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A Georgia state Supreme Court justice has a dramatic story to tell about escaping the tumult in Egypt. In the country with a tour group, Justice Hugh P. Thompson said he was able to fly out of Egypt on Sunday. But first he and his group endured more than 24 difficult and frightening hours at the Cairo airport. “I don’t think that they were so mad at us,” he said Wednesday. “We were just in the way.” Street protests against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak started about midway through Thompson’s trip, which began Jan. 19. Thompson, 67, said he was on the tour with his wife, an avid globetrotter. They travelled with a Smithsonian-sponsored group that included several others with ties to Milledgeville, where Thompson lives, including Ocmulgee Circuit Superior Court Judge Hulane E. George. “A lot of the people that were in the group we’ve travelled with before—to China a few years back and other places,” he said. Accompanied by a local guide and an armed security guard, Thompson said the group started out in Cairo before travel to other cities that included a boat trip up the Nile. As the protests began to pick up steam late last week, the group found itself in Aswan, an ancient city in the south of the country on the Nile River. “When we got back right after midday prayers we could hear the protests in town, hear the bullhorns,” Thompson said. “We’d hear the protests, but we were fairly well insulated from them. … We were still going about our business, taking in all the sites.” He said the group was able to complete most of its trip uneventfully. Still, said Thompson, the group’s guides were anxious to get the group back to Cairo and out of the country. They all flew back to Cairo. Thompson said the group had seen on CNN that Delta Air Lines would run its last flight out of Cairo on Friday. Thompson’s group had tickets for an early Sunday KLM flight to Amsterdam but knew that such arrangements were precarious. Thompson said people from the tour company who met them in Cairo relayed what government officials were telling them: a curfew had been imposed, and the tourists would be shot if they left the airport building. Unable to go to a hotel to spend the night because of the curfew, the group “just sort of camped in a huddle” at the airport, said Thompson. Their Egyptian guides gone, the group was left to its own devices. “It was sort of the group that helped itself through all this mess,” said Thompson. When the curfew lifted in the morning, he said, throngs of people began to pour into the terminal. “People were really beginning to push and shove,” he said. The group started going through the security line earlier than planned, but the risk of stampede remained. There was a sense that no one was in charge, Thompson said, and they were at the mercy of other desperate people around them. “It was very, very difficult for all of us to get through safely,” said Thompson, adding that elderly and frail people were in the group. Even after boarding the airplane, Thompson said, “we weren’t even sure that we were going to be able to leave the country.” The group was concerned a curfew might prevent their takeoff, but a pilot told them military aircraft over the airport was causing the delay. “When the wheels lifted,” he said, “everybody cheered.” The timing of the trip meant Thompson had to miss last week’s oral argument sessions. But he said this was a once-in-a-lifetime trip that he had to re-schedule from last year. “I don’t get to travel all that much,” said Thompson, adding that he had worked very hard before the trip. “I’ve missed very little court over the 17 years I’ve been here, so I thought this time could be an exception.” When justices miss oral arguments, they usually participate in the decisions by listening to recordings of oral arguments. Staff Reporter Alyson M. Palmer can be reached at [email protected]

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