EGYPTIANS have long excelled at putting a good face on things. Four millennia ago they built temples whose towering façades and grand doorways hid dark and cramped interiors. Relief carvings depicted giant pharaohs smiting dwarf-like enemies, and showed the Nile teeming with fish and waterfowl. In reality, ancient Egypt was often invaded. Ruinous famines punctuated its years of plenty.
Today, a blinkered visitor might choose to see nothing of Egypt but posh beach resorts and gleaming factories, and hear of little but strong economic growth and a stable, secular government committed to reform. In the Smart Village, a campuslike technology park on Cairo’s western outskirts, construction cranes glint in the mirrored glass of office blocks bearing multinational logos such as Microsoft, Oracle and Vodafone, as well as those of fast-expanding home-grown IT firms. Beyond its perimeter, past a strip of hypermarkets, fast-food outlets and car dealerships, stretch thousands of acres of new suburbs, complete with gated communities, golf courses and private schools. Twenty years ago, the highway that stretches 200km from there to Alexandria ran through empty desert. Lush fields now line the entire crowded, six-lane route, many planted with drip-irrigated garden crops for lucrative European markets.
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