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Anwar El Sadat

[suh-daht, -dat]

Muhammad Anwar Al Sadat (محمد أنور السادات, ) (25 December 1918 - 6 October 1981) was the third President of Egypt, serving from 15 October 1970 until his assassination on 6 October 1981. He was a senior member of the Free Officers group that overthrew the Muhammad Ali Dynasty in the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, and a close confidant of Gamal Abdel Nasser, whom he succeeded as President in 1970.

In his eleven years as president he changed Egypt's direction, departing from some of the economic and political principles of Nasserism by reinstituting the multi-party system and launching the Infitah. His leadership in the October War of 1973 and the regaining Sinai made him an Egyptian hero. His visit to Israel and the eventual Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty won him the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience award September 11, 1991 posthumously, but was an act enormously unpopular with the Arab world and Islamists, and resulted in Egypt being expelled from the Arab League.

Early life

Anwar El Sadat was born on 25 December 1918 in Mit Abu al-Kum, al-Minufiyah, Egypt to a poor family, one of 13 brothers and sisters. His father was Egyptian, and his mother was Sudanese. He spent his early childhood under the care of his grandmother, who told him stories revolving around resistance to the British occupation and drawing on contemporary history. One of his childhood heroes was Zahran, the alleged hero of Denshway, who resisted the British in a farmer protest. According to the story, a British soldier is killed. Zahran was the first Egyptian hanged in retribution for the soldier's death. Stories like the Ballad of Zahran introduced Sadat to Egyptian nationalism, a value he held throughout his life. He graduated from the Royal Military Academy in Cairo in 1938 and was appointed in the Signal Corps. He entered the army as a second lieutenant and was posted in Sudan (Egypt and Sudan were one country at the time). There, he met Gamal Abdel Nasser, and along with several other junior officers they formed the secret Free Officers Movement committed to freeing Egypt from British domination and royal corruption.

During the Second World War he was imprisoned by the British for his efforts to obtain help from the Axis Powers in expelling the occupying British forces. Along with his fellow Free Officers, Sadat participated in the military coup known as the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 which overthrew King Farouk I. After the coup, he was assigned to take over the radio networks to announce the news of the revolution to the Egyptian people.

In 1964, after holding many positions in the Egyptian government, he was chosen to be vice president by President Nasser. He served in that capacity until 1966, and again from 1969 to 1970.

During Nasser's presidency

During the presidency of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Sadat was appointed Minister of State in 1954. In 1959, he assumed the position of Secretary to the National Union. Sadat was the President of the National Assembly (1960-1968) and then vice president and member of the Presidential Council in 1964. He was reappointed as vice president again in December 1969.

Presidency

After Nasser's death in 1970, Sadat succeeded him as President, but it was widely considered that his presidency would be short-lived. Viewing him as having been little more than a puppet of the former President, Nasser's supporters in government settled on Sadat as someone they could easily manipulate. Nasser's supporters were well satisfied for six months until Sadat instituted The Corrective Revolution and purged Egypt of most of its other leaders and other elements of the Nasser era.

In 1971, Sadat endorsed in a letter the peace proposals of UN negotiator Gunnar Jarring which seemed to lead to a full peace with Israel on the basis of Israel's withdrawal to its pre-war borders. This peace initiative failed as neither the United States nor Israel accepted the terms as discussed then.

Sadat likely perceived that Israel's desire to negotiate was directly correlated to how much of a military threat they perceived from Egypt, which, after the Six-Day War of 1967, was at an all time low. Israel also viewed the most substantial part of the Egyptian threat as the presence of Soviet equipment and personnel (in the thousands at this time). It was for those reasons that Sadat expelled the Soviet military advisers from Egypt and proceeded to whip his army into shape for a renewed confrontation with Israel.

