Who’s afraid of democracy?

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In a smart district of Cairo they’ve now opened the first café for traditional Muslims. Elegant tan armchairs welcome veiled women and their creamy cappuccinos (now the rage among upper middle classEgyptians) while men can chat among themselves in an adjacent room. Families and children have yet another area all to themselves. Unmarried couples are not allowed. Such a place would have been unthinkable a year ago.

“It’s a conquest of the revolution”, claims an assertive woman shrouded in an elegant, dove-grey niqab. “It’s the Middle Ages”, replies Susan, an Anglo-Egyptian student. Switching focus, military special forces raided Ain Amenas, Algeria, 24 hours after Jihad militants from the desert overran a gas plant near the town. The first attack saw 23 Western hostages killed, with dozens of victims among the Algerian plant workers. British Prime Minister David Cameron expressed his disappointment that Western governments were only told of the raid after the fact. From a European and American point of view, this showed a serious lack of respect, from the Algerian point of view, they were well within their rights. The Arab world is used to tolerating conflict victims, the West is not.

The Egyptian café warns Europe that fundamentalists will soon become a majority in Egypt; for many Egyptians strict religious observance is one of the revolution’s achievements.

The Algerian blitz has safeguarded one of the most important gas installations in the country. Nine billion cubic metres of gas are pumped out of Ain Amenas each year, through a passing pipeline that runs all the way to Europe. We in the West place a higher value on the life of hostages. All armies and diplomacies teach us that talks and discussions without misconceptions are a good way of avoiding conflict. East, and particularly this new version of East, wants to provide exactly that: an interpretation, a means of understanding the words, dreams and fears of others. Here you’ll find many eyewitness accounts and ways of thinking that help to get closer to what seems so very distant and obscure.

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