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Cairo Diary: Libyan transit

29 March 2011

2:57 PM

29 March 2011

2:57 PM

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 because the Egyptians won’t allow them. But a trickle of humanitarians are milling about, seeing if they can get
into Libya. I settle down to read last week’s Speccie in the Seert Hotel lobby, while a bunch of Africans look like they are forging visas next door.

At the border it is different. Thousands of squatting refugees, mainly Africans, have settled into the border hall, lighting up the drab building with their multi-coloured blankets, while their
running and playing children pack the place with screams and shouts. They seem stuck: no way back, no way forward.


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