Many of Cairo's older buildings are in dire need of refurbishing. Reuters/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

A Cairo group finds a massive geographic disparity in infrastructure spending between so-called “new cities” and existing ones.

The Egyptian group 10 Tooba recently published findings on government spending on the country’s built environment—and the results are stark. The study looks at public spending on six sectors: housing, urban development, water, waste water, electricity, and transport.

10 Tooba, an organization of architecture and engineering professionals, found that roughly the same amount of funds are spent on the “existing built environment” as they are on the country’s so-called “new cities”—desert suburbs that have been promoted by Egyptian governments for the past four decades.

This parity in spending doesn't sound like a problem until you learn that only 2 percent of Egyptians live in the new cities, versus 98 percent in the rest of the country. That’s fewer than two million residents of the often swankier suburbs getting the same amount of resources as 88 million people. “The difference is completely unjustified,” says Yahia Shawkat, co-founder of 10 Tooba and co-author of the study.

10 Tooba’s calculations show that the Egyptian government spends 15,537 EGP ($1,750 USD) per person in the country’s new cities, versus 322 EGP ($36) per person in the existing built environment. (10 Tooba)

Egypt’s governments have in part focused on new cities to prevent overcrowding in existing urban areas. But these suburban communities have proven too expensive for the average citizen. (With names like Dreamland and Beverly Hills, this perhaps comes as no surprise.) And their unaffordability is compounded by their isolated locales and lack of public transport and social services, such as schools. Only a very small percentage of Egyptians owns a car, so poorer residents have no way to commute to and from the city to work or study.

10 Tooba recommends a rebalancing of investment and spending so that basic needs, such as sanitation, are met not only in the new cities but everywhere. (Shawkat notes, for example, that 50 percent of Egyptians in the existing built environment don’t have access to improved sanitation, whereas all the new cities are well equipped.) In the medium and long term, the study advises “vast administrative restructuring of the mostly national and sectoral agencies along local geographic lines.”

Egypt’s new cities, like this one on Cairo’s outskirts, are often referred to as “ghost cities” due to their low occupancy.  (Yahia Shawkat)  

This local aspect is particularly important, as Egypt’s central government wields most of the control over spending—and local officials are appointed by the central government rather than elected. This means there’s no one plugged in to local communities to advocate on their behalf. The vastness of the country adds to the problem. “[The city of] Aswan, for instance, is more than 500 miles from Cairo,” Shawkat says. “I can’t see a central government working efficiently with 90 million people with the distances we have in Egypt.”

Shawkat stresses that the study’s recommendations provide a win-win for all involved, as the government would continue to gain financially from the built environment, but Egyptian people as a whole would also benefit. “With a bit more regulation and a bit more thinking at the local level, you can make money for the public coffers and you can also make the quality of life better for a lot of Egyptians,” he says.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A photo-illustration of several big-box retail stores.
    Equity

    After the Retail Apocalypse, Prepare for the Property Tax Meltdown

    Big-box retailers nationwide are slashing their property taxes through a legal loophole known as "dark store theory." For the towns that rely on that revenue, this could be a disaster.

  2. A photo of a mural in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
    Life

    Stop Complaining About Your Rent and Move to Tulsa, Suggests Tulsa

    In an effort to beef up the city’s tech workforce, the George Kaiser Family Foundation is offering $10,000, free rent, and other perks to remote workers who move to Tulsa for a year.

  3. Equity

    Housing Can’t Be Both Affordable and a Good Investment

    The two pillars of American housing policy are fundamentally at odds.

  4. A photo of protesters carrying anti-Amazon posters during a rally and press conference in NYC.
    Amazon HQ2

    Amazon’s HQ2 Decision Was Always About Transit

    In the end, New York’s MTA and D.C.’s Metro were the only transportation networks capable of handling such an influx of new residents. But both cities will have some work to do.

  5. A mural of the Statues of Liberty and an American flag on a barn in Iowa
    Equity

    The Growing Inequality Between America’s Superstar Cities, and the Rest

    A new Brookings study documents the growing economic divergence of America’s superstar cities from smaller urban and rural areas.