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This presentation appears in the May 25, 2001 issue of Executive Intelligence Review.

Egypt and the Project
of the 21st Century

[PDF version of this article]

Dr. Mohammed Al-Sayed Selim is the Director of the Center for Asian Studies in the Faculty of Economics and Political Science in Cairo University, Egypt. He delivered this address on May 5 at a conference of the Schiller Institute in Bad Schwalbach, Germany. Subheads have been added.

It is very difficult to speak at this late hour of the session, after four elaborated, marvelous presentations. So, it's a tremendous challenge for me to keep you interested in my presentation.

I would like to start by thanking the Schiller Institute for inviting me to this seminar, especially Muriel [Mirak-Weissbach]. She has done a lot to make sure, that I am here. I met her for the first time in Turkmenistan in 1996. And this was the first time to hear about the notion of the "Eurasian Land-Bridge," although at that time I was the director of the Center for Asian Studies—which I still am. But it was a very interesting idea for me, and we developed in the Center an interest in this idea. And we held a conference on the Eurasian Land-Bridge in Port Said on the Mediterranean last year, the proceedings of which will be published very soon. So I thank Muriel for alerting us to this notion in 1996, and for all the literature that she has been sending us since then.

My presentation is related to Egypt and how Egypt can serve as a link between the Eurasian Land-Bridge and Africa. I don't want to speak on Africa itself, my Sudanese colleagues will deal with that, but I going to deal with the notion of Egypt and how Egypt is planning to connect with the Eurasian Land-Bridge. So, I am dividing my presentation into four parts.

The first part will review briefly the development projects on the Eurasian landmass, using the various transportation concepts and evaluating them from the prospect of Mr. LaRouche's vision of the Eurasian Land-Bridge. Number two is to review briefly the Egyptian projects to connect with the Eurasian Land-Bridge. Number three is to assess the impact of the Eurasian Land-Bridge and the Egyptian connection with it on the Egyptian economy—Will it have a positive or negative impact? And finally, how Egypt could be a link between the Eurasian Land-Bridge and Africa—leaving the rest of Africa to the next session.

The transportation projects on the Eurasian landmass can be divided into two major components: those which were established during the Cold War, and those which were established mainly after the end of the Cold War—or were begun shortly before and are still continuing.

Projects on the Eurasian Landmass

Those which began during the Cold War are mainly the Trans-Asian Railway and the Trans-Siberian Railway, or what is called sometimes the "first Eurasian Land-Bridge." Those which began after the Cold War are mainly the "second Eurasian Land-Bridge," that is a Chinese project; the TRANSECA project, which is [a link] between the European Union, the Caucasus states, and the Central Asian states; the pipeline transportation systems, which are mainly conducted by the transnational projects; and the trans-Eurasian fiber-optic cable system projects.

The Trans-Siberian Eurasian continental bridge is the oldest of them. It is still functioning, as has been reviewed by my Chinese colleagues. It is functioning below capacity. But there is an increasing interest in that project at the moment, and I have noticed that the Russians have visited Korea recently, in order to connect Korea with the Eurasian Land-Bridge, and that [Russian President Mr. Vladimir] Putin and [South Korean President] Mr. Kim Dae-jung have met in the United Nations. And they agreed to connect North and South Korea—through the railway link, which is still missing so far—with the Eurasian Land-Bridge.

The Trans-Asian Railway started in the 1960s under the United Nations Commission for Economic and Social Development of the Asia-Pacific, connecting Istanbul and Singapore. Most of it was built, except a few parts—between Iran and Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Burma. But recently I have noticed that in the East Asian Forum that was held in Singapore last November, there was a decision by the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] countries, that these nations, in addition to Japan, China, and South Korea, are reviving the Trans-Asian Railway. They took the decision to complete the Trans-Asian Railway within six years—that is the deadline set in November 2000 in the East Asia Forum, to extend it to Vietnam, to southern China, to Korea, and to be connected to the Chinese railway system, with another extension to Indonesia.

The conclusion from this is, there is a tremendous interest in these older projects, to revive these projects, whether the first Eurasian Land-Bridge or the Trans-Asian Railway. Those projects which started after the end of the Cold War, such as the "second Eurasian Land-Bridge" connecting eastern China to Europe, which is mainly a Chinese proposal, suggested to extend the rail networks from eastern China to Rotterdam, with a total extension of something like 11,000 kilometers, through Central Asia. Already this line crossed the Alataw Pass from Kazakstan to Central Asia. The Iranians have also built the Mashhad-Tejan link, and there is a project going on now to connect the Iranian proposal with the Chinese proposal. This would be a great step in the second Eurasian Land-Bridge.

