March 10, 2017

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Meetings with President Mubarak and other Egyptian leaders

John F. Fink(Fourth and last in a series)

I’m writing about a trip I took back in 1982 when I led a group of 26 American Catholic journalists on a fact-finding trip to Jordan, Israel and Egypt.

On Nov. 11, we had a meeting with Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak. We were waiting to see him—he had a previous meeting with a U.S. congressional delegation led by Congressman Lee Hamilton of Indiana—when we learned that Soviet Union President Leonid Brezhnev had died. It happened too late for the morning’s paper. That morning’s paper did, though, have a story about our group being in Egypt, and the fact-finding purpose of our trip.

We spent an hour and 10 minutes with President Mubarak. On behalf of the group, I thanked him for seeing us, explained the purpose of the trip, and asked him to address three topics in particular: the Egyptian government’s relations with Pope Shenoudah of the Coptic Orthodox Church; Egyptian-Israeli relations; and Egyptian-Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) relations.

I won’t go into all the details of his answers, but he impressed us with his sincerity in trying to find peace in the Middle East. He reminded us that it was Egypt, under the leadership of former President Sadat, that initiated the peace process. He was also very frank in expressing his frustrations with then-President Hafez al-Assad of Syria and Muammar Khadafi of Libya.

When we finished our visit, the press corps was waiting just as reporters do outside the White House in Washington. I spoke to them on behalf of the group, telling them who I was, what the group was, why we were there, and where else we had been on the trip.

In the afternoon after our meeting with President Mubarak, we met with Patriarch Cardinal Stephanus I of the Coptic Catholic Church and learned about the affairs of the Coptic Church in Egypt.

Then we met with Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the minister of foreign affairs who in later years became secretary general of the United Nations. Like Mubarak, he said that Egypt’s role was to encourage the moderates among the Arab countries and among the PLO. He stressed that there had to be a homeland for the Palestinians. He said that it was up to the U.S. to get Israel to the bargaining table, since the Jewish settlements on Palestinian land were being built with U.S. money.

Imagine my surprise the next morning to see a large story about our visit on the front pages of the two French-language newspapers. In both French papers, there were only two stories above the fold on the front page—our visit with President Mubarak and the death of Leonid Brezhnev. I’ve sometimes said that this certainly makes you wonder about their sense of news value. After all, what was so important about the death of Leonid Brezhnev?

The previous night’s television news show led off with the press conference after our meeting with Mubarak.

It was an important trip 35 years ago, but we didn’t expect to be part of the news.

(John Fink’s recent series of columns on Church history is now available in book form from Amazon. It is titled How Could This Church Survive? with the subtitle, It Must Be More Than a Human Institution.)

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