CAIRO, September 2 (Reuters) – In Egypt’s new capital on the outskirts of Cairo, residents will use smart cards and apps to unlock doors and make payments, and surf the web using public WiFi broadcast by street lights.
A network of at least 6,000 cameras will monitor activity on each street, tracking pedestrians and vehicles to regulate traffic and report suspicious activity.
His conception of a “smart city” is a world away from parts of the existing sprawling capital, where creaky infrastructure can mean spotty internet and phone coverage, doormen in densely built buildings form a human network of lookouts, and administrative races can take hours. to stand in line.
The city under construction in the desert – so far called the new administrative capital – is designed to accommodate 6.5 million people and is expected to open to its first officials later this year.
How far Egypt’s center of gravity shifts from Cairo to the new capital, 45 km from the Nile, is unclear. For many ordinary Egyptians, for whom the bustling city has been home to for generations, the move and the cost would be unthinkable.
But for those who make the switch, they are promised a single app to pay utility bills, access local services, and report complaints and issues.
Officials say state-of-the-art systems will help reduce waste by detecting leaks or faults and allowing residents to keep tabs on consumption.
“Thanks to its mobile application, a citizen will be able to manage all the affairs of his life from his mobile phone,” said Mohamed Khalil, head of technology at the administrative capital of urban development (ACUD), the military and government company that built the city. .
Authorities plan to repeat and synchronize the technology through other developments championed under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, for whom the new city is a flagship project.
“This model is being applied in the 14 new cities that are being created… one of our goals is the integration of cities,” Khalil said.
Some Egyptians see the new capital as a privileged elite in a country where nearly a third of the population lives below the poverty line. Others consider that the technological boost is long overdue.
“All of this is very useful for the citizen,” said Tark Habib, a 53-year-old trader speaking in central Cairo, where Mugamma, the monolithic and notoriously chaotic seat of the Egyptian bureaucracy of recent decades, is in the process of emptying itself.
Technology and communications contracts for the new capital total $ 640 million, which could reach $ 900 million in later phases, Khalil said. Partners include Huawei (HWT.UL), Orange (ORAN.PA) and Mastercard (MA.N).
A surveillance system developed by Honeywell (HON.O) “will monitor crowds and traffic jams, detect theft incidents, observe suspicious people or objects and trigger automated alarms in the event of an emergency,” the company said.
As construction continues, the level of review – or any concerns about it – has yet to be tested.
Officials say the surveillance technology is aimed at detecting crime and improving security, and the data will be protected by Egyptian law and international standards.
Nonetheless, Egypt has witnessed a radical crackdown on dissent under Sisi, enforced through measures such as checks on internet activity, ad hoc street security checks, an effective ban on protests, and a state continuous emergency.
While increased surveillance could make it easier to identify dissidents, “I don’t see what that would really add beyond what they’re already doing, which is very extensive,” said Steven Feldstein, senior researcher at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. and author of a book on digital repression.
Additional reporting by Ahmed Fahmy; Written by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Alison Williams
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