I recall as a teenager the day Egyptian President Sadat, one of the true giants on the world stage when it came to leadership, traveled to Israel and stretched out his hand for peace.
That image…..that day…has never failed to renew within me the fact one person can make a difference when determined to do so. With a nod to history, and the peace process, Anwar El Sadat became the first Arab leader to visit Israel officially.
However, it was a terrible day in 1981 when I awoke to the news, while enrolled in broadcasting school, that President Sadat had been assassinated. I was shocked, and like millions around the world who believed in the peace process, angry that blind hatred could so alter the political landscape in Egypt and the Middle East.
Over the years since those events, and the dramatic ones that have played out in Egypt these past weeks, I have been captivated by the culture, history, religion, and foods of Egypt. I have often spoken with friends about my desire to see the Nile, pyramids, and talk with those who call that place their home. I am reminded at times how volatile this region can be, and yet I never lose the desire to touch my feet in the land of the pharaohs.
After the terrorist attacks in New York on 9/11 The New York Times ran a many-week series of snippets about each person that died in the Twin Towers. One of them was about Wayne Alan Russo who had traveled all over the world, but had never made it to Egypt. In a last conversation with a traveling friend he said “Egypt next year.”
After reading the article I clipped it. Over these years I have kept it in a special binder with all sorts of other news articles at my desk. It was a reminder that we should always make plans for the future, but also a reminder that life is uncertain and we should strive to make dreams come true when we can.
Today I pulled that news clipping as the events unfolded with the announcement that President Mubarak was going to make a speech. Many had hoped that it was to be an announcement that he would finally leave the nation that he has controlled for 30 years. We were to learn that power is not easy to give up.
I suspect that Russo would have enjoyed the events playing out these past weeks. I suspect he enjoyed history too, as that is one reason folks like to travel. To see the sites where history was made, and walk the places where the great leaders once ruled. Russo probably had read of ancient Egypt as a kid the way I did, and wondered what the air of the Nile smelled like.
Watching history continue to unfold these past weeks in Egypt seems so close and yet so far. With television and the internet we can be in Freedom Square with the protesters. With the piles of books one can read about ancient Egypt, where the past can be illuminated and analyzed. With modern transportation we can land in Cairo in about ( I think) 12 hours.
Yet for most of us we will never get to the Nile. Instead we will watch the events unfold, read books, and watch documentaries. We will yearn along with those in Egypt who want freedom that they will feel it soon.
Perhaps someday along the Nile one or two of those who fight for freedom this year will tell me the story of how it happened in their country. Like Russo did I am sticking with planning to see Egypt someday.
Until then on this side of the globe I will continue watching history unfold.