Opinion – Claudio Bernardes: A new administrative capital for Egypt


Cairo, the capital of Egypt, is one of the largest cities in the world and the largest in Africa. It is known for being a densely populated city, with approximately 19,000 inhabitants per square kilometer, more than double the population density in the city of São Paulo.

With a population in the capital estimated at 10.3 million, the number of inhabitants in the metropolitan area of ​​Cairo reaches 22 million. As well as being the center of Egyptian culture and politics, situated on the banks of the River Nile and founded over 6,000 years ago, it is located close to some of the most famous remnants of ancient Egypt, such as the Pyramids of Giza.

However, it only takes a walk around the city to verify that its functioning and operation are severely impaired. Vehicle traffic is greatly hampered by the lack of traffic lights and pedestrian crossing lanes. In addition, government agencies, ministries and embassies buildings around Tahrir Square in central Cairo clog the city’s arteries as many streets are blocked to ensure the safety of these buildings and their occupants. At certain times it is practically impossible to move around the city. In addition, the population of the already overcrowded capital is expected to double by 2050.

Many buildings are unfinished, often without cladding, windows or roofs, which gives the city an appearance of degradation. The reason these buildings remain unfinished is because of the legislation, which requires the payment of property tax only after construction is completed. In this way, to avoid paying taxes, many works are not finished.

These are some of the main reasons the government of Egypt has embarked on a $45 billion (R$251.3 billion) project aimed at meeting the city’s most pressing needs and building a new administrative capital.

This new capital, in the final stages of implementation, is being built approximately 45 km east of Cairo, in a strip of desert the size of Singapore, and is expected to house embassies, government agencies, parliament, 30 ministries, a presidential complex, and approximately 6.5 million people when completed.

It will not only remove Cairo’s administrative buildings, but also create much-needed housing. In addition, the government pledged to allocate 15 square meters of green area per inhabitant in the new city. The new capital will have a central “green river”, a combination of open water and vegetation planted in a park twice the size of New York’s Central Park. Therefore, the project is also being seen as an effort to fight pollution and make Egypt “greener”.

The new city will also have an airport, an opera house, a sports complex and a business center with 20 skyscrapers, including the tallest in Africa, at 345 meters high.

However, with regard to housing, according to Mustafa Mensahawy, a researcher at the University of Lancaster, UK, it is not clear who will be able to live in the new capital when it is completed. Housing units are being sold at very high prices by Egyptian standards. A two-bedroom apartment in the new capital costs around US$ 50 thousand (R$ 279 thousand), an amount that is beyond the reach of many in a country where the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per capita is around US $3,000 (BRL 16,757). Thus, it appears that the new administrative capital will be aimed at the richest, and will do little to meet the housing needs of Cairo’s poor and disadvantaged residents.

This is why the New Administrative Capital is already seen by many as a colossal waste of resources. Critics say the money spent on building the new capital should have been used to improve living conditions in the most deprived areas of what will soon be known as “old Cairo”.

Anyway, even with pros and cons, it is a gigantic and impressive project, whose result is worth being carefully observed.


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