Earlier this month, Egyptian President Abdelfattah Al Sisi officially announced that the first stage in constructing the country’s proposed, new administrative capital city, located about 40 miles east of central Cairo, is officially underway. On October 11, Sisi laid the symbolic, first building block on the new city’s construction site. Development of the new capital appears to be moving quickly since President Sisi first announced its creation during the Sharm El Sheikh economic summit in early 2015. It is expected to be completed by 2022.
All national government ministries and institutions will move out of central Cairo and into the new capital in the coming years. Plans for a new international airport, housing for about 5 million people, theme parks, energy farms, and luxury hotels are also being devised. The state is planning to build several other extravagant facilities, including the African continent’s tallest skyscraper, set to be completed in about four years. While funding is largely coming from a joint stock company set up by the Egyptian armed forces and the New Urban Communities Authority, China has agreed to develop the new city’s business district. So far, approximately $8 billion dollars has been allocated for the city’s construction, and the Housing Ministry says the total cost is expected to be $45 billion.
— Eric Trager (@EricTrager18) October 6, 2017
The Egyptian government has long insisted the new capital would reduce massive overcrowding in central Cairo. In reality, however, the mega-project is indicative of the state’s disregard for the needs of its most disadvantaged citizens. According to 10 Tooba, an Egyptian-based urban research organization, about 30% of households in the Cairo metropolitan area do not have access to basic services (such as electricity and indoor plumbing). Almost half of Cairo’s population lives in areas called ‘ashwaiyat, or shoddy informal housing built without official permits. Because they are not built according to building codes, apartments in these areas are prone to collapsing.
As I wrote in New York University’s Journal of Political Inquiry two years ago when the project was first announced, Cairo is highly dependent on a web of informal networks that provide residents with services the state has failed to dole out. For example, since public buses cannot serve all the millions of Cairenes that need public transportation, groups of citizens have taken to driving white vans on important routes public buses do not serve.
With the country under increasing economic pressure, and given the state’s existing abandonment of its most needy citizens, the decision to move state ministries outside of Cairo is likely strategic. Two years ago, professor of sociology at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, Asef Bayat told me “It could be argued there is a sense in which the authorities do indeed wish to diminish the possibility of large scale protests as we have observed on Tahrir.”
Egypt’s new administrative capital not only represents an attempt at development that serves the wealthy elite. It also appears to be a calculated move to ensure that the state remains unaccountable to its most vulnerable and disenchanted citizens.