Egypt’s strange $45 billion plan to abandon Cairo as its capital city

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A scale model of a planned new capital for Cairo is displayed at an investment conference in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, on Sunday. (EPA/Khaled Elfiqi)

Over the weekend, Egypt unveiled plans to build a wholly new capital. The new city would lie somewhere to Cairo's east, closer to the Red Sea. It would sprawl across some 150 square miles and potentially be home to as many as 7 million people. Projected to cost $45 billion, it was announced at a summit in the seaside resort of Sharm El-Sheikh aimed at boosting the country's flagging economy.

A flashy Web site outlining the proposal hails it as "the catalyst for an Egyptian renaissance" and "a momentous endeavour to build national spirit, foster consensus and provide for the country’s sustainable long-term growth." Cairo, Egypt's teeming capital of 18 million people, is routinely criticized for its creaking infrastructure and horrendous traffic. The project would help ease congestion and overpopulation.

The proposed new city -- which has no name yet -- would be built in partnership with a prominent private developer from the United Arab Emirates and supposedly would take only five to seven years to complete, according to Egyptian Housing Minister Mostafa Madbouly. The economic summit where the project was announced attracted some $12 billion in investment pledges from an array of wealthy Gulf states.

[Related: Egypt basks in world support at investor conference]

It's all in keeping with the mantra of Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, the former army man who came to power in a 2013 coup, ruthlessly quashed the country's Islamists, and has since entrenched his rule through the ballot box. Sissi has insisted the priority for Egypt is economic uplift, and he invokes the imperative of guaranteeing stability when dismissing criticism of the country's shocking human rights record during his rule.

"We have been making sure Egypt is attractive to investment through ensuring stability. This is of the utmost importance," he said last week in an interview with The Washington Post. "Just give us a chance to develop."

Unsurprisingly, some Egyptians aren't that impressed. "We, Cairenes and Egyptians, were not informed, let alone consulted about this move," writes historian Khaled Fahmy, in a Facebook post. He said the vast amounts of money lavished on this new project ought, instead, be used to "improve the living standards of millions of Cairenes and of Egyptians who, at best, are dealt with as second-class citizens in their own country."

The impulse for a leader to create a new capital is as old as history itself. Nothing is more symbolic of the centralizing authority of a new regime than a shining edifice, built in its supposed image. That's why an array of countries in the mid-20th century -- from Brazil to Nigeria to Pakistan -- constructed new capitals from scratch, eager to replace legacies of division or colonial rule with soaring modernist visions of unity and the future.

In 1999, Malaysia shifted its capital from Kuala Lumpur to the planned city of Putrajaya, some 25 kilometers to the south, in a bid to ease overcrowding and congestion.

More curiously, in 2005, the Burmese junta quit the capital at Rangoon, a former British colonial center, for Naypyidaw, a new city built literally out of the jungle. To this day, the capital is widely described as an artificial "ghost town." WorldViews documented Naypyidaw's eerie emptiness last year.

The world, of course, is littered with the ruins of forgotten capitals, abandoned after the facts on the ground outweighed the dreams of their architects. Cairo itself is an amalgamation of old and older cities, built by various rulers eager to leave their mark.

And there's no guarantee this latest project will be anything close to a success, as the Guardian reports: "The scale is huge, and there are questions like: how are you going to do the infrastructure? How are you going to get the water? How will they move all these ministries?" asks Cairo urban-planning expert David Sims. "In other words, I think it’s just desperation. It will be interesting to see if anything comes of it, but I rather doubt it."

Egypt&[HASHTAG]#8217[/HASHTAG];s strange $45 billion plan to abandon Cairo as its capital city - The Washington Post
 

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Some people might see it strange others see it as an economic uplift. Egypt needs like three or four of mega cities for its economy to flourish.
 

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Some people might see it strange others see it as an economic uplift. Egypt needs like three or four of mega coties for its economy to flourish.
Sissi is the right one. Egypt was in need for the right and honest leader and they found him. I have had some discussions with some Egyptians about Al-Sissi, and most of whom I talked to in real life loath him, however their knowledge about their own country and the events that preceded the last elections is so shallow and their analysis is so cheap and simple.
 

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Sissi is the right one. Egypt was in need for the right and honest leader and they found him. I have had some discussions with some Egyptians about Al-Sissi, and most of whom I talked to in real life loath him, however their knowledge about their own country and the events that preceded the last elections is so shallow and their analysis is so cheap and simple.
Most Egyptians lack knowledge on how politics functions. Before the revolution they were all busy making a living and out of the sudden found themselves in what I call it a political chaos. In one sentence: they are short sighted and politically immature.
 

