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WE shipping folk have always had a very keen interest in the Suez Canal, that rather important shortcut from the Mediterranean to the Gulf. But, it's debatable whether many of us have ever given much thought to the lives of the people living alongside it.

February 2011, one of the most important months in the geo-political calendar for a generation, has changed all that. As political hegemony comes to an end in one country after another, Western leaders are having to re-examine their public commitment to spreading democracy. Co-operative dictators (Saddam Hussein among them) produced a political stability of sorts that suited the West while we turned a blind eye to their domestic situations.

But the uprising in Egypt forced public support for the will of the people over stability. It's the right thing of course, regardless of who the future leaders will be and whether they will suit Western interests. It seems to us however that another significant outcome has been to show the man in the street in the West what the man in the street in the Middle East is like. For too long, Egyptians have been stereotyped as dodgy salesmen with bad teeth. TV coverage in the last month has shown them to be an eloquent, dignified, non-violent people. Quite an achievement when you consider their recent history.

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