Egypt plans new administrative and business capital east of Cairo

SHARM EL SHEIKH, Egypt (AFP) - Egypt plans to build a new administrative and business capital east of Cairo that will house five million people and feature a theme park "four times bigger than Disneyland", a minister announced at a global investor conference.

Housing Minister Mustafa Kamel Madbuli said the new city would relieve pressure on overcrowded Cairo, with its population of 18 million expected to double in coming decades.

"The idea to build the new city originated from our awareness that Cairo's current population will double in the next 40 years," Madbuli said on Friday in a presentation showcasing the details.

Madbuli said the new city would have large green spaces and provide a better standard of living.

It will also have "an international airport, a theme park four times bigger than Disneyland in California, 90 sq km of solar farms, and an electric train" to link with Cairo, he added.

Parliament, presidential palaces, government ministries and foreign embassies would move to the new metropolis, the minister said, adding that these projects would be executed over the next five to seven years at a cost of US$45 billion (S$63 billion).

The overall cost of the new city was not revealed, nor were details on how it would be funded.

The plans were presented at a three-day investor conference which President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi hopes will help kick-start Egypt's troubled economy.

- 'Cornerstone of stability' -

Sisi, who has positioned himself as a bulwark against militants, said investing in the Arab world's most populous country would help stabilise the entire region.

Egypt's stability "is a cornerstone in regional stability," he told the conference in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Arab states pledged US$12 billion in investment aid but the United States came empty handed, with Secretary of State John Kerry only affirming that Washington stood beside Egypt as it seeks to recover from years of turmoil.

A visibly irritated Kerry, who was slotted as the 15th speaker at the opening session, promised Washington's "full commitment" for the security and prosperity of Egyptians, which he said they "desire and deserve." Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia pledged US$4 billion each. Most of the funds will be invested in projects while US$3 billion will be deposited in Egypt's Central Bank.

Kerry, who earlier met Sisi and the leaders of Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, told businessmen that Washington was "eager and ready and willing" to help Egypt's economic development.

But a US diplomat travelling with him said there had been "no decision" on freeing up US$650 million in military aid frozen during the height of a crackdown on Sisi's Islamist opponents that left hundreds dead.

Washington had released some of the aid, including the delivery of Apache helicopters Egypt says are important for its fight against Islamist insurgents in the Sinai Peninsula.