Egypt

For the first time in five years, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is visiting the White House, meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama and other dignitaries and political leaders. Yesterday, Mubarak discussed the stalled Middle East peace process with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; he is expected to do the same today with Obama. The current U.S. administration is hoping that it can use Egypt as an interlocutor and mediator in the Middle East — and particularly, Israel and Palestine. For more  see Foreign Policy‘s coverage on The Cable
11 September 2008
Whither Egypt?
With most of its people struggling, and reform blocked, Egypt faces an uncertain and possibly dangerous future
(The Economist) Today, a blinkered visitor might choose to see nothing of Egypt but posh beach resorts and gleaming factories, and hear of little but strong economic growth and a stable, secular government committed to reform. In the Smart Village, a campuslike technology park on Cairo’s western outskirts, construction cranes glint in the mirrored glass of office blocks bearing multinational logos such as Microsoft, Oracle and Vodafone, as well as those of fast-expanding home-grown IT firms. Beyond its perimeter, past a strip of hypermarkets, fast-food outlets and car dealerships, stretch thousands of acres of new suburbs, complete with gated communities, golf courses and private schools. Twenty years ago, the highway that stretches 200km from there to Alexandria ran through empty desert. Lush fields now line the entire crowded, six-lane route, many planted with drip-irrigated garden crops for lucrative European markets.
But remove the blinkers, and the flood of impressions could be starkly different. A glance down one of the narrow, rubbish-strewn alleyways of brick tenements where half of Cairo’s people actually live may reveal a crowd of head-scarved housewives pushing and cursing in an early-morning queue for government-subsidised bread. Such daily humiliations are punctuated by bigger tragedies which, all too often, prove to be the consequence of government negligence. Earlier this month a cliff collapsed on the eastern edge of the capital, hurling giant boulders into a warren of flimsy slum dwellings that had been erected, illegally, in defiance of dire warnings that the site was unsafe. The rockfall buried dozens, perhaps hundreds, of residents alive. Locals complain that long-promised alternative housing had been given to friends and relations of government officials, rather than the needy.
… The country’s future administrators may be tempted to make populist gestures, and would likely reap a quick reward of loud public relief, after too long under familiar rule. They might even opt for a tactical alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood. But the fact is that, whoever runs Egypt, the task of housing, feeding and schooling all those millions, let alone overhauling the country’s myriad crumbling institutions, will leave little energy for other adventures. No wonder that most Egyptians, when asked what is in store for their country, tend to use the open-handed shrug with which they meet life’s daily mysteries, and invoke the protection of God.

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