The teeming, maddening, and indescribably charming city of Cairo has served as Egypt's capital for 1,000 years. When it emerged it was perhaps the most important cultural center in the Arab world.
But the city's days as Egypt's capital could be numbered. On Friday, the Egyptian government announced that the country will build a new capital from scratch, carving out a piece of the desert between Cairo and the Suez Canal. The project, which is being dubbed "the Capital Cairo," is slated to cost an estimated $45 billion and host Egypt's sprawling government bureaucracy, universities, tourism facilities, hospitals, and a new international airport.
Appearing at an economic development conference in Sharm al-Sheikh, a popular resort town, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi framed the new capital as a major step forward for his country, which has endured decades of economic stagnation.
But the immense cost of the project—$45 billion is slightly more than a sixth of Egypt's GDP—has some Cairenes wondering why the government doesn't invest in the capital that they already have. Writing in the Egyptian Observer, the academic and Cairo native Khaled Fahmy argued that the money spent on the new capital "could solve the problems of Cairo's inner cities where 63 percent of the city's inhabitants live. We could provide them with all the basic needs that they have been deprived of over the past 50 years: potable water, health care, clean air, recreational facilities, and much more."