Showing the greatness of Heliopolis. According to Egyptian President Sisi, this is what the new capital should shine through. Work began in 2015. Since then a huge city has been built in the desert.
The huge city will rise about fifty kilometers east of the current capital, Cairo. The new capital, which has not yet been named, is expected to house about six million residents in the future. Costs: equivalent to about 53 billion euros.
Now 100,000 homes have been completed and the first families have moved in. Most government institutions also moved. Parliament, embassies and ministries can already be found in the new city. A new business center with huge skyscrapers is currently being built.
The largest mosque in Africa
Because it's huge, that's what most buildings are. Two years ago, the largest mosque in Africa was opened, with a capacity of 100,000 worshipers. You can also see the largest cathedral in the Middle East and the tallest tower in Africa: the iconic tower in the commercial heart of the city.
These pictures give you an idea of what the city looks like:
The Presidential Palace is also huge, as is the Ministry of Defence. It will be four times the size of the Pentagon. Middle East correspondent Olaf Kuenz visited the city in 2019. “I saw immediately that this was not a pipe dream,” he said. “I thought: Who on earth would want to live here?”
Thousands of cameras
According to Queens, “the spirit is missing” in the city, referring to the lack of life and activity. The city is currently inhabited mainly by officials loyal to the regime. They can live there cheaply because of their work. Houses are too expensive for the average Egyptian. “It's the dream of a police state,” Cowens says. “Design a city from scratch and have complete control over it.” Thousands of cameras must contribute to this.
Mozarabist Anita Keyzers has lived in Egypt for years and knows the country well. Last year she drove through New Town. “Many new roads are being built. People also make fun of it. Every day Egyptians see that a new bridge or road has been built. But at the same time people wonder why the old roads are not being repaired.”
People are forced to leave their homes for construction. Cemeteries are also cleansed while in Islam people get eternal rest. “There is an outcry against that,” says Keizers.
The city is growing rapidly
According to Egyptian authorities, all these new roads and buildings are necessary because the current capital, Cairo, is silted up. The city of 21 million is bursting at the seams. And it will get worse because Cairo is one of the fastest growing cities in the world.
In addition, the project gives a boost to the economy at a time when ordinary Egyptians are suffering from rising prices. Construction companies are doing a good job. “Some construction companies are owned by generals,” says Cowens. “They are basically benefiting from this. President Sisi wants to create something new and get honor and glory. Egypt is no stranger to mega projects. On state television, you see many pictures of roads or cities being built. It is basically propaganda.”
In an opinion for Al Jazeera, researcher Mustafa Al-Minshawy agrees that the army and the president will benefit from the new city. For example, the company responsible for construction is majority owned by the military. The houses built in the future could be sold for a lot of money to wealthy Egyptians.
Moreover, with the new capital, the president is not bothered by the uprisings in Tahrir Square. Here began the fall of ousted President Mubarak in 2011. Critics also point to massive loans and rising debt.
The question is whether this will help make Cairo “livable” again if ordinary Egyptians cannot move. “The government is building a new capital to say we are a modern country,” Sameh Al-Alayli, a professor of urban planning at Cairo University, told the Wall Street Journal. “But it is actually a project to show off skyscrapers, instead of addressing the country’s real problems.”
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