It was nearly 25 years ago that I got a call from the executive director of the Florida Press Association, telling me, “We want you to go on a trip.”
“Oh, didn’t get any applicants, huh?” I replied.
“How many people have already turned you down before you called me?” I asked.
“Not all that many.”
I called Mary, in her office at the other end of the building, on the intercom.
“Florida Press wants me to go to Egypt,” I told her.
“I saw the item in the newsletter about that trip, and I hoped you wouldn’t apply,” she responded.
“Well, that do you think?”
“They’ve offered it to you. You can’t turn it down.”
An Egyptian foundation was offering a trip to one community journalist from every state in the U.S. to spend a week in Egypt, something of a people-to-people look at this country which had become our closest — some might say only — ally in the Arab world.
Trips were being made by groups of half a dozen journalists at a time.
We would visit government leaders, museums, schools, even farmers, and of course, the pyramids.
The only requirement was that we write something about our trip. Neither our topics nor our stories would be submitted for approval. We just agreed to write something about our observations.
The first two or three days were spent visiting the highest officials in Egypt, mostly cabinet ministers. We even interviewed the chief of staff, Number 2 in the government to President Hosni Mubarak, still relatively new in office. We were ushered out in mid-interview when he got a call from Mubarak.
No questions were off limits, or off the record, including Egypt’s alliances with some of the more mercurial leaders of that region.
Though am loathe to try to match names with descriptions after more than two decades, I recall an interview with one cabinet member who described one such leader as much better than he was generally given credit for being, and another as being “a lunatic.”
A recurring theme during our interviews was Egypt’s key role in the uneasy regional truce with Israel, resulting from the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, a treaty that was the fruit of the 1978 Camp David peace negotiations.
A key element of this agreement, we were reminded many times, was that the United States had agreed to give $2 billion a year in foreign aid to each country.
And the not-so-subtle theme of this reminder was that since the U.S. was giving $2 billion to Israel, it had the obligation to give the same amount to Egypt.
Indeed, the price was a bargain, we were told, because Egypt is so much larger than Israel that a higher tribute would have been reasonable.
I concluded that this sum — paid by America — was the price of peace in the region.
Mubarak is now history, largely reviled by the country he once ably led.
Egypt probably is not the safest place for Americans to visit these days, nor is it the reliable ally it was a quarter-century ago.
And peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors is subject to new developments on a daily basis.
When observing developments in this part of the world, it is helpful to remember that in brokering the Egypt-Israeli treaty, America put its money where its mouth is.
The numbers have changed, but the principle remains intact.
The price of peace, still paid by the U.S., has 10 digits after the dollar mark.
(S. L. Frisbie is retired. One day of his trip to Egypt was spent visiting the pyramids. When one goes inside the pyramids, one bends deeply at the waist to maneuver through a long, low, narrow tunnel into the burial chamber. It is uncomfortable in the extreme. Upon emerging, he and his travel partners all longed for the services of a Cairopractor.)