Building Egypt’s new capital city

It’s not often that an entire capital city gets built from scratch, but Egypt is currently in the process of doing just that. In 2015, the government of Egypt announced that a new administrative capital would be built on previously undeveloped land to the south-east of the current capital, Cairo. Construction began in 2016.

We’re not just talking about a few office blocks here. The proposal is for a city of five to seven million people. As yet it has no name, other than the unofficial ‘New Administrative City’. A public competition is to be held this year, to decide a name. You can see the building work taking shape here. There has been heavy Chinese involvement in construction work, through the China State Construction Engineering Corp (CSCEC). The cost of constructing the new city is usually put at US$58 billion, but the final total is anyone’s guess.

Of course, a new city will generate waste. It’s an interesting planning question; if you are starting from scratch, what waste facilities would you build? It’s fair to say that Egypt to date has been at the more unregulated end of the waste management spectrum, but some thought has been given to the question regarding the new capital. This is, after all, meant to be a prestigious modern development and – ideally – will have infrastructure to match. In July 2019, the Egyptian Ministry of Housing, represented by the New Urban Communities Authority (NUCA), signed a memorandum of understanding with FAS Energy for the construction of a number of new WtE plants in Egypt including in the new capital. Details on individual sites are not yet available, but the agreement is for a total of 100 MW capacity at a cost of US$300 million to US$500 million.

WtE is an obvious choice for city planners in a hurry. Plants can deal with large volumes of waste relatively easily and discreetly, and have the bonus of generating electrical power. But who is FAS Energy? It is a subsidiary of the Saudi Arabian Fawaz Al-Hokair group, a major property development company. FAS Energy was founded in 2013, and initially concentrated on development of solar power projects in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan. It appears to be branching out into the WtE field in 2019, with the above-mentioned agreement and a second WtE proposal planned in Saudi Arabia itself. It is currently unclear what overseas partners FAS will work with on these projects, whether Western, Chinese, Japanese or a mixture of all three.

Quite when Egypt’s new capital will begin to operate is unclear. The first government officials are due to move from Cairo at some point in 2019. Then the main organs of government will follow, including the presidential palace, central bank and supreme court. A commercial district, named Capital Park, is also under construction. There’s a good recent article about it all here. Whether any of it will ever resemble the glossy architects’ plans is a moot point, but the move is not without precedent. Kazakhstan and Myanmar have created new capital cities in the past 20 years, and Brazil famously did it in the 1960s. The scale of Egypt’s new capital, however, is much greater a public undertaking, and the infrastructure requirements – including waste management – are commensurately challenging.

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