A pharaonic capital for the Egypt of Al Sisi | International

“It will be a bigger square than Tiananmen,” Ahmed (a figurative name) boasts, amid the suffocating dust cloud lifted by dozens of trucks that roam a place strewn with cranes between the Nile and the Red Sea. The employee of the public company that builds the New Administrative Capital of Egypt, 40 kilometers east of Cairo, points to the brand-new facades of the ministries, lined up like the ancient palaces of Luxor, which delimit the governmental agora before the imposing mass of the Parliament . On the far horizon – “it is for security reasons,” he muses – the future residence of President Abdelfatá al Sisi, father of the pharaonic project, is glimpsed. As far as the eye can see, blocks of flats rise, with evocative names in Spanish such as El Patio or La Vista, where two million people will soon live.

Egypt has just crossed the threshold of 100 million inhabitants amid official silence. Crowded in the valley and the Nile delta, which barely represent 8% of the national territory, the demographic time bomb – two out of three Egyptians are under the age of 30 – has already been activated. If not remedied, the Arab country’s census will break the 150 million barrier in 2050. Al Sisi himself has pointed to the demographic explosion – each year there are 2.5 million more inhabitants and three-quarters of a million young people enter the labor market – as the greatest challenge facing Egypt along with terrorism.



New administrative capital

Of Egipt

54,000 officials in June

150,000 operators for five years

1st phase (under construction)

Parliament

and new

ministries

Source: ACUD.

N. CATALÁN / EL PAÍS

New administrative capital of Egypt

54,000 officials in June

150,000 operators for five years

1st phase (under construction)

Parliament

and new

ministries

Source: ACUD.

N. CATALÁN / EL PAÍS

New administrative capital of Egypt

1st phase (under construction)

Parliament

and new

ministries

54,000 officials in June

150,000 operators for five years

Source: ACUD.

N. CATALÁN / EL PAÍS

A pharaonic capital for Al Sisi's Egypt

After four years of work by 150,000 operators in which it is planned to invest 23,000 million euros, 54,000 officials will be transferred in the coming months to the new administrative district, surrounded by luxury residential areas and a business center with 21 office towers . The megalomania of the project contrasts with the misery of more than a third of the population, which survives on two dollars a day according to the World Bank.

“Not a pound is going to be spent from the public budget,” says Colonel Jaled el Huseini, spokesman for the Urban Development Agency for the Administrative Capital (ACUD). “The entire project will be self-financing through the sale of public land to private developers,” said this officer in his office, located in a military compound that includes a luxury hotel and leisure areas in New Cairo, one of the districts Peripherals built in the last decades to alleviate the demographic congestion of the historical capital of Egypt, which exceeds 20 million inhabitants along with its metropolitan area. The Armed Forces control an important part of the country’s economic activity: up to 3% of GDP, according to some analysts.

The new administrative center dreamed of by ex-marshal El Sisi will extend over 730 square kilometers, somewhat more than the island of Menorca, and will house six million inhabitants. The first phase that is now being finalized will comprise only a third of the perimeter and of the population. “The massive transfer of officials is planned between July and August of this year,” Colonel El Huseini said, “but the final decision will be political.” While the ministries seem to be very advanced, the Parliament has been built at 60% and the presidential palace at 50%. Al Sisi’s move to the desert capital will make the birth of the administrative capital official next year. The landscape of palm trees and buildings is beginning to resemble an American residential suburb. Most of the operation’s land belongs to the army.

“It is true that the financing model of the new capital does not itself depend on the state budget, but not much is known about the accounts of the company that manages it, owned by the Ministry of Defense (51%) and the Ministry of Housing” , argues Amro Adly, professor of Political Science at the American University in Cairo.

Ahmed, an employee of the company that builds the new capital, does not dare to dream of living one day in apartments with prices that will be between 50,000 and 100,000 euros.

Many Egyptians question whether Al Sisi’s big projects – pharaonic works such as the expansion of the Suez Canal (€ 3 billion) – monopolize funds necessary for the country’s development and social welfare. “Heavy investment in land and construction is only beneficial in the very short term. The real estate sector has been the main source of growth for the economy since the 1980s, ”Adly qualifies as an economic analyst in the Middle East.

The Chinese construction company CSCEC is in charge of the execution of the financial district of the new Egyptian capital, which will be crowned by a 390-meter high skyscraper. Hundreds of Chinese technicians and specialists live on site in a beehive of prefabricated modules. “Only the domestic market is intervened and Egypt’s chronic balance of payments problems are not mitigated. Private savings are thus consumed in dead assets in desert cities that do not help to solve the lack of housing for the population, “says Professor Adly.

From the direction of the project, Colonel Al Huseini highlights that the land released in the center of Cairo by the transfer of the ministries will also contribute to financing the new capital, where a diplomatic neighborhood has been planned for foreign legations. The plans of the public company ACUD include plots reserved for the United States, China or Brazil. The high prices demanded for the land and the high real estate value of the current headquarters have led many EU countries not to decide yet on their transfer to the new capital, according to a European diplomatic official.

The utopia announced by Al Sisi nearly four years ago is about to come true in an arid landscape that evokes the ghost residential developments of Seseña (Toledo), a decade ago in the midst of the Spanish real estate crisis. Dubai’s office tower profile has not yet emerged in the Egyptian desert, although half of the first-phase land has already been purchased by developers, Reuters reported.

Ahmed, employed at the company that builds the new capital, does not dare to dream of living one day in the apartments that he promotes. The price of the apartments will be around 50,000 to 100,000 euros, unattainable for the salary of 200 to 300 euros per month for the average Egyptian. The 54,000 officials traveling from Cairo will also be unable to reside near their new offices. They will have to travel more than an hour by bus, while building a regional monorail, or relocate to the nearby satellite neighborhood of Ciudad Bader.

In the background, works of the presidential palace, in the New Administrative Capital of Cairo, last Thursday.
In the background, works of the presidential palace, in the New Administrative Capital of Cairo, last Thursday. J. C. S.

In an Egypt overwhelmed by overpopulation, the poverty rate has grown 4.7% between 2015 and 2018, according to the World Bank, to 32.5% of the population. An intensive employment sector, such as tourism, that offers employment to 14% of the population It is beginning to overcome the collapse of 2015, after the attack in which all 224 occupants of a Russian plane were killed. Professor Adly stresses that it is thanks to the stabilization of security and the depreciation of the Egyptian pound, “but he is not generating the necessary currencies to improve the balance of payments position,” he points out.

The gigantic Al Fatah al Ali mosque, with a capacity for 12,000 faithful, or the Cathedral of the Nativity, the largest Christian temple in the Middle East, were the first buildings to be erected in the new capital. The flight to Egypt of the Holy Family against the backdrop of the pyramids, could not be otherwise, is the reason for the fresco on the main vault of the Coptic temple.

Interior of the Coptic Cathedral of the Nativity in the new Egyptian administrative capital.
Interior of the Coptic Cathedral of the Nativity in the new Egyptian administrative capital. J. C. S.

It was inaugurated last year by President al Sisi together with Pope Theodore II on the feast of the Epiphany, in full celebration of Orthodox Christmas by 10% of the Egyptian population. “Since then, almost no one has returned,” admits the police officer in charge of the detachment, which stands guard heavily armed with an armored vehicle in the dust of the cement trucks, before an endless landscape of cranes that sprout in the Egyptian desert.

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