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Sahara

Day 90: El Haddej to Sousse

Michael Palin - SaharaAs we pick our way through the spare and stony cover of the Matmata hills I realise that this is the last I shall see of the desert for a while. The final leg of my journey will take me north and west to see the other side of the great desert countries like Tunisia and Algeria. The side where people live, where capital cities lie, where the great trans-Saharan trade routes began and ended, where the Sahara was talked about, its wealth evaluated, its various conquests planned.

It's no coincidence that Libya, Tunisia and Algeria, the three richest countries of the Sahara, share a Mediterranean coastline. Their capitals are all much closer to the markets of Europe than those of Africa. The remains of so many Greek and Roman cities show how close the historical links have been. Yet all three are firmly Arab and Muslim countries. Together with Morocco and Mauritania they're collectively known by the Arabic word Maghreb, the land of the West, and their political alliances are currently with each other, through the Maghreb Union Treaty of 1989, rather than with Europe. Libya, it seems, doesn't mind this too much. It's looking back into the desert. The conferences that were being prepared in Sirte and Tripoli are, some consider, the first step to Colonel Gaddafi's goal of a United States of the Sahara. Will Tunisia and Algeria go along with this or might they be ready to look north again?

The last sand seas may be behind me, but the intellectual, cultural and political heart of some powerful Saharan countries lies ahead.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 90
  • Country/sea: Tunisia
  • Place: El Jem
  • Book page no: 235

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