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Confusion regarding Egypt's new capital after Sisi announces lack of funds

President Sisi announced a lack of funds to build the new capital on Tuesday, while government officials said plans are still going ahead
Egyptian President Abdelfatah al-Sisi and Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum (AFP)

Plans to build a new Egyptian capital, announced during the donors’ conference held in Sharm el-Sheikh last month, have been cancelled due to a lack of funds, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi announced on Tuesday.

Egypt's leading newspaper Alahram's headline on Tuesday was: “The priority is for raising our citizens’ standards of living. The government budget will not be able to bear the costs of building the new capital,” said President Sisi.

The news circulated among the Egyptian public, sparked an uproar of sarcasm on social and other media platforms.

Translation: Have they actually abandoned the new capital 'Um Dhabi'. Where will I go now? I had high hopes for this new capital.

Egyptian journalist Nadia el-Maged said on Tuesday via her Twitter account:

“As usual, he [Sisi] tried to negotiate the number of years it would take to build the new capital, then the minister of housing said it would take 40 years then the general discovered that the state couldn’t bear the brunt of this new capital in the first place.”

She referenced a televised conversation between Sisi and Dubai ruler Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum during the conference, where Sisi negotiated the number of years needed to complete the project down to only three.

Hamza Zuaiba, a leading figure in the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party said on Wednesday during his talk show: “It is unbelievable, how could Sisi abandon the project. If it hadn’t been reported by Alahram, we wouldn’t have believed it.”

“Sisi’s announcement probably means that the new capital will depend completely on foreign investment and funding, then the finished project will be presented to Egyptians as a gift from the skies,” he added on a TV show.

The city was expected to span 700 sq km, or be about the size of Singapore, with an airport larger than London’s Heathrow, a park double the size of New York’s Central Park, and a theme park four times as big as Disneyland.

According to a brochure handed out in the conference, there were to be exactly 21 residential districts, 25 “dedicated districts” 663 hospitals and clinics, 1,250 mosques and churches, and 1.1mn homes housing at least five million residents, reported the Guardian.

At the time of the project's annoucement, many experts raised concerns regarding the feasibility of building a 'new capital'. 

Despite Sisi’s widely discussed announcement however, Mustafa Madbouli, minister of housing, said on Thursday that the private sector will in partnership with the Egyptian government build the new administrative capital, referencing the state’s limited budget as announced by Sisi.

The minister added that the state is currently preparing a project partnership agreement with a UAE company - which was not named, reported Egyptian daily al-Tahrir.

Meanwhile, head of the Egyptian Federation for Construction, Hassan Abdel Aziz said on Thursday that all Egyptian construction companies have been under review in preparation for the implementation of the new administrative capital project as well as other investment ventures presented at the donor’s conference, reported Egyptian daily al-Youm al-Sab’i.

He also affirmed that Egyptian construction companies are ready to carry out any projects, adding that the new administrative capital project will provide at least 500 new employment opportunities.

Further reflecting the confusion that has arisen since Sisi's announcement, Egyptian television anchor Mahmoud Saad called on the President to involve the public in the project plans and details.

"I really want to be excited about this new project, but I don't understand what's going," said Saad during his talk show Akher al-Nahaar, reported Egyptian online newspaper Almasriyoon. 
During his Wednesday episode Saad discussed Sisi's statement about the lack of a state budget for the new capital, considering it a declaration of the project's delay or complete abandonment. 

Saad highlighted the discrepancies between Sisi's statement and those of state officials.

While Sisi was announcing the abandonment of the project, the ministry of housing announced the formation of a technical group that would follow up on the implementation of the project, while in another statement it announced the start of the project within three months, according to Saad.

The President had reportedly also asked for the land allocated for the project to be vacated and had demanded that  work on the project should begin immediately, he added. 

"The President should come out and tell us more about the details of this new capital. We called the ministry of housing to get more information, but they said this project is 'with' the President," said Saad. 

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