Twenty-five years ago, I was selected as Florida’s participant in a program to send American journalists to Egypt.
An Egyptian foundation was paying for one journalist from each state to spend a week in Cairo, interviewing members of Hosni Mubarak’s cabinet, touring Egyptian museums and schools, and of course, taking the obligatory camel ride and walking into the center of a pyramid.
Perhaps the details of my “selection” merit amplification. I got a call one morning from the executive director of the Florida Press Association, who told me, “We want you to go to Egypt.”
“Nobody applied for the trip, huh?” I asked.
“How many people already have turned you down?”
“Not all that many.”
After consultation with my friend Mary, who said, “I had hoped you wouldn’t apply, but now that they’ve offered it to you, you can’t turn it down,” I accepted the trip nobody wanted, and spent an educational week in Cairo.
Most if not all of the cabinet ministers our delegation of six journalists interviewed urged us to tell our readers that Egypt is a safe place to visit.
They also told us that one of the most important terms of the Egypt-Israeli peace treaty was that the United States would give Egypt $2 billion a year in foreign aid, and they made it clear that this was the price of Egypt’s friendship with America and toleration of Israel.
That sum has shrunk to a mere $1.5 billion today, and it is apparent that — coincidence or otherwise — our Egyptian alliance is weaker than it was 25 years and another half-billion dollars ago.
This past Sunday, my church (Holy Trinity Episcopal) had a guest preacher: a Christian clergyman from Egypt. It is not an enviable position in a predominantly Muslim nation in which tolerance for religious diversity is not part of the culture.
I talked to him about my visit. He said Egypt’s relationship with its Arab neighbors continues to suffer from its tolerance for Israel.
I told him about the universal request from Mubarak’s cabinet ministers that we American journalists tell our readers that Egypt was a safe country to visit. Obviously, that no longer is Egypt’s message, I said, and I asked him what his message to America would be.
Without bitterness, he replied, “Keep your nose out of Egypt.” Egyptians are fully capable of charting their own destiny, he said, and American influence is as unwelcome as it is unneeded.
I told him that America, and particularly our government, too often takes the attitude that we are doing everything right, and that the rest of the world should emulate our values and practices.
To which I silently added, not even $1.5 billion a year in American bucks can convince other nations that they should all be like us.
(S. L. Frisbie is retired. He was able to dredge up his one word of Arabic, learned 25 years ago, and spoke it to the visiting clergyman. The word, spelled phonetically, is sho-krahn. It means thank you.)