My Journey From Being Kicked out of the Nile Hilton on a Prez Visit
to Today’s Egypt:
More Dominos Falling in the Middle East?
How many people do you know who were kicked out of the Nile Hilton hotel in Cairo Egypt – because a visiting U.S. President needed it to negotiate (successfully) the first-ever peace treaty between Egypt and Israel?
Well, it happened to me, when I was on a trip for a Houston Fortune 500 company when the President’s team needed the hotel to finish the negotiations. So I watch today’s events in Egypt from a special perspective.
It was either late 1978 or early 1979 when I was sent to Cairo to help our oil service company resolve some issue. Phone calls back to the U.S. required an advance booking and a 4 hour wait for it to go through, if you were lucky. Phone service across Cairo was so unreliable that our company, and everyone else, used messengers to communicate across the city. I had been booked at the Nile Hilton. One day there was a knock at the door and a person said that it was required that I vacate the room by 5 pm the next day. I ended up staying as a guest at the manager’s house. Only then did we find out that President Carter had flown into Cairo to help finalize the first-ever peace treaty between an Arab nation, Egypt and Israel.
Being in the middle of an event like that sticks in your mind. In 1981 while in a hotel room in Brussels I watched a TV in a language I didn’t understand (French) showing pictures of Egypt’s Anwar Sadat being assassinated – for signing that treaty with Israel. Then Mubarak took over – and it has been him ever since, almost 30 years! (Years later, after losing that global job, I produced a TV program in the mid-90’s with a weapons expert from the Reagan administration, warning that a terrorist attack could come against the U.S. – no one was listening).
From that perspective I see what is happening in first Tunisia and now Egypt as stunning. Autocratic states (take note Huge Chavez) can’t produce jobs. Over half of the young men in Egypt can’t get jobs or live on $2 or $3 a day. College graduates end up selling fruit. The gap between rich and poor was a grand canyon. No opposition groups were allowed to seek election – (imagine a U.S. Congress were 100% of the members were from one party). It bred frustration. It was a steamer pot that finally had too much pressure inside until it blew off the top.
Egypt is special because it is a leader among the Arab nations. What happens in Tunisia matters far less than what happens in Egypt. The revolution sweeping Egypt opens Pandora’s box and it could go either way, with little the U.S. can do. We could end up with a moderate leader like El Baradei, who unfortunately does not have a base – or we could end up with the extremist Muslim Brotherhood, which does have an organization.
This revolution was not started by the Muslim Brotherhood. It came from ordinary Egyptians sick of not having either opportunities or a voice in their own government. Americans complain about our leaders, but at least we can go to the polls and register our preferences. Egyptians could not – each vote Mubarak won by over 99% of the vote – much like Mr. Putin in Russia.
Dicey days lie ahead. We very well could be seeing the start of a series of dominos falling in the Middle East – lack of political freedoms and lack of jobs for the mass of young and restless bode for big changes that could feel like the worst roller coaster ride you’ve ever been on.
The best thing for Americans to do is to support the people of Egypt. The President has called on Mubarak not to use force against his own people – that’s important. He should encourage Mubarak to set up a transition government and bow out – before the extremists hijack this once in a century event. The U.S. should insist that the Egyptian Internet/cell service be restored.
The Egyptian military is also key, and we do hold a financial card that could influence what they do. You can bet that they do not want to lose over $1.5 billion in annual money, which would definitely occur if extremists took over -- like Iran in 1978.
The rest of it is up to the Egyptians – the choice of their leader is not our call, but theirs.
But we can support them by giving the people the ‘thumbs up’ and helping them obtain alternate Internet servers to continue their coordination efforts before it gets crushed as happened in Iran after the last fraud election.
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