In 2015, just a year after winning the election, Egypt’s president Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi announced his plan to build a new capital. The new city will be located in the desert, 45 km east of Cairo and is planned to accommodate 5 million inhabitants. The capital’s slick website boasts 10,000 km of boulevards and promenades, but both Emirati and Chinese stakeholders pulled out of the deal this year over high costs. The new glitzy metropolis so far remains to be Sisi’s personal megalomaniac fantasy, unrealistic in Egypt’s staggering economy. Ever since the coup and the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi, Sisi’s military regime has crushed political dissent crowding the city’s jails with its opponents, activists and journalists. Yet Sisi positions himself as a leader who saved Egypt from chaos and political uncertainty, promoting costly mega-projects as his vision to create jobs and boost the economy. Many urban planners question the regime’s logic of spending close to USD 50 billion on a ‘dream city’ and uprooting people into the desert, while Cairo is imploding in a quagmire of social and urban infrastructure problems that will remain neglected.
Egypt’s population growth has spiked in the last decade, while the past few years of political instability have contributed to significant economic downfall. One of the largest metropolises in the world, the 20 million people city struggles to manage its population pressures. Food riots frequently erupt and public transportation services are inadequate, while the demand for new housing grows exponentially. Informal neighborhoods are widespread in the absence of proper law enforcement. Chaotic unregulated construction not only took over green spaces and farm land, but also threatened the city’s cultural heritage affecting historic neighborhoods. Ubiquitous red brick homes, hastily built without any regard for urban planning are often left unfinished to avoid taxation. Metal wires poke from the rooftops of shoddy structures that often stand so close to one another that no space is allowed for vehicles to drive into the alleys of the “ashwayat” - densely populated informal neighborhoods, where more than half of Cairo’s population lives.