Sisi’s regime has used ambitious urban planning and development schemes as a tool to reinforce authoritarian rule in Egypt. Urban development schemes were seen by the regime as a source for generating legitimacy and revenue for the state, and for policing society to prevent an urban uprising akin to the uprising of January 2011.
As a source for legitimacy, ambitious urban development schemes were supposed to bring forth a vision of a new society based on urban renewal and expansion, ambitious infrastructure projects and new employment opportunities. As a source for rent or revenue, urban development schemes were supposed to generate revenue for the state by allowing it to become the biggest real estate developer in Egypt. The state endeavored to build new cities in the desert and to free up lands in prime locations by forcefully relocating its inhabitants to either develop this land or sell it to real estate developers.
Finally, as a tool for policing the city and preventing urban upheaval, urban development schemes were supposed to remove state institutions from highly populated areas to a new gated capital in the middle of the desert and to redesign important parts of the city to make them more easily accessible to security forces.
Ten years since the state embarked on its ambitious urban planning and renewal plans the results seem mixed at best. The quest to achieve legitimacy seems to have failed in the face of deepening economic crisis and the state’s failure to address the essential needs of its citizens. These projects have also failed to generate the revenue needed to solve the economic problems of the state. Finally, the inability of the state to complete these projects due to financial constraints has limited their intended effects on regime security and its enhanced ability to police society and curb any potential uprising.
This aim of this paper is to explore how urban planning and development became the primary national project of the Sisi regime, how the regime formulated its vision for urban planning and renewal and how this vision was translated on the ground. Secondly, the paper will explore how urban planning was intended as a vehicle to legitimate the Sisi regime, to generate revenue and to police society. Finally, the paper will examine the actual results of the urban development schemes and their impact on state legitimacy, revenue, and security.