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Good luck to Egypt with this huge project. I hope it bear fruit once its done.
 

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The government is also planning the expansion of the Suez Canal and the creation of an industrial zone around it.
The plan is the latest massive project planned by the government, headed by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who was elected in June last year.

If this project will be successful, surely this will boost the economic development of Egypt.
 
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...

Everything will be okay with investments and help to GCC. Their economic growth will be also our growth (Over 120 million people in 2050). \_/) (*_-)


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Quote :

L’économie islamique à la conquête du monde

Par Anne Bernas
mardi 8 octobre 2013 à 22:53


Du 29 au 31 octobre prochains, Londres accueille le 9e Forum économique islamique mondial. C’est la première fois qu’un pays non musulman est l’hôte d’un tel événement. La place de l’économie islamique dans le monde, mais avant tout de la finance islamique, est de plus en plus importante et se répand bien au-delà des pays musulmans, même s’ils demeurent toujours en pointe en la matière, à l’instar de Dubaï qui tend à devenir le pivot de cette économie en plein essor.

Jusqu’ici peu connue des non musulmans, la finance islamique a le vent en poupe. Elle représente aujourd’hui près de 500 milliards d’euros d’investissements à travers le monde. Elle regroupe l’ensemble des transactions et produits financiers conformes aux principes de la loi islamique, la charia : respect du principe de partage des pertes et des profits, interdiction de l’intérêt, de l’incertitude, de la spéculation, mais également interdiction d’investissement dans des secteurs considérés comme haram, c’est-à-dire illicites (alcool, tabac, paris, etc.).

Des instituts financiers islamiques existent dans plus de 75 pays. Aujourd’hui, afin d’attirer les investisseurs de pays du Proche-Orient, du Golfe mais aussi du Maghreb, de nombreux Etats non musulmans ont mis en place des aménagements pour favoriser les montages de finance islamique. Car de nombreux musulmans pratiquants rechignent encore à épargner ou à investir en raison des contradictions entre le système financier occidental classique, fondé sur l'intérêt, et la charia.

Un élargissement vers l’économie mondialisée

Les banques islamiques fleurissent aux quatre coins du globe. Londres reste tout de même leader en la matière, même si Bruxelles a récemment annoncé vouloir devenir la capitale européenne de la finance islamique. Le Royaume-Uni, tout comme la France qui, depuis 2008, lorgne sur cette manne financière, ne se cantonne pas à la finance islamique stricto sensu mais s’ouvre de plus en plus à l’économie islamique dans sa globalité.

Parce que d’islamique, il n’y pas seulement la finance. L’ensemble des produits halal (des tubes de dentifrices aux boissons gazeuses en passant par l’alimentaire), le secteur du tourisme, l’éducation, la culture, les assurances, conformes à la loi islamique constituent ainsi cette économie aujourd’hui mondialisée.

Actuellement, l’économie de biens et de services conformes à la charia est estimée à 8 000 milliards de dollars (8 000 billion dollars - 8 trillion dollars -), soit 5 900 milliards d’euros, pour une population mondiale de 1,6 milliard de musulmans. Le taux de croissance annuel de l’économie islamique mondiale est de 10% à 15%, quand le taux de croissance de l’économie mondiale est de 3,3% en 2013 selon les prévisions du FMI (IMF - International Monetary Fund). Dès lors, l’engouement des grandes puissances occidentales à se tourner vers cette économie, dont le Royaume-Uni a été le précurseur en 2006, est compréhensible. Mais la bataille est rude, d’autant que les dernières annonces venant des Emirats arabes unis affichent une ambition démesurée.

Les ambitions de Dubaï

Aujourd’hui, c’est Dubaï qui veut se positionner comme le centre majeur de l’économie islamique d’ici 2016. En annonçant la création d’un Comité suprême, le petit émirat entend bien tirer profit de l’essor de l’économie islamique après avoir été, en 2009, gravement touché par la crise financière mondiale. Le plan est basé sur la création des organes de réglementation et des lois nécessaires au développement du secteur. Toute une stratégie.

