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In the film The Yacoubian Building, Zaki – the film’s protagonist, played by Adel Imam – stumbles through Talaat Harb Square in the early hours of the morning, commanding people to come look at the "apartment buildings that used to be better than the ones in Europe." Although Zaki’s comments are part of a drunken diatribe, he has a point: the iconic square is an aesthetic has-been, its once-white French neoclassical buildings browned by dust and smog and its streets teeming with motor and pedestrian traffic. But it is not just Talaat Harb that has deteriorated. A multitude of other districts throughout Cairo are also far cries from their former selves. Many attribute the decline of Cairo’s aesthetic lure to the ails of overpopulation – overcrowding, traffic, poor infrastructure and rampant garbage. Speaking at a press conference in July, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab spoke of a possible solution to these issues that would relocate government ministries to an administrative capital outside of Cairo on the Cairo-Suez road, a move he said would loosen traffic congestion. The proposal – one of many recent urban planning projects announced by the government to reduce overcrowding in the capital – has been touted by many as the solution to Cairo’s deterioration. But is it possible for Egypt to take on another capital? Two requirements For Ahmed Zaazaa – urban designer, researcher, architect, and cofounder of Madd platform, an independent institution that works on issues related to urban development – the name "capital" in itself brings with it a stigma that is counterproductive. "It doesn’t even have to be called a capital," the architect said, "it can be as simple as an ‘important city’ that is exclusively for government and administrative activity." Zaazaa feels that while such an "important city" can thin the traffic and pollution that plague Cairo, its ability to do so depends on two requirements: being a critical distance of at least 100 km outside of Cairo and not being constructed from scratch. The architect believes that government-sponsored urban development projects aimed at easing overpopulation in Cairo have historically violated these conditions on several occasions. Over the past 60 years the government has planned various "city centres" within Cairo’s city limits meant to consolidate cultural, political, commercial and other government or business activities under one roof (see map provided by ZaaZaa). Map of past City Centre projects. Credit: Ahmed Zaazaa Zaazaa explained that each of these projects were not only abandoned but "were not far enough outside of Cairo to have much of an effect on overcrowding.” But even projects outside of Cairo can fail if constructed from scratch. Take two relocation projects from the era of Hosni Mubarak – the Toshka New Valley Project and the Cairo 2050 plan. Both intended to address overcrowding by shifting millions of Cairenes to new desert communities that would cost millions of dollars to build. “Such projects were never completed because of their impracticality,” Zaaaza said, explaining that they were “a waste of time and resources” that depended on unrealistic relocation and astronomical investment figures. Although little information has been provided regarding Mahlab's July announcement, recent comments from former housing minister and prominent engineer Hasballah El-Kafrawi revealed a few details while indicating that the same poor planning may be at work. El-Kafrawi called the current regime's plans for the new capital "naïve" when speaking to Al-Masry Al-Youm in early August, explaining that a new LE53 billion (about $7.5 billion) project to build a city 60 km outside of Cairo without providing the infrastructure for workers to reach it had been put forth by an "irresponsible government" without "convincing justification." "For a project like a new administrative city to be seen through, it must be practical," the urban designer said, "that is the intention behind the two criteria I have suggested." With this in mind, Zaazaa proposes creating "an important administrative city" in a place like Fayoum, a city of roughly 350,000 people around 100 km south of Cairo. "Fayoum is already equipped with an existing community and resources like Lake Qarun that the government could rely on in developing an important city," he said. "This project meets criteria and will have a real effect on pollution and traffic in Cairo without requiring millions in funding" he explained. Has overpopulation been framed? While many are convinced that Cairo’s beauty has waned as a result of overpopulation, Zaazaa believes a look into Egypt’s history may expose a different culprit. The architect said that places like Talaat Harb square have not deteriorated so much because of overcrowding but because of "failed urban policy." Zaazaa pointed to Boulaq Abul Ela – a now run-down, impoverished and overcrowded district in central Cairo – and explained that it was "actually more populated and better maintained" in 1890 than it is today. "There is a policy failure here," ZaaZaa explained, "the government should be keeping up with maintenance and street cleaning and identifying historic areas as heritage sites." He added that even when the government does choose to focus on identifying heritage sites and their restoration, its approach applies an artificial mask, leaving such a place devoid of its true character. An example is the restoration of El-Moez Street, a main street in old Islamic Cairo that was restored in several stages between 1998 and 2008. To ZaaZaa, the government’s LE5 million ($700,000) project on El-Moez Street was one that "simply cleaned streets" and renovated buildings. While he agrees that the street is now "much better looking" he also feels the project eliminated the "organic bustle" that was such an important part of its character. So for ZaaZaa, while now may be the time for Egypt’s new capital it is also the time for a renewed approach to urban policy which is practical and seeks to "preserve authenticity." "If we can redesign urban policy in parallel with building up a city like Fayoum so that it accommodates all administrative activities, then we stand a real chance to preserve Cairo’s old grandeur."
Finance Minister Hany Kadry Dimian has stated that Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb formed a “quartet committee” comprising the ministers of investment, industry and planning, alongside Kadry, to ensure a rapid acquisition of the required funding for the expansion and drilling of the new canal, with an estimated value of EGP 60bn. The decision was carried out after consultations with President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.
