What will the NAC look like? As Egypt expert David Butter of Chatham House says, the plans seem to have followed the examples of the UAE.

... It’s “let the desert bloom” redux. With Old Cairo’s circa 19 million population bursting at the seams, something needed to be done – and although it was only announced in 2015 at a conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, the futuristic megalopolis is happening apace, with off-plan flats already being snapped up, and new highways laid down.

The new city is located 45 kilometres east of Cairo in an area halfway to the seaport of Suez
The new city is located 45 kilometres east of Cairo in an area halfway to the seaport of Suez © Getty

But the NAC has bigger ambitions than real estate. By next June it aims to be Egypt’s new capital, rupturing Old Cairo’s thousand-year reign, with a new parliament, a central bank, an airport, a presidential palace (eight times bigger than the White House), a business district, Africa’s tallest tower, both Egypt’s tallest minaret and church steeple, and a theme park bigger than Disneyland. Stakeholders include the Egyptian army as well as Chinese and Emirati businesses: all to an original masterplan by US architects Skidmore, Owings and Merrill.

The NAC is the lovechild and legacy project of Egyptian strongman president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and it follows in the (not-always noble) rollcall of capitals moving from older sites to new planned cities, from Brasilia to Abuja in Nigeria and Yangon to Naypyidaw in Myanmar.

And it offers a chance to rebrand Egypt as a stable and internationally inviting sort of place that is considering the future as well as being a guardian of the past. “We have the right to have a dream,” says Khaled al-Husseini, the mega-project’s spokesman, articulating a new mentality for the country following the turbulence since the 2011 Arab Spring.