Ainsi, Dubaï ambitionne de devenir la référence mondiale pour la finance islamique, un centre pour l'alimentation halal, une destination idéale pour le tourisme familial, la première plate-forme du e-commerce et de l'économie numérique islamiques, la capitale mondiale de l'innovation et des arts, une référence pour la connaissance, l'éducation et la recherche dans tous les piliers de l'économie islamique. Et le centre le plus fiable pour établir les normes de l'économie islamique.

Le gouvernement croit dur comme fer à ce plan ambitieux. Dans un communiqué, il a ainsi déclaré que « l’importance de l’économie islamique n’est pas limitée à la croissance significative des dernières années. Sans aucun doute, son importance repose sur le fait qu’il s’agit d’un des secteurs qui doit connaître la croissance économique la plus rapide pour plusieurs années ». De quoi laisser l’émirat espérer de beaux jours devant lui.

Ainsi, les pays du « business oumma » seront loin d’être seuls à Londres à la fin du mois. Des Etats comme la Chine, le Canada... sont attendus au Forum économique islamique. Au menu entre autres, la technologie numérique, mais aussi le potentiel des femmes en tant que moteur de la croissance. Les enjeux économiques sont loin d’être faibles même si le rapport à l’islam et les amalgames qui les accompagnent sont parfois de réels freins. Les « défenseurs » du projet vantent pourtant les mérites de cette économie alternative, régulée, et pour certains « profondément éthique ».

RFI

...


Quote 2 :

L'industrialisation des Etats pétroliers

8 février 2008
par Jeaul-Baquiast


Le cœur de développement économique et technologique du monde va-t-il migrer vers l’Arabie saoudite et les Emirats ? La question doit être posée. On sait en effet que l’Arabie saoudite a depuis longtemps compris qu’elle devait utiliser les revenus de ses exportations de pétrole pour se donner des bases industrielles et technologiques capables de prendre le relais du développement quand le pétrole s’épuisera. Les Emirats du golfe Persique font de même.

Pour le moment, ces projets n’éveillent pas d’inquiétude particulière chez les puissances géopolitiques visant à la maîtrise du monde de demain. Les Etats-Unis comptent sur la solidité de leur tissu industriel et scientifique pour ne pas se trouver déclassés par les futurs centres de compétences que les Etats arabes édifient à grande vitesse. Au contraire, ils espèrent bénéficier les premiers, grâce à la délocalisation de leurs laboratoires et entreprises, du boom de la région. La Chine et secondairement l’Inde, elles aussi très actives sur place, en tirent de nombreux avantages, notamment en termes d’acquisition de marchés où exporter leurs biens de consommation et leur main-d’œuvre. Elles ne s’inquiètent pas, vu la puissance des économies-monde qu’elles représentent à elles deux, de la concurrence d’Etats arabes qui restent petits par rapport à elles. Quant à l’Europe, qui n’a toujours pas de perspectives stratégiques à long terme en quelques domaines que ce soit, elle se borne à regarder avec curiosité la croissance des futurs mégapoles de la mer Rouge et du Golfe persique, en espérant en profiter très marginalement. C’est ainsi que la France s’est mobilisée pour des projets qu’il faut bien qualifier de dérisoires au regard des enjeux en cause, comme l’ouverture du Louvre d’Abou Dhabi ou l’implantation d’un quartier imité du vieux Lyon à Dubaï.

On peut penser cependant que cette insouciance partagée trahit une véritable inconséquence, celle par laquelle les vieux empires précipitent leur fin par aveuglement. Il faut bien voir que l’addiction au pétrole des pays occidentaux, comme d'ailleurs celle de leurs concurrents asiatiques, aboutit à donner aux Etats producteurs, quasiment gratuitement en termes de contrepartie de leur part, les briques avec lesquelles ils construisent actuellement leur future domination du monde. Jusqu’à présent, les Etats industriels n’avaient construit leur puissance que dans la sueur et le sang, en comprimant férocement la consommation de leurs populations. Le même processus se poursuit à bien plus grande échelle en Chine et en Inde. Chaque euro investi se paye par des souffrances énormes au sein de la population. Les Pays arabes n’ont au contraire, si l’on peut dire, qu’à se baisser non pas seulement pour s’enrichir, mais pour se donner les usines monstrueuses et les laboratoires énormes grâce auxquels ils pourront jouer dans la cour non seulement des grands mais des super-grands. Il leur suffit de vendre leur pétrole et d’acheter la compétence mondiale avec les sommes ainsi accumulées.