In early August Al-Sisi inaugurated the project to dig a new canal while also expanding the Suez Canal. The entire project will raise revenue from the canal from the current $5bn to an estimated $13bn, due to an increase in ships passing through the canal, global trade volume, and transport and trade fees.
Kadry believes that financing the Suez Canal project requires large sums of money, for which the government has sought the help of its citizens. Government banks will therefore be issuing investment certificates with 12% returns next week to individuals and institutions on behalf of the Suez Canal Authority.
Commenting on the government’s proposal to finance the canal through investment certificates and not through shares, Kadry stated that the decision was made to ensure national security, in order to protect the project from exposure to vacillating shareholders or the sale of shares to foreigners.
He added that the yield on the certificates would be in dollars, and the estimated 3.5% interest rate is not as low as alleged by some because the certificates are government-ensured. He confirmed that the Suez Canal Authority will pay the returns on the certificates until the project itself provides the funding for the returns.
Hany Tawfik, head of the Egyptian Direct Investment Association, has stated that the cost of financing the project, EGP 60bn, is no small amount, and will inevitably put pressure on the liquidity available in the banking system. Individuals will not be able to provide this funding alone, he said. In addition, he believes the project will put pressure on the private sector’s access to finance and banking, reducing the levels of liquidity available to finance debt.
Tawfik wants the government to allow foreigners to buy certificates instead of limiting itself to Egyptians only, so as to ensure Egyptians that attracting new liquidity from outside the banking system is possible. However he would hope the procedure provides ceilings to foreign ownership on the certificates, limiting how and whom these certificates could be sold to by foreigners.
Tawfiz suggested a limited listing and trading of the certificates within the stock exchange, stating that the expansion and drilling project is huge and will take place on both sides of the channel. Thus, huge investments from internal and external actors should be encouraged so as to provide a competitive investment environment and attract other countries to the project.
He added that Egypt’s success in attracting investment to finance its projects will not depend on patriotic slogans, but rather on feasibility studies on the economic and financial environment and an improvement in business practices in Egypt, which together will help revive confidence in the Egyptian economy.
Some experts have described the project as a nationalistic venture because, in reality, the economic feasibility studies have not provided any clear evidence on how the project would be completed, or on how it would increase revenue to $13bn.
Fakhry Al-Fiki, former assistant executive director of the International Monetary Fund, has stated that he believes that despite its risks the canal project, especially given that the implementation period has been reduced significantly, could be a good investment opportunity. In particular, he believes that holders of investment certificates will benefit because their returns are guaranteed by both the Suez Canal Authority and the government.
He wonders, however, on what criteria the government is making this particular project a priority, “not because I object to it, but want to understand the government’s direction, especially since the country is suffering darkness in factories and homes because of a chronic power crisis.”
In a press statement last week, Mehleb said that the Suez Canal project will contribute to lowering the high unemployment rates in the country, by providing a variety of job opportunities to Egyptians.
State security has launched a crackdown on what it is calling a new jihadist cell in Cairo and Giza, which is calling itself the Helwan Brigades, a Ministry of Interior source told Youm7.
A video published by the group Aug. 14 showed a dozen masked youth holding automatic weapons. One of them, Magdy Fonia, kept threatening and inciting against police and army forces, saying that the police were torturing citizens assisted by the army and they have killed protesters in peaceful marches.
The video was released a few hours after the killing of a police officer in Helwan and the injury of another. However, the Helwan Brigades were not accused of targeting the victims, Al-Masry Al-Youmreported.
The source told Youm7 that security arrested five new members of the group Tuesday and they are being interrogated by the National Security Agency.
He added that Fonia was among the arrested members and that security had managed to identify 20 other suspects.
Ministry of Interior deputy Maj. Gen. Sayed Shafiq told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the crackdown on the Helwan Brigades lasted for seven days in seven different governorates and that security is still pursuing eight of the men in the video.
Additional reporting by Ahmed Marie.
By DALIA FAROUK
CAIRO: A protocol to recycle cement dust by incorporating it into road construction was signed Tuesday between Alexandria Portland Cement and The Arab Contractors companies in the presence of Environment Minister Khaled Fahmy.
A ministry press release documenting the signing said the agreement not only makes use of cement dust—a byproduct of cement production—but also helps the environment, as cement dust left unused can have negative health effects and would otherwise just be buried underground.
Ibrahim Hussein, the former head of the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency in Upper Egypt, told The Cairo Post Tuesday that cement factories are one of the biggest polluters in Egypt, in no small part due to cement dust.
Hussein said the dust and other ingredients used in cement production can cause congenital pneumonia—usually in factory workers—but also sometimes in residents living near factories and disposal sites.
Fahmy said in press statements Tuesday the new protocol ensures cement dust will be recycled into road pavement, which he said was environmentally friendly and negated its potential ill health effects.
Hussein agreed, telling The Cairo Post that recycling the dust and using it in other industries will minimize the hazards of improper disposal measures. Burying the dust he said often pollutes the surrounding land and makes it unsuitable for living and agriculture.
He also said using the dust in the manufacture of cement tiles used in paving roads will minimize the cost of the pavement process.
Hussein added the tiles could be exported in the future to create a new source of income.
The agreement is expected to provide road projects with between 150 to 300 tons of cement dust daily, according to the Environmental Ministry statement.
It added that in Cairo alone, 3,000 tons of cement dust was produced daily in cement production, and disposing of it properly will minimize pollution.