Local man keeps watch on Middle East upheaval
JOE PLASKO/TIMES NEWS Todd Zimmerman of Mantzville has visited Egypt three times and continues to advocate the establishment of the Sadat World Peace Center. He has plans to visit Egypt later this year on the 30th anniversary of Anwar Sadat's assassination.
Todd Zimmerman has watched the overturn of power from the Mubarak regime in Egypt and other developments in the Middle East with interest.
Zimmerman has visited Egypt three times and was planning another trip for later this year, the 30th anniversary of the assassination of former president Anwar Sadat, in order to call attention for the need for the World Peace Center that Sadat once proposed.
An admirer of Sadat's efforts to bring peace to the Middle East, Zimmerman, a Mantzville resident and a 1977 Tamaqua Area High School graduate, wrote a letter to Sadat in 1980 expressing his support and received a reply from Sadat inviting him to visit Egypt.
"After the Camp David Peace Accord in 1979, I felt Sadat was a true visionary and leader, and at the age of 21, I wrote to him expressing friendship," said Zimmerman.
Zimmerman made his first journey to Egypt in May of 1981, but a missile crisis in Lebanon prevented him from meeting Sadat at that time. Months later, Sadat was shot and killed.
Since then, Zimmerman has advocated the construction of a Sadat World Peace Center at the foot of Mount Sinai. He has created a website (www.sadatworldpeacecenter.org) devoted to the project.
Zimmerman currently serves as an adjunct instructor at several community colleges, including Lehigh Carbon, Northampton and Montgomery, teaching mostly online courses. He is also teaching a Vietnam War class at Moravian College. He also operates TPZ Vacations, which offers incentives for businesses and nonprofit organizations, as well as serving as president of the Lehighton Downtown Initiative and the Schuylkill Referral Network, the latter based in Schuylkill Haven.
Zimmerman's last two trips to Egypt also were on the anniversaries of Sadat's assassination, in October, 1991 and October, 2006. During his last visit, he stayed at the Nile Hilton Hotel, where many of the news correspondents stayed while covering the upheaval surrounding the end of President Hosni Mubarak's regime.
It was also while in Egypt in 2006 that Zimmerman was interviewed by the daily newspaper Al-Ahram for a story regarding his support for the Sadat Peace Center.
Zimmerman realizes there is only so much he can do for the movement for a Sadat Center, which was to include a mosque, temple and Christian church, representing the three major religions in the Middle East that originated with Abraham.
"I know my limitations," he said, noting he has contacted former President Bill Clinton's Global Peace Initiative in an attempt to get it involved.
A grassroots effort from within Egypt would be the best route.
"I'd rather have the Egyptian people do it themselves," he stated.
Zimmerman was hoping to return to Egypt in October.
"We could hold a second conference at the Hilton or American University and try to get people involved on that level and have them involved for themselves than get outsiders to do it."
That is one reason why Zimmerman has watched carefully as Mubarak transferred the Egyptian government to the military, in order to gauge the new political climate and atmosphere.
"With a peaceful transfer of power, there's no problem," he mentioned, noting that with a forced takeover, "that probably wouldn't be the right atmosphere for a peace conference, as people might be afraid to attend."
Zimmerman advises Americans to watch what is happening in the Middle East with an open mind.
"I feel evolution is better than revolution, and that we should let them pass (their own) laws," he explained. "I think the people of Egypt are very educated and reject Osama bin Laden's view. The American people should think with their own brains, rather than have other people instruct them."
Zimmerman feels history has repeated itself in Egypt because, fundamentally, the Egyptian people want the same things as those living in the U.S.
"The vast majority of Egyptian people would like things to change," he remarked. "In 1952 there was a revolution in Egypt, and Nassar was a young officer. There was no upward mobility and a lot of corruption. Now, 58 years later, the same military leaders have become like King Farouk.
"The people see the freedom in western Europe and the U.S., and they were not able to have it under Mubarak. Here, we can have elections, where there, they didn't have free elections."
Zimmerman also feels U.S. President Barack Obama has been saying the right things regarding Egypt and taking a prudent stance, but America has a conflict between its major goals and ideals as a democracy and its national political interests, which are dependent on Middle Eastern oil.
"If we didn't need their oil, would we be over there in the first place?" he asked. "Our ultimate strategy should be to wean ourselves from foreign oil.
"We are all interconnected economically with each other. There are 1.3 billion people in China and 1.2 billion in India, so one of every three people in the world are from those counties. They want the same things we want, and they will need more energy. There are only so many natural resources out there, so when the demand outstrips supplies, the price of the commodities rise.
"While Egypt is not a major oil producer, its policies could affect Saudi Arabia, and our fragile recovery could go back into a recession if oil goes up to $150 a barrel."
Like everyone else, Zimmerman will be observing as the latest chapters in the Middle East unfold. He will also continue to drum up support for the Sadat Center.
"We have been trying to get this established for 30 years, and since 9/11, it is more urgent that ever," he expressed. "We are focused on how we are different rather than how we are similar. Sadat realized there were more similarities with the three religions."
If the Sadat Center couldn't be constructed in Egypt, he suggested Ground Zero in New York City as a viable alternative.
For more on the Sadat Peace Center movement, check www.sadatworldpeacecenter.org on the web, or go to YouTube, type "Todd Zimmerman" into the search engine and view a video featuring more from Zimmerman on the subject.