EGYPT’S NEW PLANS FOR DECENTRALIZATION
By Nehal El-Sherif
Numerous governments have tried to re-arrange Cairo’s urban planning by getting rid of many buildings built illegally, where the ownership of the land is always under dispute. However, with almost 50 per cent of the population living in such areas, the moves were always met with controversy and sometimes riots.
The last move to redraw the provincial map in Egypt was in 2008, when two provinces were established around the capital, namely the October 6 and Helwan provinces. However, there were no real consequences of this in terms of decentralization and the decision was cancelled in April 2011, after the ouster of Hosny Mubarak.
After three years of unrest in Egypt and the political changes that took place in January 2011 and June 2013, the new government appears to pay more attention to the problems of the informal urban areas, after several warnings by experts and activists that the unfulfilled bright hopes of the residents of these areas following the revolution could re-ignite unrest.
In January, it was announced that the government’s Informal Settlements Development Facility and the armed forces would work on upgrading 30 slums in Cairo and Giza provinces with 350 million Egyptian pounds investments to improve sanitation networks and roads, among other things. On a bigger scale, the government appears to be moving forward with a plan that has been brought up several times over the past decade. The latest shape of the plan would allow some provinces more space and resources and create new ones to diversify investment opportunities in under-developed areas.
Vision for the future
Assem Al-Gazzar, the Head of the General Organization for Physical Planning, a government body responsible for urban planning in Egypt, says that the organization has not been affected by political events.
“Our vision did not change, but it evolved to meet the needs of the people. We are working on more than one development project that aims to fix the disorder in the population distribution and provide job opportunities in other provinces away from Cairo,” explained Asses Al-Gazzar.
The Egypt 2052 plan focuses on areas that need development and on top of these areas is the north-western coast. But the government has also been working on two other projects, the development of the Suez Canal and a mining project. Al-Gazzar said these projects aim to attract more labour force to these zones, thus intensifying the population in these areas.
“These projects will create many jobs and provide services. For example, the mining project, which will be implemented in the south, includes the construction of industrial parks that is expected to provide job opportunities to thousands of young people, so it will prevent internal migration and solve the demographic imbalance,” he continues.
However, the political scene in Egypt is far from stable and there are fears that these projects will be stalled again. For example, a new parliament is expected to be elected in 2015.
“As I said before we are not influenced by political changes. Many governments have changed and urban development plans did not. Only minor changes could happen, if we decided to highlight different parts of the plan, but our goal remains to develop the country.”
Nehal El-Sherif is one is ThinkingUrban's global reporters on city planning affairs. With more than seven years of experience in the media and communications sector, Nehal has worked as a Communications Assistant at IFC’s regional office in Cairo for almost three years.