Officially, a major reason for the undertaking of the project was to relieve congestion in Cairo, which is already one of the world’s most crowded cities, with the population of Greater Cairo expected to double in the next few decades. Cairo, for comparison, has a population of nearly 20 million.
Workers are rushing to build core areas of the new city to replace Cairo, the existing capital on the Nile that has become a traffic-clogged, urban sprawl of more than 20 million people.
The project, launched in 2015 by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi a year after he was first elected president, aims to offer a clean and efficient base for the government and finance industry, as well as homes for at least 6.5 million people. But the project, which also seeks to lift an economy dented by political turmoil after 2011, lost a lead investor from the United Arab Emirates and is now being run by the Housing Ministry and the army’s Engineering Authority.
“There is very strong interest from the political leadership in the project,” said Ahmed Zaki Abdeen, a retired general who heads the company building the new city, told Reuters. But he said, “the large scale of the work leads to large scale problems”, such as finding enough skilled labor to wire up the “smart city” and raising about 1 trillion Egyptian pounds ($58 billion) in financing over coming years from land sales and other investment. “We need very extensive financing and the state doesn’t have money to give me,” said Abdeen, adding that about 20% of investment so far had come from abroad, including up to $4.5 billion from China.