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As Egypt Builds New Capital, What Becomes of Cairo?

2018-11-28

Cairo, Egypt’s capital, is one of the largest cities in Africa and one of the best known in the world.

For more than 1,000 years, it has stood on the banks of the Nile River, the longest in the world. The Pyramids of Giza sit close to the city’s southwestern edge.

Among the city’s tall structures are over 400 historic buildings from the times of the Roman, Arab and Ottoman empires.

The city’s center was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. The city's Tahrir Square later became known as the birthplace of the Arab Spring movement.

In this Oct. 23, 2018 photo, a man rides his motorbike as others wait for a bus under a billboard promoting a new residential housing compound, in Cairo, Egypt. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)
In this Oct. 23, 2018 photo, a man rides his motorbike as others wait for a bus under a billboard promoting a new residential housing compound, in Cairo, Egypt. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

Across Cairo, there are large signs telling its 20 million people of new homes being built in the desert 45 kilometers away.

Often, the signs are in Cairo’s overcrowded neighborhoods, with poorly built homes and dirt roads filled with untreated human waste. The signs are ways to suggest that government employees, foreign embassies and rich people will soon leave Cairo for a new capital city in the desert.

The New Administrative Capital, which still does not have an official name, is the idea of former army general President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi. It is the biggest of several huge projects. Others include new roads, housing projects and the expansion of the Suez Canal.

Egyptian officials often compare the projects built under al-Sissi to monuments like the Giza Pyramids.

Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly said, “History will do justice to this generation of Egyptians and our grandsons will remember its achievement.”

But critics call the new capital a vanity project for al-Sissi. They say the money could have been used to help the economy and to rebuild Cairo.

Hassan Nafaa teaches political science at Cairo University. He said, “Maybe al-Sissi wants to go down in history as the leader who built the new capital, but if Egyptians don’t see an improvement in their living conditions and services, he will be remembered as the president who destroyed what is left of the middle class.”

The government argues that Cairo is too crowded and will grow to 40 million people by 2050. The new city is being built on 69,000 hectares, about two times the size of Cairo, at a cost of $45 billion.

The project began in 2016. The first of the expected 6.5 million residents are to move there next year. The city will hold the offices of the president, the Cabinet, parliament and the ministries.

City planners promise to build public parks, an airport, an opera house, sports structures and 20 skyscrapers, including Africa’s highest, at 345 meters.

Madbouly denied that the new capital will only bring wealthy people. However, the smallest apartment, about 120 square meters, in the new city, is expected to cost about $73,000. That price is out of reach for a mid-level government official who makes about $4,800 a year.

No one knows how the new capital will affect Cairo. Many government buildings in the city are large homes taken by the socialist governments in the 1950s and 60s.

Some fear that the empty buildings will fall into disrepair or be torn down.

Sameh Abdallah Alayli is an urban planning expert. He said the building of the new capital should be halted.

He wrote in the Al-Shorouk newspaper, “Historical Cairo must remain the political capital of Egypt.”

I’m Mario Ritter Jr.

Hai Do adapted this story for Learning English based on an AP report. Mario Ritter Jr. was the editor.

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Words in This Story

heritage –n. the traditions, achievements, beliefs that are part of the history of a group or nation

achievement –n. something that has been done or a goal reached through great effort

vanity –n. something that shows a person has too much pride

residents –n. someone who lives in a particular place

skyscrapers –n. a very tall building