Egypt’s Desert Dreams by David Sims

Sent On: 
Tue, 2017-11-07
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Economist and urban planner David Sims’ book Egypt’s Desert Dreams (AUC Press, 2014) deals mainly with the various aspects of the Egyptian government’s attempts to develop and cultivate the country’s desert landscape. But all that glitters is not gold: Not a single proclaimed desert development target has been met so far.



Courtesy “weareaway” CC0 1.0, 


The Egyptian side wanted to meet the desire of their political bosses to push desert reclamation as fast as possible with the least cost” writes Sims, “The degree to which the Egyptian government and its various agencies have disastrously exploited this prime public asset…] is stunning. Not only have billions […] been wasted, but even more colossal amounts of the potential revenues have been lost.”


Local authorities, argues Sims, control vast parts of the country but are not bound to a general policy and that means they can “rule” their assigned land without or with little interference. These power structures and shady administration policies pave the way for obscure bureaucracy, as well as nepotism and corruption.

“[I]t is surprising how little public land actually directly benefit the masses, and how much of it ends up enriching a few investors”, says Sims in the book, advising the Egyptian government to completely abandon the idea of solving “population pressures” through the development of new settlements in the desert, as he deems this idea illusionary.


Adding insult to injury, desert development projects are not at all sustainable. In fact, they tend to cause irretrievable damage on the environment. The salinization of ground water in the desert and the immense damage of the Red Sea coastal environment, particularly the reef ecosystems, eventually leads to a swath of devastation throughout Egypt.


For his research, Sims not only made use of new technologies, such as the Google Earth time-lapse function, using satellite imagery to shed light on Egypt’s desert development projects; but he has also political claims: the call for social democratic values in Egypt, more responsibility in the hands of the people, and a more environmentally-friendly and sustainable approach to development.


Read the full review here.


Cairo, 6 November 2017


By Jasper A. Kiepe


The Center for Arab-West Understanding will host a conference in Cairo on November 16, 2017: “Development of Sustainable Water Management for Agriculture in Egyptian Oases; the Example of Abu Sherouf, Siwa.” Please check here for sign-up and detailed information.