Satellite Cities Development

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Egyptian satellite cities built on the outskirts of Cairo to reduce overpopulation.

Cairo is overwhelmed by a population estimated at 16 million, with some 90 percent of Egypt's 60 million inhabitants residing on only 4 percent of the country's territory. In 1976, as part of Anwar Sadat's "Open Door Policy," his government started building fourteen new cities to draw people away from Cairo to redirect urban growth toward the desert and away from the limited arable land. The plan encouraged foreign investment in Egypt largely banned since the country's 1952 socialist revolution under Gamel Abdel Nasser.

Bearing names that honor events in recent Egyptian history, the new cities have drawn industry away from the capital through tax exemptions for private investors, but have done little to alleviate Cairo's overpopulation. By the late 1990s, only 500,000 people had relocated to the new cities due to the poor quality of housing, lack of water and electricity, and their remoteness, characterized in the 1997 novel Irtihalat al-Luʾlu (The movement of pearls), by Niʿimat al-Bihayri.

The original plan focused on human habitability and an improvement in the quality of life. As the government was unable to fund the needs of these cities, their futures and the provision of human services fell on the shoulders of investors. Therefore, some towns have flourished, while others are virtual ghost towns. Greater Cairo's market in luxury housing absorbs a large portion of available investment capital and makes little contribution to needed housing for the general populace. Investors who choose to do so make infrastructural improvements to their developments; other developments are built under subpar conditions. The wealthy rim of Cairo's infrastructure is being rebuilt, while the city's center, and the poor populations who remain there, are neglected. In an attempt to reduce illegal squatting, the government has relocated some poor families to sites that function as public housing; some of these sites lack basic services such as water, electricity, and sewerage.

The satellite cities can be broken down into two general groups: residential, and a combination of industrial and residential. The residential areas invest in infrastructure that leads back into Cairo, while the idea behind the industry-based sites is to develop self-sufficient cities. While the following is not an exhaustive list, it provides an overview of development and success.


Madinat Nasr, or "Victory City," one of the largest and earliest of the desert development areas of the 1970s, is now a vast residential quarter. Approximately 50 percent of its residents are high-ranking diplomats. Other luxurious residential areas (some gated communities), evoking Sadat's fascination with American cities like Los Angeles and Houston, are named Beverly Hills, Gardenia Park, Dream-land, and Hayy al-Ashgar (Treeville). Another area that is under private development in the northeast is called New Cairo.


Sadat City relies on approximately 180 heavy industrial enterprises. It now has a new fee-paying primary school, built by its businessmen, who claim it is the most modern and well-equipped school in the country. Investors in Sadat City are funding a rail link that they estimate could be running by 2005. Sixth of October City is experiencing the fastest expansion rate. There are over 1,300 factories, as well as sports stadiums and cinemas. It has greatly benefited by the Twenty-sixth of July Over-pass connecting it to Cairo. It is the home of the private October 6 University. Tenth of Ramadan City has thousands of small and micro enterprises, making products aimed at a range of markets, from tourists to heavy industry. It suffers from environmental waste problems despite laws passed in 1994 to protect the environment. Its problems provide a negative example of the free reign investors have had in the development.

Fifteenth of May City began as commuter city serving nearby factories. It is now showing some signs of development, although it is not developing as rapidly as other cities. Madinat al-Salam has had virtually no major investors show interest and remains underdeveloped.

A 1989 government report estimated the population in all the satellite cities at one-fifth of the original plan. New tax incentives, in some cases "twenty-year tax holidays," have caught the attention of investors. By 1996 many of Egypt's 400 state-owned companies had been sold to private investors, and the government has paved the legal and regulatory way for entrepreneurs. Taking Sadat's idea one step further, Husni Mubarak has pledged nearly $9 billion to build 18 new cities in remote desert regions of the Sinai, the Red Sea, and the New Delta, estimating the settlements will house 3.3 million Egyptians, create 70,000 new jobs, and support 75,000 acres of farmland.


Dennis, Eric. "Urban Planning and Growth in Cairo." Middle East Research & Information Project 202, vol. 27. no. 1 (1997): 712.

Doughty, Dick. "Inside the Mega City." Aramco World Magazine. MarchApril 1996.

Fernea, Elizabeth Warnock, and Fernea, Robert A. "Egypt." In The Arab World: Forty Years of Change. New York: Doubleday, 1997.

Ghannam, Farha. Remaking the Modern: Space, Relocation, and the Politics of Identity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

hani fakhouri
updated by maria f. curtis