The Egyptians have always been prodigious engineers.
From the great pyramids at Giza during the Fourth Dynasty to the majestic temples of Luxor and Karnak in the Middle Kingdom to the extraordinary disassembling, lifting and reassembling of the Nubian twin rock temples of Abu Simbel in the 1960s (to save them from being emerged in Lake Nasser when Assan Damn was constructed), to this year’s $8 billion expansion of the Suez Canal to widen and deepen shipping bypasses to allow for two-way traffic, the Egyptians have always accomplished astonishing engineering feats that have amazed — and continue to amaze — the rest of the civilized world.
And now, Egypt is at it again.
This time, the Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi administration has taken on an ambitious plan to create a new administrative capital, a Herculean project that will constitute the second-most important construction venture in the nation, representing an investment of $45 billion.
The new business and administrative capital will be built on 270 square miles of desert land just outside Cairo, and will be constructed by both Egyptian and Chinese engineers.
Beijing’s participation, through its state-owned China State Construction Engineering Corporation, one of the world’s largest construction firms, will be in the form of financial support (with loans and grants to the tune of about $15 billion) and technical knowhow.
Work began on the enterprising megaproject last April, with Egyptian construction companies developing roads, sanitation and communication infrastructure that will provide the framework for the massive undertaking.
The country’s minister of housing, Mostafa Madbouly, has said that construction of the new yet-unnamed city is a top priority for the nation, and that it will be built regardless of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles of the uninviting terrain of the area in question, the urban sprawl from Cairo that has already extended into the region, and the innumerable social and political issues that are straining Egypt’s national budget.
But the new capital is a necessity for Egypt, since Cairo has become unnavigable with an expansive population of 18 million people and almost as many cars, buses, trucks, tuk-tuks and horse-drawn carriages that make getting from one end of the city to the other a virtual nightmare.
Worse yet, experts predict that, unless there is some sort of escape valve to decongest the city (such as the new capital), Cairo’s population could reach 40 million by the year 2050.
The proposed project for the new capital seems almost unfathomable.
It includes the construction of 21 residential districts with mixed-income housing for some 7 million people and a monumental city center with soaring skyscrapers enveloping a luxurious financial district.
The blueprints also include the construction of a lavish, state-of-the-art international airport that will be larger than London’s Heathrow, as well as a public park bigger than New York’s Central Park and an amusement park that will be four times the size of Disneyland.
The new city will also boast about 2,000 educational institutions, a technology and innovation park, 633 hospitals and clinics, 1,250 mosques, 40,000 hotel rooms, 90 square kilometers of solar energy farms and an electric railway linking it to Cairo.
And all of it is due to be ready and operational by the end of 2020.
No easy feat for any nation, especially one that has been strapped by five years of political unrest, countless attacks of jihadist terrorism and a severe cutback in tourism, which has always been the lifeblood of the Egyptian economy.
But, then again, we are talking about Egypt, the nation that brought us the pyramids of Giza way back when nearly all of Europe was still living in the neolith age and which managed, with the help of UNESCO, to dissect and dismantle two 3,000-year-old temples into more than 10,000 blocks (weighing up to 30 tons each) and later reconstruct the entire complex at an entirely new site.
Yes, the Egyptians are and always have been master engineers, and if anyone can pull off this new construction project it is them, the sons of the pharaohs, the greatest architectural builders the world has ever known.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]