Les pays capitalistes occidentaux commencent à s’inquiéter de voir les fonds d’Etat riches de milliards de pétro-dollars menacer de racheter toutes leurs entreprises cotées en bourse. Mais ils devraient s’inquiéter bien davantage de voir que dans un futur de quelques années, cet argent ne se limitera pas à des achats et des délocalisations. D’ores et déjà, l’appât du gain facile attire un nombre croissant d’entreprises et d’hommes venant d’Amérique et d’Europe. Des sites industriels et commerciaux, des équipements urbains se créent. Ils jouent un puissant rôle d’attraction pour d’autres à venir. Tout ceci une fois implanté ne disparaîtra pas avec la diminution des réserves de pétrole. Ces installations prendront tout naturellement le relais d’un certain nombre de sites américains et bien plus encore des sites européens vieillis, sous-équipés et progressivement abandonnés par la jeunesse productive. Ajoutons que les Etats arabes ne séparant pas l’expansion économique de celle de leur religion, ils se feront plus que jamais les propagandistes de leurs croyances dans le reste du monde, dollars à l’appui, ce qui leur ouvrira d’innombrables portes et marchés dans le monde musulman.

Manque de réaction des Européens

C’est pourquoi on peut s’étonner de voir le manque de réaction des Européens, pour ne mentionner qu’eux, à l’énoncé des projets de l’Arabie Saoudite, pour ne mentionner qu’elle. Citons quelques éléments. Un plan de 500 milliards de dollars d’investissement vient d’être arrêté pour les 20 prochaines années. Il créera de nombreuses nouvelles villes et usines, avec des millions d’emploi. Les usines ne seront pas seulement pétro-chimiques. Sur une base pétrochimique, tel le projet Petro Rabigh, joint venture entre le pétrolier public Saudi Aramco et l’entreprise japonaise Sumitomo Chemicals, ces complexes produiront toutes la gamme des produits industriels et de grande consommation vendus dans le monde.

Or les revenus du pétrole ne cessent d’augmenter. Selon l’Institut de Finance Internationale basé à Washington, ils ont atteint 1,5 trillions de dollars de 2002 à 2006. L’essentiel n’a pas servi à constituer les fonds d’Etat que l’on commence, fort justement, de redouter en Occident. Ila été réinvestis sur place, et pas seulement dans des équipements touristiques ou des tours géantes. Ils servent à financer des équipements de télécommunication, des routes, des ports et aéroports, ainsi que – le plus important pour l’avenir – des universités qui bien que se voulant islamiques ne négligeront aucune discipline technologique importante. Nous avions indiqué précédemment que l’achat par les Emirats de gros porteurs Airbus, dont l’Europe, à juste titre, s’est félicitée, permettra en fait de faire fonctionner, avec la bénédiction des Européens, un immense « hub » entre l’Asie et l’Amérique, destiné à se substituer progressivement à Londres, Francfort et Paris, au profit des activités de transport mais aussi des implantations commerciales et industrielles associées.

Le Royaume Saoudien, actuellement peuplé de 24 millions d’habitants dont 7 millions d’étrangers, attend compte tenu de son taux élevé de natalité 40 millions de citoyens vers 2025. Pour occuper tout ce monde, l’objectif est de faire pour cette date du Royaume une puissance industrielle majeure. A coup de milliards de dollars, le plan patronné par le Roi Abdullah vise à construire 6 nouvelles villes sur le territoire du pays, dont la King Abdullah Economic City à l’ouest, la Knowledge Economic City près de Médine et la Prince Abdulaziz bin Mousaed Economic City au nord. Ces villes devraient vers 2020 ajouter 150 milliards par an au produit national, créer 1 million d’emplois qualifiés et loger 5 millions de personnes.

Certes, ces projets susciteront beaucoup de difficultés, inflation rampante, manque de main-d’œuvre, risques pour un environnement déjà fragile. Ils pourront aussi provoquer des réactions religieuses fondamentalistes. Mais avec beaucoup de dollars, ces problèmes peuvent se résoudre. Que devrait dans ces conditions faire l’Amérique ? Plus particulièrement, que devrait faire l’Europe, dont les perspectives économiques dans la région sont bien moindres ? La réponse de bon sens serait de cesser de consommer autant de pétrole, autrement dit de diminuer les cadeaux faits à des Etats qui, comme aurait dit Lénine, tissent la corde pour nous pendre. Avec les sommes économisées, les Etats européens devraient investir dans les énergies de remplacement (sans oublier le nucléaire) et les industries où ils ont conservé quelques maîtrise. Mais diminuer la consommation de pétrole signifierait s’engager dans des processus de décroissance rationnelle portant sur certaines consommations et relancer des politiques industrielles et de recherche impossibles en dehors d’un protectionnisme sélectif lui-même décidé au niveau Européen.