The idea is to have three connections: north-bound, south-bound, and a connection in the middle, linking this project to Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Eastern and Western Europe. As I said, the Chinese railway network crossed the Alataw Pass in 1992 to Kazakstan. And in 1996, the Chinese held a conference in Beijing, where they promoted this project, and which really created tremendous interest in linking this project with the Chinese project, to develop the inner parts of China.

The other project which we have to be alert to, is the TRANSECA project, which is not only a rail network project, it is a project comprising now 11 states—five Central Asian states, three Caucasus states, and Ukraine, Mongolia, and Moldova—done in cooperation with the European Union. It is not restricted to rail networks, but includes roads, maritime transport, and facilitation of trade. It does not include building new railways; it focusses mainly on renovating the present railway network and connecting the railway networks of these countries with the Trans-European network, with an idea to connect them with Europe, mainly.

This project is the only project with an institution supervising its implementation. They established the criteria in Azerbaijan recently, and it's done basically under the European Union—in addition to the other projects which I indicated, such as the oil pipeline projects and the fiber optic projects, etc.

All these projects, in my judgment, fall short of the proposal submitted by Mr. LaRouche. When I looked at these projects, and I am quite sure that you are all aware of the components, they fall short of the Eurasian Land-Bridge proposal, which mainly focusses on building railway networks with the idea of building development corridors. It is not only building railways, but also building development corridors around the railways, with the idea of expanding the development process. And he views this as the major strategy to prevent a global economic collapse, and I agree with that completely.

Furthermore, are these projects not part of a "grand strategy" to prevent that global collapse, or a grand strategy for development? So what we need, is to assess the complementarities between these projects: How can we coordinate them as well as possible? We need also to move a little step ahead and to assess only the feasibility of these projects and to conduct feasibility studies of the Eurasian Land-Bridge, so as to convince various countries of the viability and feasibility of these projects. Some parts of this Eurasian Land-Bridge are just desert. How can you build this in a desert? It is a very important idea, but what we will need to do now, is to step ahead towards the submission of feasibility studies.

Egypt's Connection to the Land-Bridge

Now to Egypt: This is the second part of my presentation. Egypt is planning to connect with this Eurasian Land-Bridge through three main strategies: the connection through 1) railways, 2) natural gas pipelines, and 3) electricity grids.

Let me take them one by one. The first step is the connection through the railway networks. At the moment, Egypt is building a rail line, which is called in Egypt the "Orient Express." This begins—I am sorry that I don't have a detailed map of the Suez Canal—from the western bank of the Suez Canal, at a city called Verdem, crossing the Suez Canal on a bridge, and the bridge has been already built. As a matter of fact, I was coming on Egypt Air from Cairo—this is the Egyptian newspaper Al Akhbar, there is a picture of the bridge, which was established already on the Suez Canal to enable the trains to move to Sinai, and it will go north-bound something like 50 kilometers, and then will turn to the east, parallel to the Mediterranean Sea until the city of Raffah. Raffah is the city which is divided between Egypt and Israel. The total length of this railway will be 225 km. There will be a link between this line and the city of Port Said on the Mediterranean, because they are building there a development zone on the east of Port Said, called in Arabic "Sharkh," or eastern branch of the Suez Canal. So, it will be connected with the development projects of Port Said.

This project has now reached the city of Varish, which is in the middle of the line, and they are now building the second part of it to the city of Raffah. I was in Sinai last week and I had the chance to see this project being implemented. The idea is to connect this railway network with the Arab east railway network, when the peace process is completed. And this is a very important condition, that Egypt cannot continue extending this line to Israel, and from there to Jordan, Syria, and Turkey and other Arab countries, unless the peace process is completed. Which leads us to a main conclusion: that the completion of the peace process is a crucial step, if we are to move ahead with this network.

There is another movement in the Arab Orient to revive the old railway network. There is an agreement between Syria and Turkey to revive their railway network, an agreement beween Syria and Jordan, and between Syria and Turkey as well, to revive the old railway, which used to connect Istanbul to Medina in Saudi Arabia. Egypt hopes, that when the peace process is completed, it will be connected with these proposals through Israel. Of course, Egypt can go through Aqaba, can avoid the Israeli route by going through Aqaba, through the Sinai, but the cost will be tremendous, even prohibitive for Egypt.

Natural Gas Pipelines and Electricity

The second strategy is the connection through the natural gas pipelines. This project has already begun, and the idea is to build a natural gas pipeline with a total length of 950 km, beginning at the city of Varish on the Mediterranean in the Sinai, to the city of Tabaa, and from there under the sea to the city of Aqaba in Jordan, then to Amman in Jordan, then to Damascus, Tripoli in Lebanon, and to Turkey, then to Europe. It will pump something like 4-6 billion cubic meters of natural gas a day. And the idea is to expand that network later on. This project is already in progress, and an agreement has been signed among these countries.

