Former President Jimmy Carter called the week-long political unrest and rioting in Egypt an “earth-shaking event” and said his guess is that the country’s president, Hosni Mubarak, “will have to leave.”
Carter’s remarks came at Maranatha Baptist Church, where he regularly teaches a Sunday School class to visitors from across the country and globe.
“This is the most profound situation in the Middle East since I left office,” Carter said Sunday to the nearly 300 people packed into the small sanctuary about a half mile from downtown Plains.
Carter spent the first 15 minutes of his 50-minute class talking about Egypt.
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Carter was president from 1977-81 and brokered the historic peace agreement between Israel and Egypt in 1978. He brought Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin together for an agreement that still stands today.
As the Egyptian unrest has escalated, Carter said he has been watching closely on his computer the coverage on Al Jazeera, an international news network headquartered in Qatar.
Carter knows many of the players well.
Mubarak — the man at the center of this storm — was vice president at the time the peace accord was signed and became president in 1981 when Sadat was assassinated. Carter, 86, called Sadat’s assassination “one of the worst days of my life,”
Carter described his relationship with Mubarak, whom protesters want ousted from power.
“I know Mubarak quite well,” Carter said. “If Sadat had a message, he would send Mubarak.”
As Mubarak’s 30-year rule has continued, the Egyptian leader has “become more politically corrupt,” Carter said.
“He has perpetuated himself in office,” Carter said.
Carter said he thought the unrest would ease in the next week, but he said his “guess is Mubarak will have to leave.”
“The United States wants Mubarak to stay in power, but the people have decided,” Carter said.
Over the years, Mubarak has been a concern.
“Other U.S. presidents would privately tell Mubarak you have got to have freedom,” Carter said.
The former president pointed to the control of the media.
“As news organizations — television or newspapers — criticized Mubarak, they were put out of power or in prison,” Carter said.
As the unrest raged and escalated, Mubarak appointed Omar Suleiman, the country’s intelligence chief, as vice president.
“He’s an intelligent man whom I like very much,” Carter said.
Carter has maintained a relationship with Suleiman over the years.
“In the last four or five years when I go to Egypt, I don’t go to talk to Mubarak, who talks like a politician,” Carter said. “If I want to know what is going on in the Middle East, I talk to Suleiman. And as far as I know, he has always told me the truth.”
The former president, who performs work throughout the world for fair elections through The Carter Center in Atlanta, said this was not a revolution “orchestrated by extremists Muslims.
“The Muslim brotherhood has stayed out it,” Carter said.
Carter’s Sunday School class was attended by people from at least 19 states and three foreign countries — Venezuela, China and Bulgaria.