Boosting the Egyptian people’s morale is the justification often offered by the government for projects that fail to measure up to initial expectations. The question is, should the government be working on raising the morale of a nation where over a quarter of the population is living below the poverty line, or should it reallocate its budget to the critical needs of Egyptians, such as health care and education?
Whether a nation is wealthy or poor is of little importance when it comes to being mature concerning investment and expenditure policies. A developing nation that is by default overwhelmed by plenty of challenges should give much thought to its return on investment before undertaking any project, prioritizing its expenditures based on its citizens’ real and immediate needs. We should have raised the question of whether developing a new luxury city for a tiny wealthy minority is essential, or whether it would be better to allocate the money to meeting some of the needs of the deprived majority of Egyptians.
As Egypt builds a new administrative capital, 45 kilometers from downtown Cairo, most advanced nations have been working on offering public services online to reduce the number of their government employees. Egypt’s seven million government employees (roughly a third of the national workforce) are known for their low productivity and modest earnings. Do we expect them to move to the new luxury administrative city, or does the government intend to further expand the ranks of its employees by hiring more?
In Egypt, we tend to focus on the cherry on top of the cake without truly considering the quality of the cake itself, convinced that the cherry alone will attract enough customers. The inauguration of a luxury hotel in the new administrative capital while the city is still under construction is an example of this tendency. Our nation is blessed with hundreds of kilometers of seafront and a river over 1,000km long; if we want to build a luxury hotel, it should obviously be where tourists and businessmen will be eager to stay — on the banks of the Nile or on one of our many beachfronts.
Instead of building a new city, the money would be better spent on people’s genuine needs in health care and education.
Evidently, developing nations are not destined to remain so for decades — if they make the correct choices. We are working to run away from the fabulous historic city of Cairo by building a new isolated city in the desert, based on a single proposition: “size matters.” Egypt has a serious overpopulation challenge that needs to be addressed by substantially reducing the number of births, not by building new cities. We tend to run away from our challenges by creating something new (and less attractive), ignoring our invaluable assets.
Egypt is blessed with countless resources; before constructing a new isolated city, the government needs to think of how to maximize the use of these resources. Constantly thinking of developing something new while ignoring our historical venues is clear proof of shortsightedness. The Egyptian government should set an example by its investment choices, ensure the transparency of public projects and engage its citizens constructively in all its forthcoming ventures and plans.
• Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom. Twitter: @MohammedNosseir