BILLBOARDS across Cairo advertise luxury homes with ''breathtaking'' views in compounds with names like ''La Verde'' or ''Vinci'' in Egypt's new capital that is under construction in the desert, miles from the Nile-side city which has been the seat of power for more than 1,000 years.

Often, what lies behind the billboards are Cairo's most overcrowded neighborhoods, with shoddily built homes and dirt roads frequently inundated with sewage water.

A city of some 20 million people combining charm and squalor, Cairo may soon witness an exodus by well-heeled residents, state employees, and foreign embassies to the New Administrative Capital, as the vast project in the desert is provisionally known.

It will be the latest phase in the flight of the rich, many of whom have already moved to gated communities in new suburbs, leaving the old Cairo in neglect and decay.

The new capital - is the $45 billion brainchild of general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the biggest of the mega projects he launched since taking office in 2014.

He contends the projects, ranging from new roads and housing complexes to a Suez Canal expansion, attract investors and create jobs. Senior officials boastfully compare what has been built under el-Sissi to monuments like the Giza Pyramids.

''History will do justice to this generation of Egyptians and our grandsons will remember its achievements. a wave of construction unprecedented in modern-day Egypt,'' Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly, also the housing minister, proclaimed.

Critics call the new capital a vanity project, arguing its cost could have been better put to rebuilding the wrecked economy and refurbishing Cairo.

They also see it as evidence of el-Sissi authoritarianism, launching a multibillion-dollar plan with little debate.

EL-Sissi often lashes out at those who question him, telling Egyptians to listen only to him and saying he's answerable to God alone.

He often says Egypt's resources are limited - leading some Egyptians, struggling amid skyrocketing prices, to wonder why so much is spent on questionable projects.

''There is something very wrong with the order of priorities,'' said political analyst Hassan Nafaa.

''Maybe el-Sissi wants to go down in history as the leader who built the new capital, but if Egyptians don't see an improvement in their living conditions and services, he will be remembered as the president who destroyed what is left of the middle class.'' [Agencies]


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