I've been a terrible blogger lately. I spent the last week covering the showdown in Beirut, and didn't have time to post at the end of those very long days. My apologies.
This was a particularly savage round of Lebanon's neverending civil strife, which made it all the more jarring to see how quickly the Lebanese absorbed news reports of massacres and then, the minute the immediate crisis was over, went right back to shopping at fancy malls and lounging at cafes. Sadly, things probably will get much, much worse before they get better. Check out this International Crisis Group report on the recent political violence.
This morning I arrived in the Egyptian Red Sea resort town of Sharm el Sheikh for the World Economic Forum on the Middle East, a sort of mini-Davos summit for the Arab world. My flight touched down at dawn and Egyptian workers at the main airport roundabout were still hard at work pulling down international flags and replacing them with an impressive column of U.S. flags to welcome President Bush. (There was something a little bizarre about watching Arabic-speaking laborers struggle to bring down the Canadian flag in order to unfurl Old Glory.)
In line to check into the hotel, I met a tall, blond European businessman who is a self-described "scenario specialist." He said he helped to design the three "scenarios" that WEF delegates will be asked to analyze and discuss as they try to envision the planet in 2025; the conference theme is Learning From the Future. Briefly, the scenarios are the Hyperlinked World, the Sustainable World and the Multipolar World. For more details, click here.
I'd read about the scenarios on the plane ride, thanks to a write-up in EgyptAir's in-flight magazine, Horus. When I first saw that delegates would be discussing scenarios for the Middle East in 2025, I was thinking more along the lines of "Islamist rule in Egypt" or "A Partitioned Iraq" or "Still no Palestinian state" or "the U.S.-led war in Iran." Sustainability? Hyperlinking? It all struck me as a little too rosy for what's really happening on the ground.
Evidently, my new European scenario specialist acquaintance gets that kind of skepticism a lot, because he addressed it before I'd said anything more than, "Oh, yeah, the scenarios. Read about them on the plane."
"We don't do horrible scenarios and such," he said. "We go for something positive, something you can work toward, something you can discuss."
So, no bombing or coup scenarios?
"No, if we did that kind of thing, no one would come," he said with a laugh. "You've got to give them something aspirational."