New capital

Egypt presses on with new capital in the desert

While Egypt’s economy has stumbled due to the coronavirus outbreak, construction at a new capital taking shape east of Cairo is continuing at full throttle after a short pause to adjust working practices, officials say.

The level of activity at the desert site reflects the new city’s political importance even as the government grapples with the pandemic.

Known as the New Administrative Capital, it is the biggest of a series of megaprojects championed by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi as a source of growth and jobs.

Soon after coronavirus began to spread, El-Sisi postponed moving the first civil servants to the new city and moved back the opening of a national museum adjoining the pyramids to next year.

Productivity dipped as companies adapted to health guidelines and some laborers stayed home.

But officials have sought to keep the megaprojects going to protect jobs, and after 10 days of slowdown, construction had fully resumed at the new capital with a shift system, said Amr Khattab, a spokesman for the Housing Ministry, which along with the military owns the company building the city.

“The proportion of the labor force that is present on site doesn’t exceed 70 percent, so that the workers don’t get too close,” he said as he showed off the R5 neighborhood, which includes about 24,000 housing units.

“We work less intensively, but we do two shifts.” One senior official said last year the cost of the whole project was about $58 billion.

While some Egyptians see the new capital as a source of pride, others see it as extravagant.

“We have clear instructions from his excellency the president that the postponement of the opening is not a delay to the project,” said Khattab.

“The project is running on time.” Disinfection and other protective measures were visible at the construction site 45km east of the Nile.

Egypt has confirmed more than 10,000 coronavirus cases, but none at the new capital.

Delays in payments to contractors and to imported supplies were additional risks, said Shams Eldin Youssef, a member of Egypt’s union for construction contractors. Khattab said the government had contractors’ payments in hand.