Perhaps one of the most grand projects announced in recent Egyptian history is the 700-square-kilometer new Administrative Capital, one of the large-scale promises made at the historical 2015 Egypt Economic Conference and currently implemented with involvement from some of the largest contractors: Arab Contractors, Mukhtar Ibrahim, Hassan Allam Construction, and Orascom Construction. Potentially slated to become the new seat of government, Invest-Gate tours the new capital to witness the project’s latest updates.

Dean of Engineering at Ain Shams University Mohamed Ayman Ashour, who also heads Architecture and Design firm Archplan Architects & Planners is one of the core members of a consortium formed in 2015, dubbed 5+ UDC, appointed strategic planners of the new administrative capital. The consortium won the strategic planning bid for the 170,000-feddan project after Emirati investor and major real estate developer Mohamed AlAbbar pulled out on reportedly “not agreeing” with the Egyptian government. “The new Administrative Capital is currently being implemented as per urban development and sustainability guidelines and Egypt Vision 2050…green spaces are lacking in Greater Cairo, so we are creating various parks, lakes, and recreational areas, including an Opera House,” says Ashour.

Other members of the consortium include Cube Consultants, Land Consultants, A-Koplan Engineering Consultations, and Yasser Mansour Concept Architects. The consortium has previously designed, planned, and managed various projects in Egypt and MENA. Marketed as the new hub for business, finance, and government, the city will encompass an airport developed as an upgrade of an Armed Forces airport in the area primarily to receive special delegations. Previous news reports by a number of reputed agencies had incorrectly stated that a new airport larger than the size of the London Heathrow Airport is in the plan, which Ashour dismisses as entirely false.

Minister of Housing Mostafa Madbouly touring the capital

According to the New Urban Communities Authority (NUCA) Vice Chairman for Planning and Projects Ragaa Fouad Abdel Magid, the Ministry of Housing, Utilities, and Urban Development is placing a “high priority” on developing transportation networks between the city and the new capital, with a senior advisor named Sami Abu Zeid allegedly working on grandeur plans to create an effective network in collaboration with the Ministry of Transportation. “The capital’s presence near the Suez Canal Authority is another major strategic advantage to the new capital’s construction,” Abdel Magid highlights.

“A railway is to be built connecting the Suez Canal area with east Cairo, Ain Sokhna, and along the west to 6th of October City,” Ashour notes, describing how the vision changes the landscape, accessibility, and transport conditions in the Giza, Cairo, and Suez governorates. “We are learning from past mistakes regarding public transportation systems…it is a huge challenge,” he says, adding that the capital’s location makes an effective transportation network critical. Other suggestions concerning transportation include building a monorail running along the length of Greater Cairo to match that of Dubai.

“We are working on expansions to the Ring Road as well as road networks connecting the capital to Ain Sokhna and the Apache Armed Forces Airport,” says Hossam Hassan, a project manager at Farouk Abdel Wahab Mahmoud & Co., noting how the company is supporting the project.

At the moment, the majority of residential units under development in the new Administrative Capital target the higher-income segment, according to NUCA’s Deputy Head of Developing New Cities Alaa Abdel Aziz. “The 10,500- feddan first phase, which is larger than Al Shorouk City northeast of Cairo, currently includes 17,000 residential units and is expanding to include 25,000 units in total, which should be completed and ready to be occupied by Q2 of 2018,” Abdel Aziz confirms. “The Administrative Capital for Urban Development Company, the new capital’s master developer, is scheduled to begin selling residential units this April. Construction work on the governmental and administrative buildings will be finalized very soon”, Abdel Aziz adds.

Major developers taking charge of developing residential units in the first phase include Arab Contractors, Talaat Moustafa, Petrojet, Concord, and Wadi El Nil Development Holding. Upon completion, “the Administrative Capital would have the capacity to host 6.5 mn inhabitants,” Ashour notes. According to Abdel Magid, a tower larger than the Eiffel Tower will be built as a mixed-use development encompassing residential, governmental, and office units, and an auction has yet to be made for securing the developer.

“The Administrative Capital Company began launching land tenders on the project’s first phase at their New Cairo office back in February 2017,” NUCA’s Director of Public Relations Mona Kamel tells Invest-Gate. Each land plot ranges between 50 and 500 feddans and the construction work on each will range between three to five years.

Professor of Architecture and Urban Theory at the American University in Cairo (AUC) Basil Kamel is baffled by why billions of dollars are being invested in the Administrative Capital when, “historically, new cities have often turned into ghost towns”.

“If you look at cities like Sadat City, 10th of Ramadan, 15th of May…major investment has been made in all of these places, yet they are left to decay although they are young cities; not to mention, the mechanism of economic structures is poor, and essential services are not always provided,” he comments. “There are major problems in these cities, and in my opinion they are easy to fix.”

Kamel argues that the government has made insufficient efforts to evaluate whether or not these new cities have been effective. “In my opinion, that is a very big mistake because many of the same pitfalls are being repeated; not to mention, the new Administrative Capital does not have a planner. They are all architects and designers, but no one with the expertise of urban planning… Issues such as services are neglected,” he argues.

He is also skeptical given the high costs needed to implement a transportation network between the city and the new capital. In his view, the Administrative Capital plan remains not well-studied.  An anecdote he mentions is New Cairo’s Road 90, which is overcrowded and lacks bus stations, although the need for it is staggering.

Veteran Finance Writer Patrick Werr and AUC History Professor Khaled Fahmy are among the other voices who have also criticized the idea of building a substitute to the over a-thousand-year-old capital. One of their concerns is the project’s water source, given the vast spaces of artificial lakes and streams in the plan. In an interview with Invest-Gate, Ashour confirms that water recycling will be a main source.

The China Fortune Land Development Company and China State Construction Engineering Company were previously reported to be jointly investing over USD 23 bn in the new capital, but both have now pulled out and the capital is now instead almost completely relying on Egyptian contractors and investors.

New Administrative Capital photo is courtesy of 5+UCD.