On 6 October 1973, in conjunction with Hafez al-Assad of Syria, Sadat launched the October War, known in Israel as the Yom Kippur War, a surprise attack to recapture occupied Sinai. The Egyptian performance in the initial stages of the war (see The Crossing) astonished both Israel and the Arab World as Egyptian forces pressed approximately 15 km into the Sinai Peninsula beyond the Bar Lev Line. This line is popularly thought to have been an impregnable defensive chain. Indeed the Egyptian performance was highly praised by Jewish American military strategist Edward Luttwak in an article that appeared in the Jerusalem Post in the wake of the 2006 Lebanon War:

...hundreds of Israeli tanks were damaged or destroyed by brave Egyptian infantrymen with their hand-carried missiles and rockets....In 1973, after crossing the Suez Canal, Egyptian infantrymen by the thousands stood their ground unflinchingly against advancing 50-ton Israeli battle tanks, to attack them successfully with their puny hand-held weapons. They were in the open, flat desert, with none of the cover and protection that Hizbullah had in their fortified bunkers or in Lebanon's rugged terrain.... Later, within the few square miles of the so-called Chinese farm near the Suez Canal, the Israelis lost more soldiers fighting against the Egyptians in a single day and night than the 116 killed in a month of war in Lebanon - including the victims of vehicle accidents and friendly fire....Hizbullah certainly did not run away and did hold its ground, but its mediocrity is revealed by the casualties it inflicted, which were very few.

As the war progressed, three divisions of the Israeli army (IDF) led by then General Ariel Sharon had crossed the Suez Canal, encircling the Egyptian Third Army. Prompted by an agreement between the United States and Egypt's Soviet allies, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 338 on 24 October 1973, calling for an immediate ceasefire.

The initial Egyptian and Syrian victories in the war restored popular morale throughout Egypt and the Arab World, and for many years after Sadat was known as the "hero of the Crossing". Israel recognized Egypt as a formidable foe, and Egypt's renewed political significance eventually led to regaining and reopening the Suez Canal through the peace process.

On 19 November 1977, Sadat became the first Arab leader to officially visit Israel when he met with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and spoke before the Knesset in Jerusalem about his views on how to achieve a comprehensive peace to the Arab-Israeli conflict, which included the full implementation of UN Resolutions 242 and 338. He made the visit after receiving an invitation from Begin and once again sought a permanent peace settlement.

The Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty

The Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty was signed by Anwar Sadat and Israelli Prime Minster Menachem Begin in Washington, DC, United States, on 26 March 1979, following the Camp David Accords (1978), a series of meetings between Egypt and Israel facilitated by U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Both Sadat and Begin were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for creating the treaty. The main features of the agreement were the mutual recognition of each country by the other, the cessation of the state of war that had existed since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and the complete withdrawal by Israel of its armed forces and civilians from the rest of the Sinai Peninsula which Israel had captured during the 1967 Six-Day War. The agreement also provided for the free passage of Israeli ships through the Suez Canal and recognition of the Strait of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba as international waterways. The agreement notably made Egypt the first Arab country to officially recognize Israel. The peace agreement between Egypt and Israel has remained in effect since the treaty was signed.

The treaty, which gained wide support among Egyptians was extremely unpopular in the Arab World and the wider Muslim World. His predecessor Nasser had made Egypt an icon of Arab nationalism, an ideology that appeared to be sidelined by an Egyptian orientation following the 1973 war (see Egypt). By signing the accords, many non-Egyptian Arabs believed Sadat had put Egypt's interests ahead of Arab unity, betraying Nasser's pan-Arabism, and destroyed the vision of a united "Arab front" and elimination of the "Zionist Entity." Sadat's shift towards a strategic relationship with the U.S. was also seen as a betrayal by many. In the United States, his peace moves gained him popularity among some Evangelical circles. He was awarded the Prince of Peace Award by Pat Robertson

In 1979, the Arab League expelled Egypt in the wake of the Egyptian-Israel peace agreement, and the League moved its headquarters from Cairo to Tunis. It was not until 1989 that the League re-admitted Egypt as a member, and returned its headquarters to Cairo. Many believed that only a threat of force would make Israel negotiate over the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the Camp David accords removed the possibility of Egypt, the major Arab military power, from providing such a threat. As part of the peace deal, Israel withdrew from the Sinai peninsula in phases, returning the entire area to Egypt on 25 April 1982.

