Many people might automatically think of World War II and the famous First and Second Battles of Alamein between the Allies and the Axis powers when they hear the word Alamein.
They might also think of the memorials and cemeteries for the fallen soldiers, such as the German and Italian memorials and the Commonwealth Cemetery, as well as the Alamein Military Museum. However, the image of Alamein may be changing as the area experiences a cultural and touristic boom, making what was once a scene of warfare, death and destruction an international tourist destination on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast.
To discover how this city of New Alamein is faring, Al-Ahram Weekly visited the area to check up on the progress of the development projects, with the first stop being an area where residential towers are under construction. The whole area was abuzz with activity: workers calling to each other, cranes swivelling with their loads, bulldozers rumbling and trucks going this way and that.
The buildings themselves are in different phases of completion, some nearly finished, others still anticipating additional storeys. Other new buildings were also under construction, including a recreation zone, promenade, ministerial building, “Latin Quarter”, and infrastructure such as a new bridge and wastewater treatment station.
“The construction companies are providing housing for the workers involved in the various projects in the old city of Alamein and nearby touristic villages,” said Mahmoud Al-Gazzar, a 30-year-old engineer from Alexandria involved in one of the New Alamein projects. “The accommodations are a 10-minute drive from the site, and they offer all the services the workers need, including restaurants and the like. Buses take the workers to and from their accommodation.”
Al-Gazzar has been working on the recreation zone project since 2017. There are two high-rise residential towers with four floors allocated for services, and the area also has a garage, stores, restaurants, cafés, and banks, he said.
One of the workers on the project, 40-year-old Ibrahim Mohamed, begins his day at 6am. He was hired three months ago as a labourer for a construction firm and lives in a workers’ “container” — a long, rectangular, box-like structure that holds rows of beds. Located near his worksite, the containers vary from white to grey. There are no catering services, and he buys his food from a nearby store. Some containers house bathrooms, and there are eight altogether.
“We work 12-hour days from eight in the morning to eight at night. The workers do not get paid holidays,” Mohamed said, adding that they are paid LE70-80 per day. While he is hired on a day-wage basis, he is paid at the end of each month. “I’m asking for an increase. I’ve been working in construction for 10 years, and the cost of living has been constantly rising. I also have to face the hardship of living far away from my family, and I have to support a wife and six children.”
The Weekly received a warm welcome from Mohamed Zaki, a 30-year-old civil engineer from Upper Egypt, who gave a tour of one of the residential projects underway in what is to be the New Alamein’s “Downtown” district. The 44-storey structures would be the tallest apartment blocks in the city, he said.
“The design of the tallest residential towers has been embossed on the coins people use for their daily purchases, to take buses and the like,” he said. “There will be 15 of these towers near the Corniche, and the lower storeys will house cafés, restaurants and shopping centres.”
A number of real-estate development firms are involved in the construction of these high-rises, among them Arab Contractors (three buildings), SIAC Construction (two), Redcon Construction (one), Hassan Dara (one), Orascom (four) and Hassan Allam Construction (four in collaboration with another company).
Al-Sisi with Al-Nahyan during a recent tour of New Alamein City
“The buildings have surface areas ranging from 1,200 to 4,000 square metres, and the towers are upwards of 27 storeys, apart from the two at the entrance to the city,” Zaki said.
Meanwhile, the work continues day and night. “There are two shifts, one from 7am to 5pm with lunch from 11am to 1pm, and the other from 7pm to 5am the following day,” Zaki added.
“The engineers are housed near the sites. They prepare their own breakfasts in their own quarters and have dinner in a restaurant near the old Alamein City whether the workers live.”
FACILITIES: This ambitious urban-development project will encompass tourist, residential, healthcare, education and industrial sectors. But it was decided to start the residential buildings first in order to hone the project’s international image, said Osama Abdel-Ghani, director of the New Alamein City Development Agency.
“All types of homes will be available, and the city is not just targeting the well-to-do. Recently, we launched advanced reservations for units in the exclusive category, costing LE4,810 a square metre and covering everything including utilities, land, a share in the building and collective facilities. All the residences will also have access to public beaches.”
“The new city’s Corniche is designed in accordance with international standards,” he added. “The first phase of the construction cost around LE425 million, and two million metres were put out to tender to real-estate developers several months ago.”
Meanwhile, Orascom is constructing a wastewater treatment plant capable of handling 90,000 m3 of wastewater a day. The city will also have a desalination plant with a 150,000 m3 per day capacity.
The New Alamein project involves over 40 major development projects, according to project manager Mahmoud Zaghloul. One of these involves broadening the extension of the Coastal Road leading to Cairo and connecting Alamein to a five-lane highway in both directions. The second phase is to expand and increase the capacity of this road from Sidi Kreir to Alamein, a length of about 15km. It also includes the construction of 13 bridges and a 14km coastal promenade. Eighteen wave-breakers are planned, five of which will be constructed in the first phase.
According to Zaghloul, 15 of the housing projects will be completed in the first phase and eight in the second. The “Downtown” project includes 14 residential high-rises offering a total of 1,260 units due to be completed by the end of June 2020. There will also be numerous cultural and commercial facilities, including a theatre, a cinema complex, malls, an opera house and an exhibition centre. Hassan Allam and Orascom are carrying out many of these projects.
Construction work is well underway to finish the first phase of the project
Another project is a new national university to be constructed on a 123-acre plot in collaboration with the Ministry of Higher Education and Urban Communities Organisation. A branch of the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport will be built on a 63-acre site. Four faculties are expected to open their doors to students in September, and the new university and Academy complexes will have student and faculty housing and a variety of athletic facilities.
