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Egypt is building a new administrative capital - but at whose expense? Op-ed.

In 2013, Abdul Fatah Al Sisi, a former military general, removed Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (MB) president from office on behalf of the will of the people who were suffering under Mohammed Morsi’s presidency. A year later, Al Sisi, who earlier declared he would never seek the presidency, ran, and won Egypt’s presidential election against an opponent who voted for him.

With the ultimate Sharia warlords finally gone, Egyptians believed that a new era of freedom would begin. Trusting another military leader after 60 years of military rule, which degraded the country to the point of an MB takeover, indicated that most Egyptians were naïve. Hearing the promises of Al Sisi at the time for “prosperity and stability” had given them renewed hope, but now it appears that Al Sisi meant this for the chosen few at the expense of the common citizen.

The President’s broken promise

Now at the end of his second term, Al Sisi has nothing to show toward creating initiatives to raise Egypt’s standard of living, neither for education nor health. However, starting in 2016 he increased the debt. Uniting Muslims and Christians under the same fate, he currently obligates the country to pay back the government loan from the World Bank used to build a fortress-walled complex called the New Administrative City (NAC).

It is the first of the technologically advanced Smart Cities to be built across Egypt. Slated to be completed by the mid-2020’s, NAC is currently behind schedule on construction. Like any of the previous Egyptian “dictators” since Nasser, Al Sisi ignored his promises for prosperity to begin this extravagant project with an initial estimated cost of $58 billion in the worst economic crisis in Egypt.

The Egyptian economy does not benefit from new job opportunities stemming from NAC’s construction because the Egyptian military was simply assigned the contract. Since military labor is paid under the regular government payroll, the total cost of construction should have been deeply discounted from the cost of a civil contract but was not. Therefore, the country is overpaying for a project that has no real value to the average citizen judging by the price tag of the average NAC condo.

All told, Egyptian taxpayers pay the World Bank loan with virtually nothing to show for it. The borrowed money will pay for NAC’s foreign technology (e.g., surveillance cameras, digital automation, face recognition, specialized labor, Artificial Intelligence, etc.) as well as construction equipment and design but will not be enough to complete the project. Other forthcoming loans are expected to do so.

Al Sisi declared several times that the NAC project would not cost the country one penny, never saying how the loan would be paid back. He appeased many early on by initially constructing the largest Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Egypt, impressing Christians favorably toward the project. A mosque was built at the same time and for the same reason.

Al Sisi at first anticipated obtaining a financial deal for full funding from an Emirati real estate developer or other investors in the Gulf area. Instead, the Egyptian Public Treasury funded NAC through a World Bank loan. When obtaining it, Al Sisi began continuous appeals to Egyptians for sacrifices, asking them to restrict personal expenses to mere necessities to meet the demands of their new debt obligation to an outside entity.

Announcing this hardship negates his earlier promise that the country would be free and clear of any financial burden from this project. Instead, the president assert his need for help constantly, making people desperate.Highlighting citizen responsibility for payment places blame upon them for any future loan default should it occur and possibly lead to the confiscation of precious national resources.

Smart City

The luxurious city under development is located 30 miles east of Cairo in the desert. Its first phase began in 2016 and alone is the size of Washington, DC. It is already behind schedule by three years with only 60 percent completed while its budget has increased to $68 billion.

NAC is a Smart City project, complete with a centralized, China-style, command-center monitoring system to track all activities. It entails live video feeds from six thousand cameras strategically positioned. Presumably, eventually, the technology will be linked to social credit scores and penalties to control behavior – far worse than any MB government exerting Sharia Islamic law. In both cases, a control system directs the minutia of one’s life through penalties and threats, but NAC will now accomplish totalitarianism with advanced technology.

Thankfully, most Egyptians will be unable to live and play in this exotic bondage but instead perform low level service jobs as they go to and from the city -- all the while subject to new technologies. As stated on the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute webpage in a request for AI and Smart City research, “Smart City continues to develop in many areas as AI technology is applied” … and that “AI continues to emerge with new technologies.”

