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EGYPT FOR BUSINESS TRAVELERS NOW
By Joe Brancatelli
January 29, 2011 -- I wanted to update you on the unfolding situation in Egypt from the business traveler's perspective.
For starters, flight operations into Cairo from Western carriers have been disrupted. Delta Air Lines, the only U.S. carrier with nonstop service to Cairo, has cancelled its flights indefinitely. The airline says there is one more flight due to depart Cairo, then service from the Egyptian capital is also scrubbed. British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France and others have cancelled some flights and retimed others to skirt the curfew imposed by the government of Hosni Mubarak.
Arab carriers--Egyptair, Emirates, Qatar, Etihad and others--continue to fly into Cairo, at least for now. Flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, the Egyptian resort city on the tip of the Sinai peninsula, have not been affected.
The U.S. State Department, Canada's Foreign Affairs office and the British Foreign Office have told their citizens to defer all non-essential travel. The State Department has also issued interesting advice to U.S. nationals already in Cairo: Stay away from the U.S. Embassy because its location is at the heart of the area where the protests are happening. You can see the Travel Alert here.
Now, as for your ability to watch what's happening. All three U.S. cable-news networks are in mostly around-the-clock coverage. If you want an Arabic view of developments, Al Jazeera's live English-language coverage is streaming on the Web here. In case you're not familiar with Al Jazeera, it's based in Doha, Qatar, it is largely independent and it is staffed with many faces that you once saw on CNN International and the BBC.
Now some personal input here, if I may. There's a qualitative difference in the Egypt unrest compared to the events earlier this month in Tunisia. Egypt is the cultural, emotional and political heart of the Arab World. What happens in Egypt definitely does not stay in Egypt.
If Egyptians succeed in ousting Mubarak, it will embolden citizens in other Arab countries with repressive or authoritarian regimes. That would pointedly include Syria, Yemen, Jordan and possibly even Saudi Arabia.
Lebanon, as always unique in the region, this month appointed a Hezbollah-approved prime minister to replace the anti-Syrian predecessor. But there have already been protests against the new Hezbollah leader.
Rich Arab/Persian Gulf states have been considered stable, primarily because their indigenous populations are small and the ruling sheiks have spread the wealth around slightly better. But the Gulf State citizens are also highly educated and these countries have huge numbers of immigrant workers, many from poorer Arab countries. A street-inspired change of leadership in Egypt may not have an immediate affect in these states, but the medium-term impact might be noticeable.
How all this affects the always complicated and potentially explosive Israeli-Palestinian situation is unknown. Israel and Egypt have what is called a "cold" peace. And Mubarak's government has closed his border with Gaza Strip portion of Palestine, which has crippled its resistance to Israel. The reality of a change of government in Egypt is not that there would be war between Egypt and Israel, but that it would substantially change the balance of power in the region's flashpoint.
Please remember that Iran is not--repeat, NOT--an Arab State. Events in Egypt might embolden the now mostly moribund protest movement there, but Iran's history, culture and current affairs are not tied to the Arab World in any political sense.
All these dominos mean that travel in the Middle East may be extremely difficult in the coming months. The United State government (and, by extension, U.S. companies) is considered complicit in keeping authoritarian regimes in place. Much as the average American has sympathy with anyone who wants democracy, the American government's foreign policy has long favored "stability" over democracy. As was the now-deposed Ben Ali regime in Tunisia, Mubarak's 30-year reign is seen as a prime example of that policy. So you may want to reconsider your plans for travel anywhere in the Middle East.
Finally, an observation: Average Egyptians hate the state police, which is part of the Interior Ministry. There have already been bloody clashes between the protestors and the police. But while Mubarak is a former military man, the Egyptian army is not held in contempt by the bulk of the Egyptian people. The military is out on the streets now, but it is notable that they are not firing on protestors. They don't seem to be making any effort to enforce the curfew, either. How the military moves in Egypt may be the key to what happens in the coming days and hours.
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ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.
This column is Copyright © 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.