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Egypt: $32m ‘Cairo Eye’ landmark plans denounced as hospitals suffer

Many have said the money could be better spent on the country’s Covid-19 response, as hospitals are overwhelmed
The new project is planned for construction in the congested upscale Zamalek neighbourhood (Screengrab/Twitter)

The announcement of Egypt’s plans to build a "Cairo Eye" landmark in the heart of the affluent Zamalek neighbourhood in the country's capital has sparked criticism amid an unprecedented crisis in Egypt's hospitals as coronavirus cases soar. 

On Thursday, Cairo Governor Khaled Abdel-Aal said that the project, estimated to cost around 500 million Egyptian pounds ($32m), would hopefully generate sustainable tourism to the area. 

According to Abdel-Aal, the landmark could attract around 2.5 million visitors a year seeking to get a panoramic view of the city from the ferris wheel.

However, many have criticised the plans for the new landmark, set to be inaugurated in 2022, stating that the money could have been better spent on hospitals struggling to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, or on schools. 

Some have also suggested that the structure would not suit Cairo’s historic architecture, and would clash with the buildings and landmarks already there. 

Translation: Half a billion pounds to be spent on a ferris wheel instead of spending them on education or hospitals or coronavirus vaccinations or on around 30 million Egyptians living under the poverty line…

Similar ferris wheels can be found in major world cities, such as London, Dubai, Las Vegas and Singapore. However, some critics online say that the Zamalek neighbourhood, which is rich in cultural heritage, does not need to copy other cities. 

Others also raised concerns that the new addition will only exacerbate congestion in the area, and reduce green spaces available to residents. 

Translation: What’s going on? What are all these billions and billions being spent to transform Cairo and indebt us for future centuries

According to a report in local media, the historic Zamalek neighbourhood has suffered over the years, with the demolition of dozens of villas and buildings to pave the way for the construction of residential apartment blocks and a bridge. 

The report states that in a bid to develop the area further, residents were forced to reluctantly accept the changes, and those remaining have been suffering from water shortages, increased congestion, lack of parking and even difficulty reaching their homes easily. 

The Ministry of Transport has also started the construction of the Zamalek Metro in the area, despite warnings from engineers that the project may not be viable due to the soil and land in the area. 

Last year, reports stated that a new extension of the Cairo underground metro, leading to Zamalek, caused a 12-story building site to be evacuated, with photos circulating online showing cracks in the building.

Earlier this week, Egypt announced it would be spending over $23bn on a new train line, which critics said is designed for the country’s elite and would only increase disparities in wealth.

The new projects have been deemed a misuse of public funds, with critics using the announcements to highlight the deteriorating conditions in hospitals in the country, which have worsened as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Video footage circulating online earlier this month showed coronavirus patients being turned away from hospitals despite their critical condition, due to a lack of oxygen tanks. 

Reports also revealed that many doctors and healthcare workers are not properly equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE), and that a surge in cases could push the country’s healthcare system to the brink of collapse. 

New capital

The Egyptian government has invested in a series of high-profile infrastructure projects - with the new administrative capital perhaps the most prominent.

Currently being built in the desert 45km east of Cairo, private construction companies are hard at work under the supervision of the army.

The ambitious project aims to house the government, a presidential palace, the supreme court and the central bank, as well as an airport and business district. 

The $45bn project is expected to be about the size of Singapore and has raised many concerns over its economic feasibility.