New capital aims to push boundaries

29 June 2015

Reactions to the lavish plans range from wonderment to scepticism

The unveiling of the model of the proposed New Capital at the mid-March Egypt Economic Development Conference was a piece of theatre familiar to those who have followed the career of the project’s promoter, Mohamed Ali Alabbar, chairman of Dubai-based Emaar Properties, whose previous exploits have included the Burj Khalifa in his home town and King Abdullah Economic City in Saudi Arabia.

Driving force

Alabbar is a founding partner of Capital City Partners, a venture created specifically for the project, and in which Abu Dhabi-based Eagle Hills is the driving force. Alabbar is a board member of Eagle Hills, and its chief executive officer is Low Ping, a Singaporean national who was previously a CEO of Emaar.

The new capital concept is the largest and most ambitious variation on a theme going back to the 1970s, when the late president, Anwar Sadat, started the process of building satellite towns and industrial areas around the periphery of Cairo. These included the eponymous Sadat City, which was planned to have some attributes of a new capital, but has ended up as a large town best known for its steel factories.

The other 20 or so satellite city projects have had mixed fortunes –positive for some industrial investors and for real estate companies targeting the wealthy elite, but not so successful in fostering diverse new communities.

The site for the new capital is due east of New Cairo, one of the most recent outward developments of the capital. According to the brochure issued at the development conference, the new city will cover 700 square kilometres, and house 5 million people in 21 residential districts. An airport, 25 districts dedicated to businesses and government offices, 2,000 schools and colleges, and more than 600 hospitals and clinics are also planned.

Foreign investment

The first significant point of clarification for the project came from President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, who stated in early April that there would be no contribution from the state budget to the estimated $45bn costs. The government has also indicated that it envisages most of the investment for the scheme coming from outside Egypt to prevent draining funds from other areas. However, the state will be expected to make a significant contribution, for example through the provision of land, some investment in utilities and ultimately through purchasing or renting buildings.

The next stage in the project will be to flesh out the initial masterplan, for which architects, engineers and consultants are now being sought. Once this work is under way, more information is likely to be gleaned about the make-up of the investors backing the scheme. At present, Capital City Partners is identified only by a one-page website, with Alabbar the only name mentioned.

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