Q: Egypt has achieved a certain degree of political stability and economic recovery in the past few years, and is now betting on a few mega-projects to give new impetus to this recovery. Why is the government investing $45bn in a new capital city?
A: We are facing an annual population growth of 3%, which adds up to almost 3 million citizens per year. We have a strategic plan for economic development all over Egypt, and the new capital is part of this plan. [We need to think about] where we can put these people. Within 30 to 40 years, Egypt's population will reach 160 million to 180 million [from the current 100 million], so we have to expand the urban areas to live in. At the moment 93% of our population is living on 7% of our land. We are looking to increase this to 12% to 14% within the next 40 years, so that is why we have started to think about new cities all around Egypt.
The new capital is one of the new cities. In the new capital, we are going to have 6 million inhabitants after it is finished. We began working on the new capital in April 2016. It has been three years now and 50% to 60% of phase one is already under development. We think that in a year from now, the government will move, with the president, to the new capital [alongside] all the [related] business. We have a lot of residential districts in this area [that] will be ready in a year-and-a-half from now, with people ready to move there.
Q: Mega-projects can pay off with huge dividends but can also lead to big failures. Sadr City in Iraq and King Abdullah City in Saudi Arabia have failed to live up to expectations. How is Egypt's new capital going to be any different?
A: Before we started the planning of the new capital, we studied [similar] experiences from all over the world, including all the countries that have a new capital. One of the main things is that we chose a prime location. It is almost beside the capital, 60 kilometres from downtown Cairo, and 60 kilometres from our major national project, the Suez Canal Corridor. We started with the government investing in infrastructure to make the capital ready for the developers to come and buy the land and start their projects.
Q: You mentioned the demographic challenge that Egypt is facing. Do you think this is the biggest challenge that the country is facing in the medium to long term?
A: This is a big challenge. In the past, population always increased in the slums, as the government was not moving fast enough to build new areas for these people to live in and find jobs. We are moving fast in these areas now.
We are working in all areas, not just the capital. We are working in El Alamein in the north, and we have almost 15 new cities all over Egypt. We are expanding our existing urban areas, we are looking for people to move and find jobs in these areas. In 2018, unemployment was almost 11%, but this year it is down to 9%.