presentation appears in the May
25, 2001 issue of Executive Intelligence Review.
MOHAMMED AL-SAYED SELIM
Of the 21st Century
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
the Eurasian Landmass
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Connection to the Land-Bridge
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)
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.
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.
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.
Pipelines and Electricity
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Integration Comes First
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
projects, that I have referred to, have certain conceptual and pragmatic
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.
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.
the concept of the new Arab East provides momentum to the peace process,
not vice versa.
on Egyptian Interests
the new Eurasian Land-Bridge, the Egyptian connections to the Eurasian
Land-Bridge, influence Egyptian interests?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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....
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
you very much.