In the late forties, the one-time president of Czechoslovakia, Edvard Beneš, passed by Cairo on his way to Moscow. A young Egyptian journalist went to interview him at the prestigious Mena House Oberoi hotel.
Beneš (pronounced Benesh) had been leader of Czechoslovakia until Hitler fragmented and invaded his country. President Beneš then went into exile in London and was never able to return to power. But throughout world war II and afterwards, Beneš negotiated with the British, the Soviets and various other powers, hoping to engineer the liberation of Czechoslovakia.
"My son," said the statesman, "don't let your country be a bridge between one thing and another." Beneš then recounted how the founding father of modern Czechoslovakia, Masaryk, had told him that the biggest mistake the country had ever made was to propogate an image of itself as a bridge between Germany and Russia.
"What happens to bridges in war times?" asked Benes. "They blow them up. Each nation, each side, goes into lockdown and destroys the links it has to the other."
"Even in peace," said Benes to the impressionable journalist, "even in peace, what do people do with bridges? They use them, they walk over them to go from one side to the other. Never be a bridge."
Recounted on the "With Heikal" show (on al-Jazeera) by Mohamed Hassanein Heikal on 12th March, 2010.