Nous en sommes loin – pour le moment. Dans quelques années, nécessité faisant loi, les points de vue changeront sans doute. Mais ne sera-t-il pas trop tard ?




...
 
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Quote :

$ 3 billion Saudi-Egypt causeway project on track

Arab News
Published — Thursday 30 August 2012

JEDDAH:
Saudi Arabia and Egypt are going ahead with the proposed $ 3 billion causeway project that will boost economic and social relations between the two countries, said Egyptian Transport Minister Mohamed Rashad Al-Mateny.

A technical committee will meet in late September to discuss first steps to implement the project, Al-Hayat quoted the minister as saying.

The 32-km causeway will start from Ras Nassrani in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh and pass by Tiran Strait before reaching Ras Hamid near Tabuk in northern Saudi Arabia.

Egyptian President Muhammed Mursi, who is keen to implement this vital project, visited Saudi Arabia twice after taking oath as president on June 30.

Mursi pledged he would remove all obstacles facing Saudi investors in his country and offered reassurance to Saudi nationals that their investments of $ 27 billion in Egypt would be protected.

The Saudi-Egyptian Business Council will meet this month to discuss joint investment schemes including the $ 350 million Gardaga tourism project.

The Egyptians have welcomed the project.

Hussain Omran, chairman of the foreign trade department at the Egyptian Ministry of Commerce, said a causeway would expand trade by 300 percent with annual volumes rising to $ 13 billion in from $ 4.2 billion at present.

A senior assistant to the Egyptian tourism minister said the number of Saudi tourists to Egypt could also surge to more than 1.2 million from the current figure of 300,000.

The official said the causeway would also help in promoting intra-Arab tourism between Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

He said the region South of Sinai could see a significant economic recovery, especially during Haj and Umrah seasons.



...
 

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Quote :

$ 3 billion Saudi-Egypt causeway project on track

Arab News
Published — Thursday 30 August 2012

JEDDAH:
Saudi Arabia and Egypt are going ahead with the proposed $ 3 billion causeway project that will boost economic and social relations between the two countries, said Egyptian Transport Minister Mohamed Rashad Al-Mateny.

A technical committee will meet in late September to discuss first steps to implement the project, Al-Hayat quoted the minister as saying.

The 32-km causeway will start from Ras Nassrani in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh and pass by Tiran Strait before reaching Ras Hamid near Tabuk in northern Saudi Arabia.

Egyptian President Muhammed Mursi, who is keen to implement this vital project, visited Saudi Arabia twice after taking oath as president on June 30.

Mursi pledged he would remove all obstacles facing Saudi investors in his country and offered reassurance to Saudi nationals that their investments of $ 27 billion in Egypt would be protected.

The Saudi-Egyptian Business Council will meet this month to discuss joint investment schemes including the $ 350 million Gardaga tourism project.

The Egyptians have welcomed the project.

Hussain Omran, chairman of the foreign trade department at the Egyptian Ministry of Commerce, said a causeway would expand trade by 300 percent with annual volumes rising to $ 13 billion in from $ 4.2 billion at present.

A senior assistant to the Egyptian tourism minister said the number of Saudi tourists to Egypt could also surge to more than 1.2 million from the current figure of 300,000.

The official said the causeway would also help in promoting intra-Arab tourism between Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

He said the region South of Sinai could see a significant economic recovery, especially during Haj and Umrah seasons.



...

Amazing, when will this project kicks off?
 
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The causeway in particular seems like a great idea. It has the potential to strengthen trade links between Egypt and S.A. and will give the economy a booost.

With regards to the planned new capital, it's an interesting thought but I'm wondering what the after effects would be. It might be that families who have preciously lived in close proximity become displaced. How would it affect peoples journeys to work? It could be the case that a 20 minute commute turns into an hour long journey for some. Hopefully, practical problems like these will be considered and their possible impact to society analyzed.
 
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#14
Q&A with Dan Ringelstein of SOM, the urban designers behind The Capital Cairo project

Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 05:31
By: Amira Salah-Ahmed


As soon as the plan to develop a new city called The Capital Cairo was announced at the economic conference last weekend, social media was buzzing with strong reactions.

