The Egyptian government set big plans in motion when they started to construct a new administrative capital city to ease the burden for Cairo’s residents. The new city, known only as “NAC” for the moment, aims to house 6.5 million people over a huge area of land between the Nile river and the Suez Canal.
While new highways have already been laid since the plan was unveiled in 2015, the new megalopolis is already selling off-plan apartments to Egyptian’s who can afford them, and they’re being snapped up fast.
The situation in Egypt’s capital city, Cairo, has become more and more untenable over the years. The city has swelled till it was bursting at the seams and it was only a matter of time before something drastic needed to be done. The new capital city will house a new parliament, a central bank, an airport, but, most impressively, a presidential palace eight times the size of The White House – if all goes according to plan.
While the new capital city has been designed by American architects Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, it is being financed mainly by wealthy Chinese and Emirati business people who think it’s a great investment. The new city, which is hoped to be completed by next June, will also be home to a huge business district, Africa’s tallest tower, and a huge theme park. According to the plans, that theme park will be bigger than Disneyland, and the city will be one of the most modern and most expansive in the world.
Having been kept in the dark ages for decades by Egypt’s fourth president, Hosni Mubarak, the new city is an attempt to rebrand Egypt and bring it into the 21st century. As Khaled al-Husseini, the mega-project’s spokesman explained, “We have the right to have a dream.” This new mentality in Egypt follows the Arab Spring of 2011 where Mubarak was deposed as leader.
The new initiative is the creation of Egypt’s new president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. He is considered to be a revolutionary leader in the Middle East, with a western education and a deep understanding of the benefits of Capitalism. That’s why, according to Daniel Brook, the author of A History of Future Cities: “It shows that Sisi is a strongman: proposing a place where business gets done, perhaps in distinction to the Egypt of the past.” And that’s the reason why some are calling it ‘Sisi-City.’
The question on many people’s lips is what the new capital city of Egypt will look like when it’s built. An expert on Egypt, David Butter of Chatham House, thinks the new city will look like others in the UAE. “It’s akin to Dubai, and the Al Massa Hotel has already opened in that spirit,” Butter said. “Apart from that, it’s difficult to see any standout architectural theme.” But the city is set to follow a traditional feel but with all the modern benefits of the current age.
While Egyptian architect Mai al-Ibrashy has called the NAC an opportunity to “create something that really turns its back to our identity,” others feel it will follow a more international style, favoring curvilinear patterns instead of severe grids. For that matter, David Sims who wrote a book recently called Egypt’s Desert Dreams: Development or Disaster?, claims that the government district there will be a mix of “Pharaonic and Islamic architectural styles.”
Mainly due to the UN forecast that the world population will swell to 10 billion people by 2060, Egypt is following suit to a certain degree, following the lead of other megacities under construction around the world. One good example of that is the new Colombo Port City in Sri Lanka, while another is Kaust in Saudi Arabia. But a project being built in Malaysia is also turning a few heads at the moment.
The all-new Forest City in Malaysia is a project the Egyptians have been watching closely for years. It aims to house 700,000 residents in highrises, offering them a range of facilities including malls and hotels, as well as four artificial islands which have a view of Singapore. But the most famous fully-planned city is probably Chandigarh in India.
One of the main gripes people have about Chandigarh is the fact that it is sterile. Having been commissioned by India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, the city sports wide roads and large roundabouts which favor the motor car over bicycles and motorcycles. Many Indians feel the city has no character and is nothing more than a massive modern metropolis. The Egyptians want to avoid that outcome on the NAC project.
While the Indian city has all the modern luxuries that a large city is expected to have, a study carried out years ago attempted to assess whether its architecture accommodated or hindered Indian life. Many felt the city was a western adaptation which failed to understand or reflect the local vibe. Egypt is also looking at other ill-fated projects of this kind to try and avoid the same mistakes from happening.
The Plans for NAC are massive and highly ambitious. While 21 residential districts are slated to be constructed, there will also be 25 dedicated districts, including skyscrapers and even a huge monument said to resemble the Eiffel Tower. The city’s park will be double the size of New York’s Central Park and will include artificial lakes as well as a whole host of other amazing features.
As well as 2,000 new educational institutions, NAC will feature a technology and innovation park, 663 hospitals and clinics, 1,250 mosques, and 40,000 hotel rooms. But the planned 90 square meters of solar energy farms is what’s grabbing the attention of many environmentalists. With an estimated budget of $45 billion just for the relocation and construction of government ministries and foreign embassies, no one has any idea how much the overall cost of the project will be.
One of the things that has sparked controversy over the project is the fact that it won’t cost the Egyptian taxpayer or the Egyptian treasury a penny. The whole project is being funded and backed by a foreign firm called Capital City Partners, a private real estate investment firm led by Emirati businessman Mohamed Alabbar. That was confirmed by Egypt’s investment minister Ashraf Salman who said the new city is being “developed, master-planned and executed by a private sector company.”
Recent reports in Egypt Today have confirmed that the NAC, which stands for New Administrative Capital, will house at least 35,000 state employees who will be relocated there with their families when the project is complete. The announcement also included the fact that six new schools and six universities will also be constructed. For his part, Sisi reckons that the new city will go down in history as a major achievement.
Sisi seems determined to bring his country from the middle ages into the modern age, and the NAC is a testimony to that. “It is too early to say we achieved something … this is only the first step,” Sisi said. But many people in Egypt are huge fans of the project, claiming it will transform Egypt for the better and make it the “Singapore of the Middle East.”
According to Egypt’s Minister of Housing and Urban Communities, Mostafa Madbouly, the project’s first phase, which cost a staggering $8 billion, will span over 12,500 acres and features 25,000 residential units and infrastructure projects. There’s also 96 kilometers of roads which will ultimately be built by 17 different contracting firms who put in bids for the project.
Another part of the project which President Sisi is personally proud of is the all-new Al-Masah Capital Hotel which opened its doors at the beginning of January. The hotel, which is one of the largest in the world, spans 10 acres of land and features a conference area, a mosque, a mall, and several lakes. The hotel also includes 20 massive towers including the tallest tower in Africa.
CEO of the New Administrative Capital for Urban Development Company, Ayman Ismail, said at the Euromoney Conference in September that the new city will benefit Egyptians greatly. “Cairo is facing a challenge with government institutions and offices being centered in downtown, and the plan here is to relocate these offices to the ‘government district,’ while also serving an economic purpose of acquiring revenues worth $10 billion by 2030, and being in proximity to Cairo and the SCZone,” he explained.
Khaled El-Husseiny, the spokesperson for Administrative Capital for Urban Development, explained, according to a report in The Guardian, that life in Cairo has become unlivable for many residents. “Cairo isn’t suitable for the Egyptian people,” he said. “There are traffic jams on every street, the infrastructure can’t support the population, and it’s very crowded. Without any specific masterplan, it has started to become ugly. There’s no humanity.”
Sadly, not everyone is as optimistic about the future of Egypt’s new capital city as the people making money from it are. David Sims, for example, isn’t optimistic at all. To his mind, the “new capital is most likely to develop slowly into a sterile, half-filled government zone surrounded by mostly vacant stretches of stalled private developer projects, with the odd isolated success.” Whether or not that turns out to be the case, the people of Cairo have a lot to be excited about when the new NAC is completed in the coming years.