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The road from Cairo to Salloum, Egypt's Wild West town on the border with Libya, stretches out into the desert until the patched-up, grey and black cement blurs into the yellow dunes. Throughout the journey, well-kept electricity pylons line the road, while the occasional shepherd looks out from a desolate shed-like house. Otherwise there is nothing to see.
This is the road to war, or away from it. I expected to see more people fleeing the conflict; but at the last roadside café, life seems to be following its normal routine. Bedouin waiters mingle quietly with smugglers, relief workers and the occasional journalist. In the background, President Obama's speech is on TV but only one person is watching. Fava beans with fried liver is the best choice for breakfast. It is also the only choice.
Salloum is tumbleweed quiet. Unlike on the Tunisian side, there are no refugee camps
Whether revolutions devour their own children often depends on the ability of a post-revolutionary government to deliver political freedom, jobs and services. Egypt is no different. If the economy opens up, then the country's transition to democracy is likely to continue. If not, then anything can happen.
So, which will it be? The stock exchange has reopened and is doing better than many expected. The government is bullish about growth, but it is hard to see where it will come from. Tourists, who account for a major part of the economy, are staying at home. Hotels are empty and BA is cancelling flights due to lack of passengers.
The uncertainty about Egypt's future economic path is also deterring investors. Though fears of a lurch to the left in the near-future are probably overstated, economic liberalisation and an end to cronyism are connected in most people's minds. It is not
This time it’s getting serious. The wave of Arab revolutions has reached Syria. Is next-door Turkey on its own road to Damascus just like Apostle Paul (who was a native of Tarsus, in today’s Turkish province of Mersin)? For Ankara, Syria is no ordinary country. It is the foremost example of the zero-problems policy at work. The two neighbours were on the verge of a military conflict back in October 1998 over the presence of the PKK and its leader Abdullah Öcalan on Syrian soil (Israel played the peacebroker!). These days they are best of friends. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Bashar al-Assad are close, the two cabinets have joint sessions, trade is booming, tourists and traders roam across the 800km-long border benefiting from a visa-free regime (Turkish academics quip about “Sham-land” replacing Schengenland). I was in Gaziantep in early March and paid the obligatory visit to Sanko
Nothing would help the international campaign against Colonel Gaddafi as much as the Egyptian military — and therefore Egypt — swinging in behind the UN-authorised effort. It would be one of the few things that would make the Libyan dictator worry and could push fence-sitting loyalists towards the rebel cause.
Materially, it could also be important; with the Libyan resistance reluctant to receive Nato help, Egypt could be very helpful as a conduit for weapons, intelligence and even on-the-ground military support. A post-combat mission would also be greatly aided by Egyptian involvement or leadership.
Unfortunately, after a few days in Cairo, I think it is more likely that Colonel Gaddafi will turn himself in than Field Marshal Tantawi, Egypt's de facto ruler, will send his army into neighbouring Libya. There are four main reasons why:
1) Many in the army seem to think that what
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