The military personnel who build the New Administrative Capital with its compounds -- The Villages of the North Coast, The Resorts of Sharm El-Sheikh, and Hurghada -- and who build the bridges and pave the highways leading to it will never live in them due to unaffordability.

However, their children and grandchildren will most likely live nowhere else other than a Smart City in the future, albeit not upscale and glamorous, if the Al Sisi government plan is implemented. Egypt is slated for eight more advanced technology Smart Cities to be built around the country: City of Al Galalah, The New City of Al Alamen, The New Smailia City, The New Six of October, The New Mansura City, Salam, New Port Said, The New Al Ebour.

Meanwhile, NAC will host a huge presidential palace (540,000 Sq. m. -- 10 times the size of the White House per Reuters) with just one level of it costing 1.25 billion EP, a new governmental headquarters, a diplomatic section where all embassies will be located, a central business district, sports centers, a mosque and a Coptic cathedral, an upscale residential and commercial area, and Green River -- a 22-mile-length grass park conversion in the dessert.

The peak of abuse in spending public money comes with the extravagant decision to build an entertainment city (322,918 Sq. ft.) at an estimated cost of $20 billion that will include an international amusement park, a water park, and many recreational activities.

There are 120 million Egyptians struggling in a poor infrastructure. For the same $20 billion, at least 16 hospitals could be built around the country, each at a cost of 75 million EP according to the Egyptian Health Ministry. This not only would improve the health care for hundreds of thousands in need but also provide work opportunities to thousands of healthcare providers struggling to find jobs upon completing higher education.

The same money could have been used for building 125 new public schools to rebuild a deteriorated school system and improve overcrowded classrooms, creating more teaching and service opportunities. Furthermore, investing in industry and agriculture, both sorely needed, would enrich the entire population in obvious ways.

Egypt’s crumbling transportation infrastructure will never measure up to the lavish NAC enterprise, so more debt has been accrued to the people for the privileged to have two monorail train lines connected to Nasser City and the Sixth of October City running to and from NAC, assuring that toilets get cleaned and trash collected without interruption, and government personnel arrive on time.

To realize this transportation project, the Chinese government loaned Egypt $3 billion. The two train lines will cover only 60 kilometers distance while thousands of kilometers of passenger train lines – old, slow, and outdated -- run throughout Egypt and lack basic maintenance for the 420 million annual users.

Unfortunately, this project opportunity was not intended for Egyptian construction companies providing Egyptian jobs but only for Chinese labor under Egyptian military supervision. The construction bid for this high speed (250 km/hr.) express train was given to the Egyptian-Chinese consortium, Samcrete-CCECC-CRCC, for the estimated cost of 145 billion EP.

Al-Nahada Dam (Ethiopia) -- Water shortage on the horizon for Egypt?

Once Ethiopian water reserves are contained within a newly expanded Al-Nahada Dam, there will no longer be the expected overflow into the Nile River. This will cause a decrease in water supply for Egypt. Many Egyptians think this is the most urgent problem to be solved today. For quite some time, the realistic possibility of such a crisis has been looming over the population, yet it has not been prioritized or even addressed by the Al Sisi administration.

If new sources of freshwater are not explored and initiated, Al Sisi could have a crisis of his own, reminiscent of the “hunger revolution” during Sadat’s presidency when he attempted to discontinue the bread subsidy. This could be the reason behind the NAC project’s additional plan to build a high wall surrounding the new city with an extra estimated cost of $38 billion.

This would fortify his palatial presidential headquarters against disgruntled masses awakened to the permanency of their third world conditions. The transference of Cairo’s ruling class to the NAC protective bubble with unimaginable amenities, separated out from the average citizen to live and work in luxury, should cause disturbance to Egyptians by way of stark contrast to the common plight. Should the government default on the loan, Egypt could stand to lose national treasures and natural resources to the World Bank.

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Dr. Ashraf Ramelah

Quelle/Source: Israel National News, 24.08.2023

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