Egypt’s New Administrative Capital: Incentives In Action


Ben Hoffman, Staff Writer

Cairo is choking.


With a population edging towards ten million people – a factor set only to increase in the coming years and decades – the city is a crush of humanity. The unmarked asphalt streets which make up the city are host to the comings and goings of the uncountable number of people that make up Cairo, their very ebbing and flowing granting the city its human presence. There is pressure here; the lack of space and a lackadaisical attitude towards traffic laws combined with air hazy enough with smog to make even a chainsmoker gasp combine to create a high pressure, claustrophobic environment.


It is little wonder, then, that Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s plans for a New Administrative Capital have been taken at face value. There is much need for space and affordable housing to alleviate at least some of this pressure, and what better way to do so than with an entirely new city? Yet there is more here than what meets the eye, more than just a president’s plan to push a plan with less-than-benevolent intentions, something which can shed light on the very nature of leadership itself.


The NAC has been marketed as a way to lessen some of Cairo’s population woes, with proposed plans including significant greenspace and housing initiatives. This will, after all, be the new seat of Egyptian administrative power, it wouldn’t do if it were ragged around the edges. The streets will be lined with tidy rows of affordable housing; the roads will be paved with gold. 


These promises are unlikely to be entirely lived up to. Even after ignoring all previous ill-advised efforts by dictators and pseudo-dictators to construct a mega project like this (and the results thereof) solving a city’s overpopulation crisis by building another urban center is only viable if the very people you want to live there can afford to. And since the going rate for a two bedroom apartment in the NAC is hovering around $50,000 USD in a country where the average GDP per capita is $3000 USD, well, it is unlikely most people will be able to make the move. 


Furthermore, the Egyptian president doesn’t even have an incentive to make this new city beneficial to his people; he doesn’t have to fear not getting reelected. His title of president is really more of a nicety than a descriptor of his job – wannabe dictator would be more like it. Over the last six years, and especially with the advent of the coronavirus, he has increased the police’s powers to arrest rivals and quash dissent, bought votes and conducted fraudulent elections, and overall done a less than stellar job of being the leader of a democracy.


Since he is no longer beholden to his people, el-Sisi now has the freedom to go and do whatever the hell he wishes without fear of the peasants getting uppity – and so he has. The problems which the NAC is purported to solve, it will not; indeed, it seems as though the high property prices within the NAC are more meant to make it a community structured for the privileged few rather than the untold many. It will also serve as a bastion for Egypt’s president and his ministers, should they ever face unrest or revolt from Cairo’s population.


The army will also likely significantly benefit from the NAC. They will be in charge of not only managing the 40 billion dollars USD that this project requires, but will also be granted the wherewithal to sell or manage the various housing units, embassies, and other miscellaneous buildings within this new capital. Undoubtedly, this will make them what we in the business call a disgusting amount of money, and certainly the army will feel gratitude towards the man who gave them this fortune, al-Sisi.


This thoroughly demonstrates the main strength of democracy, and not only in the most obvious, ineluctable way: the primary virtue of democracy is that it aligns the motives of the people with the motives of state. Not only does the democratic system elect politicians from the general population (with some caveats) it makes appeasing the people a vital part of participating in the system itself. This is why democracies generally do not try things as insane as Egypt’s new capital, unless there is a very obvious payoff to the electorate at large (or the electorate can be convinced that there is). 


This is not to say that there are no problems within democracy itself. Indeed, there are some rather significant flaws within the system, the two most notable being that it relies on the median opinion of the average voter, and term limits. While the problems of the former should be fairly obvious to most people, the latter requires a little bit more explanation.


Let’s take, for example, climate change. Nobody currently participating in modern society believes that climate change is a hoax, now. I’m sorry to say, but if you currently hold this opinion, you’re no longer part of the mainstream – you’re a crackpot. Yet it has always been that less has been done for climate change than optimally would, being that it is quite literally an existential gun aimed at a large portion of our biosphere. 


Imagine that you’re a politician, repulsive though it may be to you. Let’s say a mayor, or a prime minister, Alderman of Canterbury, or whatever you’d like –  so long as you’re democratically elected. Now, your primary concern is being reelected, and the number one way to achieve this goal is by making sure your voters are satisfied. You are aware climate change is a rather significant problem, and you are aware that it would furthermore take quite a bit of money, time, and patience in order to make any progress in cutting down carbon emissions and the like  – money, time, and patience which could be better used getting yourself elected again. 


Do you fight climate change?


The answer, for quite a number of politicians, has historically been no. It has only been due to a pesky little thing called moral responsibility that climate change has been fought at all (that, and perhaps a sense of obligation to follow up on various campaign promises to fight climate change). 


We look out towards the deserts, towards Egypt’s waste, and call it a travesty. We look to our own system, to our politicians, ministers, pastors, and mayors, to their laws and actions and declare that It Is Bad and that They Are Fools. Certainly, some of our elected officials act patently illogical or self interested at times – I’m sure you can think of examples. Yet it is imperative that we understand the mechanisms behind our own system, or we may one day wake up to find us building our own shining city in the desert, accessible to only the barest few. 


Nothing beside remains. 

Round the decay Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare 

The lone and level sands stretch far away.