President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi took office in 2014 and immediately launched a National Road Project to develop and upgrade the existing road network and build thousands of kilometres of new roads. In the same year, he ordered the creation of a 72km parallel waterway to the Suez Canal which was inaugurated in August 2015.
The housing sector has been an area of intense focus, with 1,426 projects built in the last six years, and public transport networks are currently undergoing a massive overhaul.
“What has been achieved in the past six years in Egypt,” President Al-Sisi said recently, “is the equivalent of 20 years of work.”
FOURTH GENERATION CITIES
New Alamein City on the Northern Coast
The Ministry of Housing, in conjunction with the New Urban Communities Authority, is constructing 14 fourth generation cities. They include the New Administrative Capital, New Alamein, New Mansoura, East Port Said, Nasser City in western Assiut, and New Ismailia.
The smart cities will be serviced electronically, in line with Egypt’s Vision 2030. Sustainable development standards are being applied in their construction: renewable and recyclable materials are being used, reducing energy consumption and waste and protecting the environment.
The new cities together cover 380,000 acres, the equivalent of 50 per cent of the area allocated to urban communities in the previous four decades.
“Fourth generation cities are not a luxury. They are essential to house a growing population. We need to double Egypt’s built-up area rather than crowd ever more people into existing settlements in the Nile Valley and Delta,” said Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli.
When completed, the 14 new urban communities will house 14 million people and provide six million permanent job opportunities.
In the last two decades new cities and urban communities have sprung on the outskirts of the capital but have done little to relieve congestion in Cairo and adjacent Delta governorates.
The new cities are being developed based on local demands, says Ayman Hassan, professor of architecture and site coordination at Cairo University’s Faculty of Engineering. The intention is to ensure they are self-sufficient: they are not intended as dormitory towns, where people live and commute elsewhere to work, but as communities where people live alongside their work.
In the New Administrative Capital, China State Construction Engineering Corporation, in cooperation with the New Urban Communities Authority, is building a Central Business District that will be home to 20 towers, including the 78-floor Iconic Tower, the tallest building in Africa.
While Cairo covers 95,000 feddans, the New Administrative Capital, located 60km from Cairo in the area between the Cairo-Suez and Cairo-Ain Sokhna roads, is being built over 170,000 feddans. Launched in 2015 by President Al-Sisi, it was scheduled to be inaugurated in 2020 but postponed till mid-2022 because of the coronavirus pandemic, and when complete will house 6.5 million people.
Plans to eliminate urban slums have progressed in tandem with the development of new urban communities. According to the Informal Settlements Development Fund (ISDF) unplanned areas comprise 40 per cent of urban construction in Egypt and are home to 22 million people. By 2030, ISDF hopes to have eliminated unplanned areas entirely.
The model housing communities already built to relocate slum residents include Asmarat complex in Moqattam, Masaken Othman, the Mahrousa Projects, and Bashayer Al-Kheir. In the last six years, the Ministry of Housing has constructed 165,958 housing units at a cost of LE41 billion, and is currently working on a further 74,927 units.
ROADS, BRIDGES AND TUNNELS
One of several tunnels connecting Sinai to the mainland
The National Road Project was launched in 2014 with the goal of developing and extending Egypt’s 23,500km long road network.
The year the project was launched Egypt ranked 118 in terms of the quality of road infrastructure in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitive Report. By 2019, it had climbed to 28th place on the list.
Of the 7,000km of new roads envisaged by the project, 4,500km have been built, and a further 5,000km of existing roads have been upgraded at a cost of LE15 billion.
The 342km Sharm El-Sheikh road, constructed at a cost of LE3.5 billion and inaugurated last year, shortens the journey time between Cairo’s New Cairo district to Sharm El-Sheikh to four hours. Inaugurated late in 2019, the 30 July Axis, a 95km freeway costing LE8.5 billion, connects South Port Said with the Cairo-Ismailia Desert Road via the International Coastal Road (Port Said-Damietta).
Better roads have led to improved road safety. Between 2014 and 2019 the number of road accidents fell by 30 per cent, from 14,403 a year to 9,992.
In addition to new roads, 600 bridges and tunnels were built between July 2014 and June 2020 at a cost of LE85 billion.
Tahya Masr, a 540m long, 67.36m wide suspension bridge crossing the Nile, is the world’s widest cable-stayed bridge. It includes pedestrian walkways on either side, partly fitted with skywalks made of reinforced glass.
In 2019 four new tunnels linking Sinai to mainland Egypt were inaugurated, two in Ismailia and two in Port Said. Passing beneath the Suez Canal, the new tunnels will ease pressure on the Ahmed Hamdi Tunnel in Suez. An additional tunnel, to be constructed parallel to Ahmed Hamdi, is currently under construction.
Rod Al-Farag hanging bridge
In the last decade three phases of the third line of Cairo’s underground were inaugurated. The first phase, comprising 4.4km and five stations, was inaugurated in February 2012. The second, comprising 7.7km, opened in April 2014. A further phase, covering 11.5km, was launched in August 2020.
In November 2020, a consortium comprising Orascom Construction PLC and the Japanese Mitsubishi Corporation, signed an $800 million contract to execute construction work on the first phase of line four of the Cairo metro. The first phase will extend for 19 kilometres, ending in the Pyramids area in Giza, and serve 16 stations.
The Ministry of Transport reports the cost of metro projects implemented between July 2014 and June 2020 at LE33.1 billion, and estimates the total cost of projects currently underway at LE200 billion.
The railway sector, which includes 9,570km of tracks which transport 500 million passengers annually, has also undergone a revamp. Over the last six years LE40 billion has been spent on upgrading the system, and LE86 billion has been earmarked for projects under construction. This, though, say experts, is a drop in the ocean of what is required.
Osama Okail, professor of road and railway engineering at Ain Shams University, says the entire domestic railway network is moribund and “needs to be radically upgraded”.
Outdated signalling systems at crossings — 85 per cent remain manually operated — have contributed to a spike in rail accidents, from 1,057 in 2010 to 1,863 in 2019.
“Signals at crossings still depend on the telephone. Modern electrical signals need to be put in place and diesel engines should be replaced with electric ones,” says Okail.
In 2018, former Transport Hisham Arafat said that the real problem “is not engines and carriages but signals and infrastructure”. He claimed 98 per cent of train accidents in the last 30 years were caused by the outdated signalling system.
The Transport Ministry has earmarked the signalling systems along 1,800km of track for modernisation at a total cost of LE46.8 billion.
One project, executed under an agreement signed between Egyptian National Railways and Germany’s Siemens in December 2015, aims to raise safety levels on the Benha-Port Said and the Zagazig-Abu Kebir lines.
Additional lines are also planned. The first Light Rail Transit (LRT) system in Egypt is scheduled to begin operations in October 2021. It will connect with the third line of the Cairo underground network at Adli Mansour metro station, and link Cairo, Obour, Shorouk, Mostaqbal, Badr and 10 Ramadan city with the New Capital via the 16 stops along its 100km length.
Two monorail lines are also in the works. When they are complete a commuter will be able to take the monorail from 6 October city to Mohandessin, a 42km ride, change to the third metro line and travel to Cairo Stadium and then take the second monorail east through Tagammu to the New Administrative Capital, a 54km ride.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 December, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly