Egypt’s capital expenditure is in the wrong place

The Egyptian state’s decision to construct a new administrative capital has been condemned not only by citizens who are emotionally attached to the historical capital, Cairo, but also by our urban development experts. Building the new city (planned to be approximately twice the size of Cairo) will not only devour a significant part of our national budget; it is also an expression of our government’s vision and the way it is using the budget to replace historic buildings (our Parliament, Cabinet Office, mosques, churches, etc.) with new premises – distinguished only by their size.

Boosting the Egyptian people’s morale is the justification often offered by our government for projects that fail to measure up to initial expectations. The question is, should the government be working on raising the morale of a nation where over one-quarter of the population is living below the poverty line, or should it reallocate its budget to the critical needs of Egyptians, such as healthcare and education?

Whether a nation is wealthy or poor is of little importance when it comes to being mature concerning investment and expenditure policies. A developing nation that is by default overwhelmed by plenty of challenges should give much thought to its return on investment prior to undertaking any project, prioritizing its expenditures based on its citizens’ real and immediate needs. We should have raised the question of whether developing a new luxury city for our tiny wealthy minority is essential, or whether it would be better to allocate the money to meeting some of the needs of the deprived majority of Egyptians.

As we construct the new administrative capital, located 45 kilometers from downtown Cairo, most advanced nations have been working on offering public services online to reduce the number of their government employees. Egypt’s seven million government employees (roughly one-third of the national workforce) are known for their low productivity and modest earnings. Do we expect them to move to the new luxury administrative city, or does the government intend to further expand the ranks of its employees by hiring more personnel?

In Egypt, we tend to focus on the cherry on top of the cake without truly considering the quality of the cake itself, convinced that the cherry alone will attract enough customers. The inauguration of a luxury hotel in the new administrative capital while the city is still under construction is an example of this tendency. Our nation is blessed with hundreds of kilometers of seafront and a river over one thousand kilometers long; if we want to build a luxury hotel, it should obviously be located where tourists and businessmen will be eager to stay – on the banks of the Nile or on one of our many beachfronts.

Evidently, developing nations are not predestined to remain so for decades – if they make the correct choices. We are working to run away from the fabulous historic city of Cairo by building a new isolated city in the desert, based on a single proposition: “size matters”. Egypt has a serious overpopulation challenge that needs to be addressed by substantially reducing the number of births, not by constructing additional new cities. We tend to run away from our challenges by creating something new (and less attractive), ignoring our invaluable assets.

Egypt is blessed with countless resources; before constructing a new isolated city, the government needs to think of how to maximize the utilization of its resources; constantly thinking of developing something new while ignoring our historical venues is clear proof of our shortsightedness. The Egyptian government should set an example by its investment choices, ensure the transparency of public projects and engage its citizens constructively in all its forthcoming ventures and plans.

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