Creaking Cairo cedes to high-tech new capital

Egypt is building the capital of the future - where residents will use smart cards and apps to unlock doors and make payments, and surf the web on WiFi beamed from lampposts.

The New Administrative Capital, as it's so far known, is being built from scratch in the desert.

It's designed to hold 6.5 million residents and is expected to welcome its first civil servants later this year.

Nearby Cairo is another world.

Creaking infrastructure means patchy internet and phone coverage. Administrative errands can involve hours of standing in line.

Some Egyptians see the new capital as the preserve of a privileged elite, while nearly a third of the population lives below the poverty line.

Others, like resident Tarek Habib, see the tech boost as long overdue.

"First of all, it will save time and effort. It will save all the obstacles of routine, paperwork and archiving, things like that. It will all be modern. I saw these things in Europe in the 1990s. These things are all very useful to the citizen."

Residents will be watched by at least 6,000 cameras, which will track pedestrians and vehicles on every street.

This advanced form of scrutiny - and any concerns over it - have yet to be tested.

Mohamed Khalil, the new capital's head of technology, says the aim is to fight crime.

"We have the most modern applications for managing for example a criminal case. So when there is something going on, and we have information saying there is a car of a certain color, that is an SUV for example, that was there, we will be able to find that car within the administrative capital, and know where it was, where it traveled and everything. That is an immediate piece of information that we get. The cameras we have are not simply surveillance cameras, no, that camera is like a security guard that is aware and is able to file a complaint."

But Egypt has witnessed a sweeping crackdown on dissent under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has maintained a rolling state of emergency.

Including internet controls, spot security checks on the street and an effective ban on protests.

Enhanced surveillance in the new capital will give the government another tool to identify dissidents and deter protests, says Steven Feldstein of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"This will help them. So that, you know, that does add that effect in terms of setting a certain set of conditions when it comes to who might actually protest or demonstrate in the new capital city. But beyond that, you know, I don't see what it would really add beyond what they already are doing, which is very extensive."

Technology and communications contracts for the new capital total $640 million, which could rise to $900 million in later phases, Khalil said.

Partners include Huawei, Orange and Mastercard.

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