Some were quite celebratory, welcoming the mega-scale development plan, dazzled by the glimmering skyscrapers and green spaces in pictures of the city’s scale model displayed at the conference. Others voiced criticism regarding “moving the capital” and what this might do to the essence of downtown Cairo as we know it.

In a widely shared opinion piece, Khaled Fahmy writes, “I just wonder what will happen to Cairo, Egypt’s capital for more than a thousand years? What will happen to the metropolis that is home to close to 20 million inhabitants? Where do they fit in the government’s plans for the new capital?”

Announced as an administrative and business center of the future, the project is expected to cost a whopping US$45 billion to be designed and constructed from the ground up, essentially in the middle of the desert. To say that this is an ambitious endeavor would be a gross understatement. However, it is not the viability of the project that is causing contention, as much as it is the project’s grand vision: Is it meant to be a new capital that replaces the current capital? Is it a much needed expansion of Greater Cairo? Who will it be accessible to? Who is it meant for?

Mada Masr spoke with Dan Ringelstein, director of urban planning and design at US-based architectural, urban planning and engineering firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). Ringelstein was in Sharm el-Sheikh for the conference and answered some of the questions that have been raised since the project was announced.

The project will be spearheaded by Egypt’s Housing Ministry and Capital City Partners, a UAE-based “private real estate investment fund by global investors focused on investment and development partnerships in high-growth international markets.” The Emirati Mohamed Alabbar leads the fund as well as sitting on the board of property developer Emaar, which has a significant presence in Egypt.

Capital City Partners was behind King Abdullah Economic City in Saudi Arabia and Emaar was behind Dubai’s famous Burj Khalifa. Both of these were planned by SOM, which has worked on an array of projects in the region and outside of it, including on the new World Trade Center in New York City.

In a press statement, the US firm says that The Capital Cairo is “approximately 700 square kilometers in area, with 200 square kilometers of preserved natural areas and one of the largest city park systems in the world,” adding that it will “be linked to historic Cairo through extensive public transit links.”

According to the developers, the city of five million people will have its own airport, house 21 residential districts, a 5.6 square km business district, 1,250 religious buildings, 40,000 hotel rooms, a four square km theme park, energy farms spanning 91 square km and 490 square km of land available for development.

Below are edited excerpts from Mada Masr’s Q&A with Ringelstein.

Have you ever spent time in Cairo before? As an urban planner, I’m sure a million thoughts run through your head as you make your way around a city.

We know Cairo very well and we are quite enamored by its incredible atmosphere. Cairo has a vibrancy and unique urban form. When designing the new capital project, we took inspiration from central Cairo. It has its challenges and congestion, and issues with connectivity and the movement of people. But in terms of a place in the Middle East — I can’t think of a more vibrant city. It’s a really urban, mixed and diverse city.

Almost every president has wanted to “relocate” Cairo or modernize the existing downtown capital, but these plans have fallen through. People feel very strongly about this city and its history, and these plans have always faced resistance. Given this context, explain to me the vision behind Capital Cairo, at least as far as you were briefed.

We tried to make sure that whatever we do, the new city is completely connected to central Cairo, obviously through transport links, but more importantly in terms of character. We are trying to build a city for the future. As we were researching Egypt’s demographics and population growth, we realized that this is really about a city for the young. We have to interject vibrancy and modernity.

We did so by looking at the history of Egypt and Cairo, but also by looking to the future. It is really a bridge between the past and the future.

But some have valid critiques; they feel it is a way to avoid dealing with Cairo’s endemic problems of traffic, pollution, poor planning and maintenance. Also, at first glance, some design aspects are very similar to Dubai or NYC, and not everyone finds that appealing. What do you say to that?

That’s exactly the kind of feedback we’re looking to hear. We’ve had little engagement so far, and we’re looking forward to more on that level. We are definitely hoping to have a dialogue with as many people as we can: designers, architects, the younger generations, and obviously the government is integral to this process. We are still in the very early stages of this whole process, and we’ll have to find a structure for these dialogues. Maybe some kind of symposium … But we are eager to get feedback and integrate it in our plans.

We wanted to come up with something that doesn’t feel like it is flown in from outer space or another region of the world. It has to be part of the Egyptian way of life. We understand that the impetus for the capital was already set in place by the Ministry of Housing, and it is meant to be an extension of greater Cairo, part of its natural progression to the east. It is not meant to replace it.