Unpopularity and conspiracy theories

The last years of Sadat's reign were marked by turmoil and there were several allegations of corruption against him and his family. In January 1977, a series of 'Bread Riots' protested Sadat's economic liberalization and specifically a government decree lifting price controls on basic necessities like bread. 120 buses and hundreds of buildings burned in Cairo alone. Dozens of nightclubs on the famous Pyramids Street were sacked by Islamists. Following the riots the government reversed itself and recontrolled prices.

Near the end of his presidency, most of Sadat's advisors resigned in protest of his internal policies. The deaths of the Defense Minister Ahmed Badawi and 13 senior Egyptian Army officers in a helicopter crash on 6 March 1981 near the Libyan border increased the public anger at Sadat and his policy.

Islamists were enraged by Sadat's Sinai treaty with Israel, particularly the radical Egyptian Islamic Jihad. According to interviews and information gathered by journalist Lawrence Wright, the group was recruiting military officers and accumulating weapons, waiting for the right moment to launch "a complete overthrow of the existing order" in Egypt. Chief strategist of El-Jihad was Aboud el-Zumar, a colonel in the military intelligence whose "plan was to kill the main leaders of the country, capture the headquarters of the army and State Security, the telephone exchange building, and of course the radio and television building, where news of the Islamic revolution would then be broadcast, unleashing - he expected - a popular uprising against secular authority all over the country.

In February 1981, Egyptian authorities were alerted to El-Jihad's plan by the arrest of an operative carrying crucial information. In September, Sadat ordered a highly unpopular roundup of more than 1500 people, including many Jihad members, but also intellectuals and activists of all ideological stripes, imprisoning communists, Nasserists, feminists, Islamists, homosexuals, Coptic Christian clergy, university professors, journalists and members of student groups.

The round up missed a Jihad cell in the military led by Lieutenant Khaled Islambouli, who succeeded in assassinating Anwar Sadat that October.

According to Tala'at Qasim, ex-head of the Gama'a Islamiyya interviewed in Middle East Report, it was not Islamic Jihad but the Islamic Group that organized the assassination and recruited the assassin (Islambuli). Members of the Group's 'Maglis el-Shura' ('Consultative Council') - headed by the famed 'blind shaykh' - were arrested two weeks before the killing, but they did not disclose the existing plans and Islambuli succeeded in assassinating Sadat.

Assassination and aftermath

On 6 October 1981, the month after the crackdown, Sadat was assassinated during the annual victory parade in Cairo. A fatwā approving the assassination had been obtained from Omar Abdel-Rahman, a cleric later convicted in the U.S. for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Sadat was protected by four layers of security and the army parade should have been safe due to ammunition-seizure rules. However, the officers in charge of that procedure were on hajj to Mecca.

As air force Mirage jets flew overhead, distracting the crowd, a troop truck halted before the presidential reviewing stand, and a lieutenant strode forward. Sadat stood to receive his salute, whereupon the assassins rose from the truck, throwing grenades and firing assault rifle rounds. The attack lasted about two minutes. The lead assassin Khalid Islambouli shouted "Death to Pharaoh!" as he ran towards the stand and shot Sadat. After he fell to the floor people around Sadat threw chairs on his body to try to protect him from the bullets. 11 others were killed, including the Cuban ambassador and a Coptic Orthodox bishop, and 28 were wounded, including James Tully, the Irish Minister for Defence, and four U.S. military liaison officers. Sadat was then rushed to a hospital, but was declared dead within hours. This was the first time in Egyptian history that the head of state had been assassinated by an Egyptian citizen. Two of the attackers were killed and the others were arrested by military police on-site. Islambouli was later found guilty and was executed in April 1982.

In conjunction with the assassination, an insurrection was organized in Asyut in Upper Egypt. Rebels took control of the city for a few days and 68 policemen and soldiers were killed in the fighting. Government control was not restored until paratroopers from Cairo arrived. Most of the militants convicted of fighting received light sentences and served only three years in prison.

