After a fairly uneventful flight across the Atlantic and a 5 hour wait at de Gaulle, the passengers for our flight to Egypt began to assemble and we realized something was up, as there was a delay with boarding. Then a small phalanx of “suits” marched to the front of the line, with an elderly gentleman in tow, who, on second glance, I recognized as Jimmy Carter. This was confirmed on board as he made his way through the main cabin, shaking everyone’s hand (including mine and most of our students). The old habits of politicians die hard. So we will be in good company in observing the elections. Also in line to board was NBC’s Middle East correspondent Richard Engel, who was in Tahrir last year and was harassed by the police. Clearly a lot of attention will be turned to Egypt this week, and it will be interesting to compare our own perceptions and experiences with what is being reported by the press and NGOs there.
Carter is an important if complex figure in Egypt, given the huge significance of the Camp David Accords. Some in Egypt saw that has a betrayal and Sadat was assassinated for having made those compromises. The country is still deeply ambivalent about the peace accord, although it is still seen as in Egypt’s interest to abide by it. I’m curious to hear more about the various opinions of his efforts from the Egyptians we meet with. Carter has certainly been active in his retirement and his work in supporting democracy globally is impressive. Given the increase in the number of democracies globally, I would imagine he is heartened by the developments in the Middle East and elsewhere.
And so we cross the wine-dark seas with Jimmy and his secret service agents, to get a glimpse of one momentous event, marking the course of Middle Eastern history and to get a better understanding of what democracy will look like in the land of the Nile.