• Election Casual: It seems that Egypt's presidential elections, to be held Wednesday, have prompted a bit of political image-polishing. "It's been quite a show," says correspondent Charles Levinson. "President Hosni Mubarak has had tea with peasants at staged roadside stops. He has taken to wearing a jacket with no tie, and his top shirt button undone."
Top ministers have since adopted a similar style, Charles says. Ayman Nour, the most visible opposition candidate, had an unprecedented final rally in Cairo's central downtown square, which has traditionally been the site of clashes between protesters and security forces.
Media relations have also undergone something of a makeover. "Historically largely unhelpful to foreign journalists, the Mubarak campaign has been calling journalists daily to invite them to campaign events," Charles says. "And the Information Ministry has set up a slick communications headquarters, replete with computers, phones, faxes, flat-screen TVs, and smiling staff members."
• Fast Lane: One of the odd things about sending aid to allies is the bureaucratic tangles that can stop the aid from getting through. For instance, nine months ago, when the US sent doctors, food aid, and warships to help out in the tsunami relief effort, India had to speed up the process of giving permission for those doctors to practice medicine in India. Similarly, US embassy officials have had to work overtime to get the US government to certify all those Indian military doctors and water-purification experts to come to Louisiana and practice their profession. In past disasters, such as the Gujarat earthquake of January 2001, such tie-ups kept foreign doctors, paramedics, and others waiting for weeks for visas. It's a testimony to how much the US-Indian relationship has changed, and how bad the situation is in Louisiana, that the US is loosening the rules.
Deputy world editor