Egypt builds its new capital

The city will reportedly be named Wedian

Egypt new capital will be named Wedian.

Its more than a thousand years of history make Cairo one of the most attractive cities from a historical point of view. However, for that same temporary reason, its urbanism is not exactly an example of sustainable growth . In its 550 square kilometers of surface, a good part of which protected by its incalculable cultural value, more than nine million people are concentrated, which increases to sixteen if those who reside in the metropolitan area are included.

These data show a high population density that generates many complications in the lives of citizens, who also suffer problems derived from a lack of urban planning and alternatives to private vehicles, which have caused Cairo to be, according to data from the Forbes magazine  ,  the most polluted city in the world .

As if this were not enough, the Egyptian capital also suffers from a housing shortage, a lack of green areas and poor infrastructure for a country that, according to official estimates, expects to receive  15 million tourists  in 2020.

Faced with this situation, the Egyptian government decided in 2015 to build a new capital 40 kilometers from Cairo using criteria typical of a smart city; not only in terms of traffic management, access or security, but also population density and its distribution in the territory.

In this way, the total area will be about 700 square kilometers in which six and a half million people will reside, many of whom will be public officials and workers of the diplomatic legations, since the first buildings erected have been the presidential palace, parliament, ministries and buildings to house embassies.

In addition to public buildings, the city will have an international airport, six hundred hospitals, two thousand schools, shopping centers, a theme park, a conference center for five thousand spectators, thousands of mosques, several churches, museums, a park twice bigger than Central Park and a university. Services that, of course, will also require workers to make them work, although that does not mean that they will necessarily be residents of the new city.

The proximity to Cairo, which allows you to go and return during the day, invites us to think that this population is of a floating type, even more so since the new city has not planned the construction of  social housing  or of appraised price. The reason for this is the Egyptian authorities’ commitment to the construction of exclusive residential neighborhoods with luxury homes, built by foreign private real estate companies that will have the right to market the houses. A solution that seeks to prevent the Egyptian government from having to bear all the construction costs.

In fact, financing has been one of the main problems of this ambitious project. Although the bulk of the expenditure has been assumed by the Ministry of Defense and Military Production – former owner of the land on which the city will be built – and the Ministry of Housing, these contributions are not enough to cover the 45,000 million dollars estimated to cost the project, so the government was forced to turn to foreign investors.

Those chosen at first were companies from the United Arab Emirates that, after the initial euphoria, began to  disengage from the project . This caused them to be replaced by Chinese companies and banks that contributed 15,000 million dollars in the first phase, to which another 20,000 million were added later.

However, disagreements between Asian investors and the government of Abdel Fattah Al Sasi have caused  some of them to withdraw from the project as well,  and Egypt has to contribute more money to the construction. Something problematic since the country has a  credit of the IMF  of 12,000 million dollars that must be repaid shortly.

This situation has made in recent times the most critical voices with the construction of the new capital to show their dissatisfaction with the project. For those urban planners who do consider a new capital necessary, the location of the current one is not adequate, but should be west of the Nile Valley. Those who consider it an unnecessary project justify it by saying that such a large economic investment it should be used to improve other Egyptian cities , including Cairo, and not to squander it in creating a city from scratch.

There are also those who argue that the project is nothing more than a propaganda mechanism to improve the image of Abdel Fattah Al Sasi, current president of the country who, although he was re-elected in 2018 with 97% of the votes, came to power after leading a coup against  Mohamed Morsi , the first democratically elected Egyptian head of state in the country’s history.

In fact, and until the results of  the public tender  called to decide the definitive name of the city are known, it is known as  “New Administrative Capital”  or “Sasi City”, due to the close link it has with the ruler, of which Those dissenting voices also affirm that he will use the city to control the population. This would be done by distributing the land by activity sectors and the intelligent management of security, traffic and resources, which makes it easier for the police to have real-time information on almost anyone who lives or is passing through the place.

In any case, the first phase of the works, of the three planned, is already well advanced. This will allow, throughout 2020, the State administration to move to this «New Administrative Capital». The question is what will happen to the other two remaining stages , given that similar urban development experiences carried out in Egypt in recent decades were not entirely successful. This is the case of the  eight satellite cities  built around Cairo to  decongest the urban center  and which have failed to attract new residents, or relevant business or industrial activity, which has turned them into  ghost cities . A risk that also flies over this «New Cairo».

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