In the 1974 October Working Papers, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat (1970-1981) announced that the government would launch an ambitious developmental project to populate the desert outside the Nile River Valley. Sadat hoped that this new urban development policy would solve the country's problems with urban congestion and provide access to housing and jobs for a rapidly growing population. A cornerstone of this new public policy was that the government would use America's suburban model and foreign direct investment to aid planners in the cultivation and settlement of the desert. After Sadat's death in 1981, his successors Hosni Mubarak (1981-2011) and Abdel Fatah al-Sisi (2013-present) continued to promote desert projects with even more ambitious goals for urban development outside the Nile River Valley. However, following Sadat's proclamation and four decades of extensive public and private investment into over 30 desert towns as well as hundreds of new industrial districts, agricultural reclamation projects, and tourist resorts, only a very small percentage of Egypt's population actually moved outside of the Nile River Valley. A disappointingly small number of full-time jobs were created in industry, agriculture, and tourism from these desert projects, and public and private capital was wasted on vacant housing. After conducting field work and analyzing a plethora of primary and secondary resources to answer these questions, I have concluded that poor governance derailed Sadat's plan to depopulate the Nile River Valley and Egypt's overcrowded capital. Consequently, a parasitic political elite in alliance with their loyal clients in the domestic and international business community have mainly benefited from these desert projects; the overwhelming majority of the population that continues to live on the Nile River Valley, to put it bluntly, have not. Most of Egypt's population had to solve their own housing and employment problems by constructing informal communities on the Nile River Valley with very little government assistance.


Political Science Department

Degree Name

MA in Political Science

Graduation Date


Submission Date

January 2017

First Advisor

Koehler, Kevin

Committee Member 1

Albrecht, Holger

Committee Member 2

Pinfari, Marco


150 p.

Document Type

Master's Thesis


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Institutional Review Board (IRB) Approval

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This thesis is dedicated to my students, colleagues, and administrators at the Modern Education Schools in New Cairo. Without your friendship and support over the last seven years, this thesis would not have been possible. Working as a social studies teacher at this school over the last seven years was an honor and a privilege. Special thanks are in order to the principal of the American Division Ghada El Schwick, whose guidance, support, and advice were critical to my professional growth as a teacher. I would also like to thank the following colleagues for an innumerable amount of valuable conversations on Egypt and the Middle East in general over the last few years as well as your friendship: Shahinaz Sheta, Khaled Salem, Mounir Betelmal, Ramy Rayan, Jessica Martin, Mohamed Ameen, Ayla Maher, Iman Attalah, Nisreen Sadek, and Nesreen Bersy. I would like to also thank the Egyptologist and tour guide Ahmed Ageez. From 2013 to 2016, we ran a special class together that involved taking high school students to different parts of Egypt throughout the course of the school year. Your knowledge of the country and wisdom was a great help in the writing of this thesis. I would also like to thank my family members and friends for their love and support over the last seven years; specifically, my mother Nancy Bufano, who has worked as my unofficial secretary, accountant, and lawyer since I moved to Egypt. Keeping my sanity and paying my student loans would have not been possible without your help. I would also like to thank specifically Paul Bufano, Richard, Lauren Bufano, Kristina Bufano, Steven Bufano, Joel Trantham, Sarah Trantham, Nicholas Mills, Sal D’ambrosio, Adam Simpson, Youssef Hani, Sherif Hamamsi, Dahlia Fahmy, Ahmed Hosni, Gamal Hosni, Dina Assran, Mohamed Minawi, Xena Sedky, Amean Asad, Farid Mohamed, Ahmed Meligy, and Ahmed Rashad for your friendship and support over the last few years. Special thanks needs to be given to the American University in Cairo for providing access to a magnificent library over the last two and a half years. I learned a tremendous amount about the problems with Egypt’s desert development projects by attending this university, interacting with its faculty, working as a research tutor for the Writing Center on week nights, and having discussions with members of the student body. Special thanks as well to professors Kevin Keuhler, Marco Pinfari, and Albrecht Holger for their advice and guidance on the writing of this thesis. Finally, I would also like to dedicate this thesis to the 40,000 plus political prisoners in Egypt that are languishing in jail cells, and the thousands who have died as a result of political oppression. This includes Giulio Regeni, a student of the AUC political science department who was brutally tortured and murdered at the hands of Egypt’s Interior Ministry for interviewing labor union activists. I hold out hope that the thousands killed in the 2011 revolution did not die in vain but for the cause of long term economic, political, and social development.