What Does It Take To Move A Country’s Capital? Egypt Shows!

What Are the Challenges And Scepticism in Smart Capital Construction?

Indonesia announced that they are planning to move its administration capacity from the capital city Jakarta to a less flood-prone area of the country. Jakarta is one of the most congested and polluted cities in Southeast Asia and above all is a flood-prone region in the Island of Java, compelling the country to explore a better location to move its capital.

Similarly, Phillippines has begun constructing a new city called New Clark City, as a backup on the off chance of natural catastrophe in Manila. These countries have a ‘natural’ reason to move the government to a safer place. But the case with Egypt is different.

Egypt, one of the oldest civilisations on earth is working on relocating its capital city. This project is known to be one of the biggest in history.

Egypt’s present capital Cairo that has served as the capital for over centuries is now crowded with over 20 million people. In 2017, just in a period of one year, the population of the city rose by half a million. The traffic congestion in the city is getting worse and it seems like Cairo is burdened by its own weight which makes sense to ease it from the increasing urban sprawl.

However, on this journey to excavating a new capital city in the desert, the country is facing challenges and scepticism. Let us understand its current situation and find out more about the historic project of the country of Pyramids.

Vision To Build A Smart Capital City

The ‘new city’ project was launched in 2015 by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after he was elected as the president a year before. His vision is to build a city which offers a clean and efficient government and finance ecosystem to the people.  

As per the government, the ambitious project will alleviate the increasing pressure on Cairo and provide Egypt with a ‘smart capital’ that can inspire the world.  By creating a new city, it will relieve Cairo from problems like congestion, pollution and overcrowding. As a result, it will help in preserving the historical city and protect it from further depreciation due to the constantly growing population.

According to Mustafa Madbouley, Egypt Housing Minister, the project will be accomplished by 2022. The architecture firm SOM (Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill LLP), is designing the masterplan that focuses on education, economy, opportunity, quality of life, that will essentially support the new generation.

The new capital is being established in the desert about 30 miles east of Cairo. The project is claimed to be the biggest planned city in history as it will expand across a startling 700 square kilometres (270 square miles) and will be almost the size of Singapore.

Currently, all the focus is on the first phase which will cover approximately 168 sq.km. It will comprise a host of amenities including residential neighbourhoods, ministries, financial district, a diplomatic quarter that will rest in between lush green avenues.  

As included in the project, the city is expected to provide housing to more than 5 million residents. Schools, hospitals, shopping centres, community and religious buildings will be there to support the new residents and visitors. In fact, a large mosque and cathedral, a hotel, a conference centre have already been constructed in the new city.

Furthermore, the city will have a park that is double the size of Central Park in New York City and a theme park that is four times bigger than Disneyland.  

Considering the infrastructure that will be developed, the city will consume an approximated 650,000 cubic meters of water a day. And this will come from Egypt’s already scarce resources.

What Is The Scepticism All About?

Scepticism During Smart Capital Construction Project

By far, 30,000 homes have been built in the new capital they are still vacant. The inner challenge starts with the residents having to move to a completely new city with their families. The residents of Cairo show that they cannot afford to relocate and face the expensive commute into the city centre. Hence, there is uncertainty whether the city will be able to attract as much as 5 million people.

The doubt is naturally coming from the analyses that the new capital is strangely a reflection of the existing New Cairo. When New Cairo was constructed, the intention was to house two million people. However, it has hardly succeeded in attracting just 100,000 residents.

The flashy residential villas of New Cairo have failed to attract the residents to live. Hence, even when a vision to develop a comprehensive city from scratch is in the air, there is fear that it might become another vacant city that is just a territory of the rich.

Besides, critics fear that the project for a sustainable smart capital is being carried out hastily which might bring unfavourable consequences. But even after much scepticism, the planners and architects believe that the smart capital will serve in an environment-friendly manner by keeping a balance between the man-made structures and nature thereby creating passive cooling systems using wind. And of course, the challenges that arise from constructing a city in a desert is another thing.

Significant Challenge In Constructing Smart Capital

It is obvious that a large-scale project like this requires billions of fund. But the estimated $58-billion project seems to be struggling to attract funds after investors backed down.

In 2016, China company, China Fortune Land Development Co. Ltd entered $20 billion deal with Egypt. But, that collapsed over financial terms resulting in the postponement of second and third phases of construction.

The state-owned Industrial and Commercial Bank of China has entered an agreement to provide a loan of $3 billion to develop a central business zone in the new capital.

The Egyptian project endeavouring to improve the economy that was depressed by political uproar after 2011, has lost a principal investor from the UAE and is now being managed by the Egyptian Army’s Engineering Authority and Housing Ministry. The primary stakeholder in the project is the Egyptian Army that is also appointed to supervise the private firms involved in the construction work.

Although the new capital will be smart and efficient, Cairo that has been the heart for a thousand years will always remain as the trademark of Egypt – for other parts of the world.

Ahmed Zaki Abdeen, a retired general and head of the company in charge of building the city stated that “the large scale of the work leads to large scale problems.” These issues include the requirement for skilled labour to develop a smart capital and raising of 1 trillion Egyptian pounds ($58 billion) in financing over the nearing years from investment and land sales.

Abdeen notes that a Chinese firm is building a $1.2 billion electrified train network from Cairo to the new capital. Before this network is complete in 18 months, the city will serve the citizens with electric buses.

Despite so many hurdles in front of such a huge project, we hope that Egypt is able to address the problems it aims to solve through this new smart capital.