When the idea first appeared to establish this natural gas line through the Mediterranean, Egypt found that the total cost would be high, something like $1 billion, compared to the cost of building it via Jordan-Syria and Turkey, which would cost only $700 million.

This project is already in progress, and it is not connected to the peace process; however, Egypt has decided to give Israel a link, which would be separate from the Arab link to the natural gas pipeline. But, of course, these links could be connected together later on, when the peace process is completed.

The third strategy is to connect the electricity grids, and this has already been completed. The electricity grids in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon are already connected, so whenever electricity is not available in Jordan, then Egypt can compensate Jordan for that. The idea is to expand that to later include Iraq and Turkey.

Of course, this all depends as well on the continuation of the present state of no peace. If war erupted in the Middle East, then all these projects—of connecting the electricity grids, national gas pipelines, and the rail lines—will collapse.

Economic Integration Comes First

This brings me back to my original contention that there is an organic link between the political dimension of the situation in the Middle East and the economic dimension of that situation. The situation in the Middle East right now is full with tremendous, ominous potentiality of eruption of conflict and war, which would have tremendous implications for these connections.

The projects, that I have referred to, have certain conceptual and pragmatic components.

These projects reflect an alertness in Arab countries and Egypt, that we have to establish a sort of integration in the Arab Orient, and by Arab Orient I mean Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. This political and economic integration could only be done through joint projects, through development, through physical economy, which is different from the old Arab perception in the 1960s, which focussed on economic integration not through the development process, but through political decisions. We would take a political decision for integration, and take then economic considerations. This notion proved to be a wrong notion, and Arabs have moved toward the notion of establishing this economic integration through joint ventures in the physical economy. Economic integration is the introduction to political integration and not vice versa.

Also, these projects transcend the Israeli concept of the new Middle East, which effectively collapsed when [Benjamin] Netanyahu came to power in 1996. The Israeli Prime Minister was not interested in this, and 1996 was a watershed in this concept. So, a new concept emerged, that is, a concept of a new Arab East, which focusses primarily on the integration among these countries, with the view of giving momentum to the peace process, that is, to give Israel the opportunity to link with the new Arab Orient if the peace process is continued. For example, if Israel takes a natural gas line for itself, which is separate from the Arab network, it could be reconnected together, if the peace process is completed.

So, the concept of the new Arab East provides momentum to the peace process, not vice versa.

The Impact on Egyptian Interests

Will the new Eurasian Land-Bridge, the Egyptian connections to the Eurasian Land-Bridge, influence Egyptian interests?

In April 2000 we held a conference in the Center for National Studies in the city of Port Said to address this question. Will it influence our interests, and in what direction? We engaged a lot of policymakers in this conference: the Governor of Port Said, the director of the Planning Department of the Suez Canal Authority, various academicians attended, etc. The conclusion of our deliberations was that this would benefit Egypt certainly, in many respects.

I have not enough time to tell you all the positive effects on the Egyptian economy that it will generate, but, very briefly, it was concluded that it will have a positive impact on Egypt from six different angles.

This project will lead to an increase in total global trade, and Egypt would certainly benefit from the creation of new global trade. Some part of this trade would certainly go to Egypt, through the Suez Canal in particular. Also, it will enhance Egypt's strategic position as a link between Africa and Asia, because, as I would say now, the Eurasian Land-Bridge will only be able to cross to Africa through Egypt. So, it will boost Egyptian strategic interests, and certainly will benefit the Egyptian economy.

It will also create a link between Egypt and Central Asia for the first time. Egypt lacks a geographic link to Central Asia, and this is one of our main problems when dealing with these countries. So, by connecting to the Eurasian Land-Bridge, Egypt will have, for the first time, direct land access to the Central Asian countries.

It was also concluded that it will not negatively influence the Suez Canal revenues—because that was a major concern. Will the establishment of the Eurasian Land-Bridge take part of the commodities shipping in the Suez Canal north-bound or south-bound? Without going into the technicalities (which I have in my paper), it was concluded by the Suez Canal Authority itself, saying no, it will not influence us. It was found, that to the contrary, it may even increase the revenues of the Suez Canal in various respects.

Of course, it will have a positive impact on the Port Said development project, by connecting this project to the Arab Orient, to the Trans-Caucasian and Central Asian states, but will also have a postive impact on Sinai by establishing new development projects, which is a major security consideration for Egypt.

The conclusion was that the Egyptian connection with the Eurasian Land-Bridge will have a positive impact in all respects on Sinai, on Port Said, on the Egyptian economy, on the strategic location, etc.

