Egypt’s pharaonic new capital city

“Cairo is in a state of becoming…We just don’t know what it’s becoming yet.” — Daniel Joseph Monti, Michael Ian Borer, Lyn C. Macgregor

In 2020, Egypt’s population officially hit 100 million people. Most Egyptians are crammed into the banks of the Nile River. Cairo’s capital city has proliferated over the last few decades: it has witnessed a growth of about 700% between 1950 and 2020. In 2016, the city of a thousand minarets had an estimated population as high as 12 million, with a metropolitan population of 20.5 million, and is set to grow to 35 million by 2050. For more than 1 000 years, Cairo has stood on the same site until becoming the most populated city in the Middle East and Africa.

Egypt’s overpopulation has implications on the whole country. Basic natural resources, such as land and water, are pressured by the fast-growing population. Egypt is a rainless country, and 97% of the country’s territory is desert, resulting in the problematic expansion of agricultural land. It has also increased pollution levels. According to a report issued by the World Health Organization, Cairo is the second most polluted large city globally. The once ‘City Victorious’ is also affected by high unemployment rates, road congestion, and the rising cost of living, among others.

Cairo has become so congested, polluted, and overcrowded that the Egyptian government has unveiled an ambitious project to relocate its capital city. In 2015, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ordered a new capital city to be built from scratch. It is located in the desert on the road to the Suez Canal, around 45 kilometers east of Cairo’s sprawling metropolis. With its 700 km2, the city will be equals to the size of Singapore, or seven times over the Paris area and 4.5 times over Washington D.C. It is boasted to be the biggest planned city ever. It aims at alleviating Cairo’s increasing congestion, creating jobs, and boosting the economy by strengthening and diversifying the country’s economic potential.

Egypt wants its new capital city to be up there among financial centers such as London, New York, Singapore, and Seoul. It will enable us to rebrand Egypt as a stable and internationally inviting place. Tarek El Khouly said: “Egypt is now turning into an example for the developed world of good governance”. The city will combine Pharaonic and Islamic architectural styles to link the new to the rich heritage of the country’s past. The development of the brand-new capital has been divided into three phases over ten years for an initial cost of 58 billion USD.

Rising up from the Sahara Desert, the dubbed ‘Sisi-City’ will serve as the new administrative and financial capital of Egypt. It was designed to house a presidential compound eight times the size of the White House, the Egyptian Parliament, and government ministries, as well as 6.5 million people. It will also contain an international airport, over 1 000 mosques and churches, offices, residential areas, healthcare, educational and sports facilities, hotel rooms, shopping malls, a giant urban park larger than New York’s Central Park, and even a massive theme park bigger than Disneyland. The new capital city will be connected to Eastern Cairo through a monorail, which travel time will be less than an hour.

Egypt’s new administrative capital has already taken shape. In 2019, on the eve of Coptic Christmas, the Egyptian president simultaneously inaugurated Middle East’s largest cathedral, which can hold 8 000 worshippers, and Egypt’s most prominent mosque that can accommodate roughly 17 000 people. “We are one, and we will remain one,” el-Sisi said, referring to Egyptian Christians and Muslims and the frictions often erupting between the two communities. The new capital indirectly aims at uniting the different religious groups.

The project is futuristic. The grandiose new capital was designed to integrate smart infrastructure to provide many services to citizens. Future residents are promised smartcards and a single app to pay utility bills, unlock doors, access local services, and report complaints. The smart city will be fitted with over 6 000 wireless cameras with the aim of tracking and reducing crime.

The slated metropolis is also meant to be a sustainable city. Advanced technology systems will help reduce waste by detecting leaks or faults and by allowing residents to keep an eye on consumption. The future world’s largest smart city will also contain 90 km2 farms of solar energy. The Egyptian authorities hope that the new capital city will guide the country into digital transformation and sustainability.

The Dubai-style city is intended to be a new business hub for all of Egypt. The Iconic Tower will be the symbol and trademark of the business district at the center of the city. Upon completion, the futuristic building will be 385 meters high and 80 stories tall, overtaking Johannesburg’s Carlton Center, which has been Africa’s tallest building since 1973. The new city will also be home to 20 giant buildings and twelve business complexes. The plan to swap Cairo for a new high-tech capital in the middle of the desert is very ambitious.

Egypt is not the only place in the world where purpose-built cities are being erected. History holds examples of other countries, which have relocated their seats of power to new cities designed from scratch: Brazil, Australia, Myanmar, Kazakhstan, and Nigeria are among the most famous examples. Built in a record-setting four years, Brasília was planned from scratch as an ideal city by architect Oscar Niemeyer. His objective was to build a new capital to bring progress to the interior of Brazil. In April 1960, Brazil moved the capital from Rio de Janeiro to Brasília, which became the world’s youngest capital at the time. Brasília’s population is now estimated at over four million inhabitants. So ensuring Egypt’s new capital city is planned correctly is critical to it being a great success.

Lucile Guéguen

Design Curial: Egypt plans a new capital city
WSCF: Egypt’s new capital
Ahmed Adel Abdelrahman Hussein and Eric Pollock 2019 IOP Conf. Ser.: Earth Environ. Sci. 297 012027

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