The new city’s “Latin Quarter” will provide an aesthetic and cultural contrast to the modern high-rise section of the city. Covering 44 acres, none of its buildings will exceed six storeys, and they will be inspired by classical styles of design.
A total of 5,500 housing units are scheduled for completion in the first phase. The space of the units themselves will vary from 130 to 360 m2 in the “Downtown” area and from 100 to 400 m2 in the residential towers. “Last year, the first restaurant on the Corniche was opened,” Zaghloul said.
The new city does not only provide residential and educational facilities, since land has been allocated for an industrial zone at LE250 per metre. In fact, Hisham Saoudi, head of the Alexandrian Engineers Syndicate, described New Alamein City as the new “capital of the North Coast”, saying it is a “fourth-generation city” that incorporates “smart city” digital technology such as that found in its integrated security system.
RECOGNITION: In March this year, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Commander of the Emirati Armed Forces Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan toured New Alamein City accompanied by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.
The Middle East News Agency (MENA) reported that the crown prince had inspected the construction work, including of the residential towers, hotels, recreational areas, new Corniche and world-class marina for leisure boats and yachts.
Official Spokesman for the Egyptian Presidency Bassam Radi said that the crown prince had been immensely impressed by the many projects contributing to the development and also by the record time in which they were being completed.
He had lauded the vision that had been brought to bear in designing and constructing the New Alamein City, Radi said, who added that it was just one of a series being founded nationwide, including the New Administrative Capital. These cities would “contribute to a development and business boom that provide strong foundations for the construction of modern Egypt,” he added.
Radi said that after their tour of the new City, the president and crown prince had visited the Alamein Military Museum that commemorates the battle that marked a turning point in World War II. He added that the museum houses a collection of weapons, armoured vehicles and aircraft used in the Battle of Alamein, as well as collectibles and maps. A special section is devoted to Egypt’s military role at various periods with a special focus on World War II.
“I visited the New Alamein City and saw the touristic projects, buildings and government facilities under construction. Egypt is marching firmly and surely towards further development and prosperity,” Al-Nahyan said. Following the visit, the UAE daily Al-Ittihad featured a full-page spread on the visit highlighting many of the new city’s most important sights.
“The new cities that are now being created, including New Alamein, the New Administrative Capital, and others, are an excellent step towards alleviating the population pressures on major cities such as Cairo with its mass of government offices, residential quarters, parliament and cabinet, and so on,” said Hussein Gomaa, president of the Society for the Conservation of Architectural and Real Estate, a pressure group.
He added that “many of the new cities are now as complete and self-sufficient as the older ones. They will open the door to tens of thousands of job opportunities, whether directly or indirectly, in industry, tourism, commerce and other fields, especially since there are residential quarters for workers in the New Administrative Capital or near it in Badr, Shorouk, Sheikh Zayed and 10 Ramadan cities.”
“The same applies to Alamein, which is close to Borg Al-Arab, Matrouh and 6 October City. One of the requirements for employment in the new cities should be that candidates for jobs live in or near the city where their workplace is located, with suitable transport being available for the commute. The architects took these things into account when planning the 6 October and 10 Ramadan cities,” he said.
According to Gomaa, premises in the New Administrative Capital cost from LE12,000 to LE25,000 a square metre. In New Alamein, they could come to as much as LE40,000 a metre. “The government needs to cater to all classes, and it should therefore plan for low-cost or budget housing. The new cities are designed to attract Arab and foreign investment to Egypt, but it is also important to pay attention to the social dimension. Take Dubai for example. You’ll find a studio for a million dirhams, but you’ll also find one for half that amount or less,” he said.
Gomaa also called for the creation of a real-estate development organisation that would work alongside the ministry of housing and Urban Communities Organisation. The proposed organisation would operate under the cabinet and be responsible for the conservation of architectural and real estate heritage, he said.
“Egypt needs a new legal framework for real estate. There are more than 140 laws, executive orders and decrees governing real estate, some dating back to 1940,” Gomaa said. “This whole body of laws needs to be reviewed in order to make it compatible with changes in the environment over recent years.”
One of the main tasks of the new organisation would be to compile a list of older buildings and their problems and to find the funding necessary for their renovation. It will also need to conduct a thorough review of the laws related to the real estate and develop a single coherent framework. It will need to increase the number of architects involved in the development of older buildings, support and promote the role of the Engineers Syndicate in the system, and develop the building materials industry.
Meanwhile, New Alamein will cover an area of 50,000 acres extending along the Mediterranean coast to a depth of 60km inland. It is designed to accommodate more than three million people. The first phase is divided into two sections, each about 8,000 acres capable of accommodating a population of 400,000. The Urban Communities Organisation and the Armed Forces Engineering Authority are collaborating on the construction of the infrastructure including roads, sewerage, water stations and the electricity grid.
The sector overlooking the coast will consist of a hotel district, the “Downtown”, a luxury residential quarter, a conference centre, the new Alamein Park, the yacht and leisure boat marina, the recreational zone, spa, cultural centre, tourist housing, and exhibition grounds. In the antiquities section there will be an open-air museum, a recreational zone, hotels and port facilities. The cultural sector will include the university, the regional services centre, the international tourist centre, as well as eight separate platforms overlooking the sea, each serving as the base for a residential tower.
All the latter will have underground parking. In addition to all these facilities, New Alamein will have a major mosque and church, schools, and sporting clubs — in short, everything needed for this new and state-of-the art city overlooking the Mediterranean.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 June, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: A visit to New Alamein