The final question is: How can Egypt be a link between the Eurasian Land-Bridge and Africa? I am not an Africanist, and I will leave the question, of what will happen in Africa, to the Africans, but I will talk about how Egypt can be a link. Egypt is the only Afro-Asian country in the world. If you look at the map: Part of Egypt is in Asia, and the other part is in Africa. The Sinai, which represents almost 17% of the total area of Egypt, is in Asia, and the rest of Egypt is in Africa....

We have the connection between the Eurasian Land-Bridge, Egypt, and Sudan, and the connection between the Eurasian Land-Bridge, Egypt, and Libya. The first connection is, that if Egypt is connected with the Eurasian Land-Bridge, then it will be connected south to Sudan and west to Libya.

Now let me take them one by one: The Egyptian railway network has at the present no connection to Sudan. It stops at the city of Wadi Halfa south of Aswan near the Sudanese border, and is not connected to the Sudanese railway network. The problem is, that the Sudanese and Egyptian railway systems were built by Britain, and were built with different gauge systems, so they would not be connected together. The Egyptian gauge system is the standard gauge of 1,455 millimeters, the Sudanese gauge is 1,076 mm—How could you connect these two systems together? It would take tremendous work indeed, and one of them must change.

I am a little bit sensitive in assessing which one should be changed, but in one of the issues of EIR, I was surprised to learn that the Sudanese colleague has suggested—and I agree with him on this—that Sudan should change its gauge system to the Egyptian standard. This would cost something like $19 million. It's not a huge amount of money, it could be done. Especially as the Egyptian standard gauge is now more or less the standard gauge in North Africa and other parts.

From Sudan, if Egypt and Sudan are connected—and I said, the costs are not high—then Sudan could be a hub to establish different connections in Africa: connections from Sudan to Central Africa and from there across the great desert to Dakar, Senegal, a connection from Sudan to Chad, from there to Congo; a connection from Sudan to Ethiopia, to Eritrea; a connection from Sudan south to Uganda, and from there to Cape Town. And, in this respect, Sudan will be a hub for different connections to various African countries.

The second strategy is connecting the Eurasian Land-Bridge to North Africa via Egypt and Libya. The Egyptian railway network stops at the city of Salum, which is close to the Egyptian-Libyan border. There is a project to extend that railway to Libya—and this project has been in the cards for the last 20 years and has not been implemented so far, because of the political dimension of the Egyptian-Libyan relations. I once wrote a paper on this project in 1991, and I read the archives of Al Akhram newspaper, which is our national newspaper, about Egyptian-Libyan relations. And I found that this project has been on the cards at least since the last 20 years. "We are going to do it next year ... ," but then something happened in the Egyptian-Libyian relations, so the project stopped, and there are no promises so far, that this connection between Egypt and Libya will be established. It will not be a connection, but it will be an extension of the Egyptian railway to Libya, because Libya does not have an elaborated network so far. From there it can be connected with Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. And the job here will be easy, because the standard gauge of these four countries is compatible with the Egyptian standard gauge.

There are two problems here for the Egyptian-Sudanese link and the Egyptian-Libyan link: The first problem is a problem of finance. It's a main problem in the Egyptian-Sudanese case—of course $19 million is not much, but given the Egyptian and the Sudanese economies, it could be a lot of money. The second problem is a political problem, it's a problem concerning inter-African relations, which has been the case in Egyptian-Sudanese, or Egyptian-Libyan relations. And in inter-African relations in general, there are various conflicts, and most importantly, in my judgment, is the impact of foreign interventions in Africa—the role of the foreign powers in Africa. As I have said earlier, the Egyptian and Sudanese railway networks were established on different gauges by Britain. So far, in my judgment, the role of foreign powers in preventing the construction of these railway networks has been quite instrumental, especially in the case of Sudan. The foreign intervention in Sudan is tremendous; one of the major factors of the continuation of the Civil War in Sudan is foreign intervention, especially American intervention in the domestic affairs of Sudan.

Today I was listening to CNN, I heard the spokesman of the American State Department, who was astonished, how come the United States was not voted into the UN Human Rights Commission, and Sudan was voted into that commission. I said, my God, this is democracy in international relations! That's democracy, isn't it? Sudan did not come to this commission just by chance, it's democracy in the international relations—that is a democratic decision! But the man was so astonished, so surprised, as if America would put a veto on Sudan, that Sudan should not be in this world.

I think this problem should be dealt with and tackled. The potentialities are tremendous, but we have to deal with the political issues: First, I believe, if these issues are dealt with in a fair way, I think that the idea of establishing the railway network of the Eurasian landmass and linking it with Africa could be one of the major innovations and development ideas of the 21st Century.

Thank you very much.

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