In terms of symbolism and what it means to build essentially a new capital, we understand the sensitivities and we will be aware of that. Central Cairo will remain the symbolic heart of the country forever, we are not trying to transplant that at all. It is the administrative aspects moving to this new development we are creating.

We think about this [in the conceptualization]: How does this plan bring in new development opportunities? How can we regenerate central Cairo in terms of investment? This [new] city can help preserve central Cairo as well as improve it by allowing growth to happen elsewhere.

How will this city integrate all income levels? How can everyone commute to and from there? Can they really afford to live there? The problems with even so-called low housing communities that have been built here is that they’re too far from central Cairo.

We are just beginning and this is only a simple concept, we still have a lot of work to do, and this is a critical point. Our client is championing and really ringing the bell to everybody that this has to be a city for all Egyptian people.

It is true that Cairo’s middle class is growing and this has to be affordable, we have to find places for affordable housing and integrate that as well. We are planning new cities elsewhere where this is also a key component. It’s not only about housing for low-income families, but it’s also about finding employment. We need a strategy that is diverse, that also allows for knowledge generation and improving people’s skills so that this new city can provide an opportunity to improve lives. We will have to create a wide range of jobs.

How does the design integrate aspects of the area’s natural setting, as it says on the website? There’s a lot of green space and most people will definitely appreciate that. Talk to me about the ecological aspects, such as water usage.

Even for this very quick concept that we pulled together in two months, we established a team of experts that are professional friends who have worked with us for 10-15 years, so we’ve developed a good methodology as a team. One of the core components of our process is to look at the topography of the land and that needs to inform where to build and where not to build, things that can be enhanced, and this helps define the unique character of the place. Before modern building techniques, cities followed the natural context they were in. We still need to do more land surveys and site visits, but the idea is to take the natural terrain — it’s not exactly mountainous, but there are amazing landforms that we want to respect and preserve.

Step two is identifying the natural landscape wadis that will fill up with water when it rains, we have to maintain these. If we use the natural landscape for water, it saves on costs. But, also for the new parks and this adds development value.

It’s also about being responsible. Our site drains into the Red Sea from one side but also the Nile Delta, so we have to understand the geological dynamics. We now have a high level understanding and need more details, but it’s about letting the more interesting topographics dictate where you build and don’t build.

Can you explain the difference between medium and high density areas, as mentioned on the Capital Cairo website?

Cairo is very dense, which is fantastic for creating walkable neighborhoods and creating public transportation. We want to move away from a city dominated by the car — create mixed use neighborhoods so people can walk — by looking at the density of central Cairo and how people live on the land, primarily its European scale. It’s not a high-rise world at all, there are tight streets and shaded alleys. We’re looking to maintain that urban aesthetic. There will be buildings, like there are currently on the Nile, but the majority will be low scale, medium and high density — think Barcelona, where there are high rise buildings but only on the water.

How do you feel about the timeline that’s been set? President Sisi was firm with Sheikh al-Maktoum about completing this all in five years, not 10 or seven, and said even that’s too long …

Well, the nature in which it was all announced … had to be quite like this. But now we need to be open.

There was some confusion with that. The issue is there is a series of projects that the developer had to commit to — if you build just some things, the city will not be a success in getting people to want to move there. The developer was saying that it takes more time to make it vibrant.

It has to feel complete and energized with people on the street. [When he said 10 years] it was about the first whole phase that we would recognize as a vibrant city, not the first stages of delivery.

We are definitely accelerating the delivery of many aspects of this project now. There are no roads yet, we have to get utilities up, but we can begin to have some catalyst projects that we can get off the ground. Still, we are being realistic, so it will take time.

How was SOM chosen for this project? Was there a bidding process or were you chosen based on your past portfolio in the region?

All of the above. The client selected us through an 'ideas' competition, and also based on our City Design Practice's extensive international experience in delivering large scale national, regional and city planning initiatives including: The Great Lakes Century vision; the national plan for the Kingdom of Bahrain; the city plan for Al Duqm in Oman; the city plan for King Abdullah Economic City north of Jeddah; the vision for Chongming Island near Shanghai; and the vision for Saigon South in Vietnam, to name a few.

We also have a longtime relationship with the client, which helps keep the process efficient and moving forward. SOM has been working in the Middle East and Egypt for over 40 years so we know the region extremely well.

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