Inside Egypt’s Bold Plans For Its New Capital

Juan Umbarila
Did you know Egypt is building a New Administrative Capital just 30 miles east from Cairo? With massive promises and no less challenges, it has been in the works for eight years now.
NAC Business district 2020
NAC Business district under construction in 2020. Photo: Youssef Abdelwahab | Unsplash

Yes, Egypt is getting a new capital city that will house the seats of several government institutions, along with the financial district and other central organizations. But that does not mean Cairo will be completely replaced. The decision was a response to the current capital city’s inability to cope with its more than 20 million inhabitants, pollution, traffic, and stress on natural and historical resources.

The New Administrative Capital (NAC), a more permanent name still pending, is the megaproject city being built by the Egyptian Government in the middle of the desert, between Cairo and the Suez canal. Planning began in 2015, and by 2023 a lot of progress is visible, with more work still ahead in the future.

Planned as a smart and sustainable city, NAC will be the house of a new government administrative district, a financial district, a cultural district, and a variety of residential neighborhoods to house 6,5 million people. It will also have the tallest building in Africa, its own airport, and a capital park two and a half times bigger than New York’s central park.

Reasons For The Move

Cairo has more than 20 million inhabitants today. Photo: Omar Elsharawy | Unsplash

Cairo has been the seat of government for more than a thousand years. Currently, it has more than 20 million people, which amounts to 20% of Egypt’s total population. But further growth is no longer sustainable for the city. Instead, growth (economic and human) will be strategically accommodated in the New Administrative Capital between Suez and Cairo.  

According to the Egyptian Information and Decision Support Center, the purpose of the move is twofold: on one hand, to “provide a prosperous economic environment supported by diversified economic activities” and to “achieve sustainable development;” and on the other, to ensure the “preservation of historical and natural assets owned by Cairo.”

The goal is to ultimately accommodate around 7 million people and create 2 million additional jobs. Administratively, the plan is to transfer many ministries, embassies, and government agencies, along with the entire financial district.

A Bold Move, But Not A New One

Brasilia was established as Brazil’s new capital in the 1960s. Photo: Ramon Buçard | Unsplash

Creating an artificial new capital is a massive undertaking for any country, with huge economic, social, and logistic challenges. But this is not an unseen move by any means. Many countries have done the same in the past few decades for similar reasons to Egypt, and to further emphasize each country’s unity, centrality, and desire for modernity.

Brazil did it in the 1960s when it moved its capital from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia to transfer some economy and population away from the coast and into the middle of the country. And so did countries such as Nigeria, when it transferred its capital to Abuja in 1991; Pakistan, which made Islamabad it’s capital in 1960; and Malaysia, changing its capital from Kuala Lumpur to Putrajaya in 1999.

More recently, Indonesia announced that it’s moving its capital city to an island in Borneo.

Huge Project, Huge Challenges

Maquette of the Iconic Tower in the NAC. Photo: Ziad Rashad | Flickr

Currently, a lot of work is yet to take place to see the promised city become a reality, as reported by National Geographic. While the NAC’s cultural district is now mostly complete, and the Iconic tower, a building of 1,293 feet, rises above the landscape, most of the city is empty and not much more than a construction site, with most of its inhabitants being construction workers. There is a long way to go, even after 8 years in the making.  

But, as published by the New York Times, the biggest problem is the budget. In the past years, the International Monetary Fund has given Egypt three loans amounting to $20 billion. However, the fragile finances of the country foreshadow more lending needs, even after heavy investment from China, the UAE, and others. In the meantime, Egypt’s debt has quadrupled in the last decade.

Only time will tell whether NAC will become the sustainable and modern metropolis promised by the Egyptian government in 2015. Was this the right move, even with the massive risks involved? Should governments focus instead on trying to fix the cities that already exist instead of creating new ones?


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