infrastructure for Egypt’s future, which will provide a multitude of economic opportunities and offer a distinct quality of life.”

He added that the new city - which has yet to be named - would cover an area totalling 700 sq km (270 sq miles) east of Cairo, between the Nile River and Suez Canal, and would house up to five million people in 25 residential districts, where residents will enjoy “a better standard of living”.

Due to open next June, the new city will feature large green spaces, along with “a new parliament, a central bank, an airport, a presidential palace (eight times bigger than the White House), a business district, Africa’s tallest tower, both Egypt’s tallest minaret and church steeple, and a theme park bigger than Disneyland”, according to The Independent. 

The overall cost of the new city has not been revealed, nor details about where the money is coming from, says The National.

Shortly after being elected president in 2014, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi told Egyptian citizens to prepare for the “hard work phase” in their country’s recent history, to help the economy recover from the effects of the 2011 Arab Spring, reports CityMetric, an online arm of the New Statesman.

Echoing that sentiment, Khaled al-Husseini, the spokesperson for the new city project, says: “We have the right to have a dream.” 

However, cynics have claimed that the biggest draw for the government is that it may not be footing the bill. 

As CityMetric notes, Egypt’s leaders hired a Dubai-based real estate investment fund headed by Emirati Mohamed Alabbar, the man behind the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai, to raise funds for the project and build it.

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