Sadat was succeeded by his vice president Hosni Mubarak, whose hand was injured during the attack. Sadat's funeral was attended by a record number of dignitaries from around the world, including a rare simultaneous attendance by three former U.S. presidents: Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon. No Arab heads of state attended the funeral, apart from Sudan's President Gaafar Nimeiry. Only 2 of 24 states in the Arab league sent representatives at all (Somalia and Oman). Sadat was buried in the unknown soldier memorial in Cairo.

Over three hundred Islamic radicals were indicted in the trial of assassin Khalid Islambouli, including Ayman al-Zawahiri, Omar Abdel-Rahman and Abd al-Hamid Kishk. The trial was covered by the international press and Zawahiri's knowledge of English made him the de facto spokesman for the defendants. Zawahiri was released from prison in 1984, before travelling to Afghanistan and forging a close relationship with Osama Bin Laden.

Despite these facts, the nephew of the late President, Talaat al-Sadat, claimed that the assassination was an international conspiracy. On 31 October 2006, he was sentenced to a year in prison for defaming Egypt's armed forces, less than a month after he gave the interview accusing Egyptian generals of masterminding his uncle's assassination. In an interview with a Saudi television channel, he also claimed both the United States and Israel were involved: "No one from the special personal protection group of the late president fired a single shot during the killing, and not one of them has been put on trial," he said.

Family

Sadat was married twice. He was first married to Ehsan Madi at age 22, and divorced her ten years later, just 17 days after the birth of their third daughter, Camelia. He then married Jehan Raouf (later known as Jehan Sadat), who was barely 16 at the time, on 29 May 1949, and they had one son. Jehan Sadat was the 2001 recipient of the Pearl S. Buck Award. Anwar Sadat's autobiography, In Search of Identity, was published in the USA in 1977. Currently, Mrs. Sadat is an Associate Resident Scholar at the University of Maryland where The Anwar Sadat Chair for Development and Peace was established and fully endowed in 1997 to honor her husband's legacy. A nephew, Talaat Sadat, was imprisoned in October 2006 for accusing the Egyptian military of complicity in his uncle's assassination.

Media portrayals of Anwar Sadat

In 1983, Sadat, a miniseries based on the life of Anwar Sadat, aired on U.S. television with Oscar-winning actor Louis Gossett, Jr. in the title role. The film was promptly banned by the Egyptian government, as were all other movies produced and distributed by Columbia Pictures due, in part, to historical inaccuracies. A civil lawsuit was also brought by Egypt's artists' and film unions against Columbia Pictures and the film's directors, producers and scriptwriters, but was eventually dismissed.

The main reason for the miniseries' poor reception in Egypt, however, was the fact that a black man, Gossett, was cast to play the role of the Egyptian president. According to one source, "that bothered race-conscious Egyptians and wouldn't have pleased [the deceased] Sadat.

The two-part series earned Gossett an Emmy nomination in the United States.

The first Egyptian depiction of Sadat's life came in 2001, when Ayam El-Sadat (English: Days of Sadat) was released in Egyptian cinemas. This movie, by contrast, was a major success in Egypt, and was hailed as Ahmed Zaki's greatest performance to date.

Quotes

"Fear is, I believe, a most effective tool in destroying the soul of an individual - and the soul of a people."

"Most people seek after what they do not possess and are enslaved by the very things they want to acquire."

"Peace is much more precious than a piece of land... let there be no more wars."

"Russians can give you arms but only the United States can give you a solution."

"There can be hope only for a society which acts as one big family, not as many separate ones."

"There is no happiness for people at the expense of other people."

Bibliography

  • Sadat, Anwar (1954). قصة الثورة كاملة (The Full Story of the Revolution). Cairo: Dar el-Hilal.
  • Sadat, Anwar (1955). صفحات مجهولة (Unknown Pages of the Revolution). Cairo: دار التحرير للطبع والنشر،.
  • Sadat, Anwar (1957). Revolt on the Nile. New York: J. Day Co.
  • Sadat, Anwar (1958). Son, This Is Your Uncle Gamal - Memoirs of Anwar el-Sadat. Beirut: Maktabat al-ʻIrfān.
  • Sadat, Anwar (1978). In Search of Identity: An Autobiography. New York: Harper & Row.

Notes

References

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