Is building a new capital for Egypt a top priority ? Ahram Online
Maasoum Marzouk , Tuesday 21 Apr 2015
The whole world saw the Egyptian prime minister sobbing when reading his speech at the conclusion of the Egypt Economic Development Conference held lately in Sharm El-Sheikh. It was a moving scene on a human level. The same goes for the “selfie” moment when a group of youth crowded around the president, full of human warmth and spontaneous emotion that incited laughter and applause.
Between Mahlab’s tears and gathering around El-Sisi, the scene seemed as if it were shot in an old romantic black and white film: tears, smiles and a happy ending, as if for a moment we were not witnessing the conclusion to an economic conference, but rather the conclusion of a “One Hundred Years of Cinema” festival.
Well, let’s put aside congratulating ourselves and being proud of good organisation. A huge number of people have already talked and sung about the cup that is half-full with hundreds of billions of dollars. I hope that hearts can be open for he who wants to discuss the part that is half empty. Away from torturing ourselves or scaring others or hurling dirt, it is the duty of every reasonable person.
The Prophet Abraham said to God: “My Lord, show me how You give life to the dead.” It was said to him: “Have you not believed?” He replied: “Yes, but [I ask] only that my heart may be satisfied.” I have wished — and still wish — to swallow all I have seen and heard until now. Perhaps there is something that was not declared and bore great benefit, or God forbid additional disasters.
Does constructing a new capital for Egypt occupy a top priority in addressing our economic problems? During the last decades, a number of what we can call “small capitals” were built, such as Sadat City, 10th of Ramadan, Madinaty (My City), El-Tagammu El-Khames (The Fifth Settlement), 6th of October, etc. Billions of dollars were even poured in the form of concrete jungles in North Coast cities that weren’t used except for a few months during the entire year. As a point of fact, I am not convinced that we have, for the time being, the luxury of spending more than $45 billion on new cities.
How easy and sweet to make people live with illusions. But this crime in which the same elites have participated before, and of whom most came out to promote illusions once again, is spreading without any of them wondering whether these billions will be nothing but another tranche of debt that will accumulate on the shoulders of upcoming generations while it seeps into the sands (like Toshka), or into the pockets of some lucky ones, as is usual.
Yes, it is a good thing and an old dream that we have a new capital in order that we get rid of the pains of our old capital and have a city that we are proud of. However, should we pour $45 billion into additional concrete jungles, or should we push it into the arteries of micro, small and medium sized projects (the prescription of Brazilian President Lula da Silva who eradicated poverty in his country during two presidential terms). We could also feed by it structural reform in all levels of education during the next 10 years (the Asian Tigers experience). Are we in dire need to build skyscrapers challenging those of Dubai and other Gulf cities, or are we in need of decent dwellings to accommodate almost 12 million Egyptian citizen living in slums, housing shelters and cemeteries?
Regarding contracts struck at the conference, what has transpired until now confirms that we are standing in front of one of the applications of the Chicago School in economics, which was embraced by Ahmed Nazif’s government and his inheritor’s clique. It is also similar to the bible of the International Monetary Fund (whose managing director, Mrs Lagarde, attended and was in a state utter happiness and joy).
As I have mentioned, all members of the Mubarak regime’s economic team were the guardians of this school. They attempted, indeed, to solve the Egyptian economy’s crises through selling Egypt by way of privatisation (although they dared not come near subsidies). Despite the fact that programme application was underway for more than 30 years (or since the beginning of the Open Door era), the majority of the Egyptian people did not feel a significant improvement in their living conditions. The result was that corruption increased in every form and the gap widened between classes, against the backdrop of oppressive practices that led, in the end, to the explosion in January 2011.