Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Monday, June 16, 2008

Sadat: Remembering a Wise Man

Yomna Kamel

October 6, 1981- While reviewing a military parade marking the eighth anniversary of the 1973 war, Khalid Islambuli, a young army officer who belonged to an Islamic group, assassinated Sadat in a tragic scene that was being televised to thousands of Egyptians.

When the world was mesmerized by the appearance of Yasser Arafat and Yizhak Rabin shaking hands in early 1990s, it recalled some 30-year old memory when the Egyptian president Anwar Al Sadat (1918-1981) signed the first peace treaty with Israel and started a new era in the history of the Arab-Israeli relations.

Sadat’s initiative for peace with Israel was a turning point in the history of Egypt and the Arab region. Such a decision would not have to come from a president who was not as clever and courageous as Sadat .

Born in 1918 in a Mit Abu Al Kom, a small Egyptian village and brought up in a poor family of 13 children, Sadat cleverly found his way to one of Egypt’s top colleges at this time, the Military Academy, in 1938.

Immediately after graduation, Sadat felt the need for a real change in Egypt. He engaged in an underground movement against the British occupation and Farouk’s regime. He was involved in assassinations of some pro-British politicians, which led to his detention twice.

“During World War II Sadat collaborated with the Germans to further his goal of ousting the British from Egypt. He was arrested in 1942 for spying, escaped, and was arrested a second time in 1945 for his participation in an assassination attempt. Sadat was released in 1949,” according to Compton’s Encyclopedia

In early 1950s, Sadat heard about the Free Officers and immediately joined them where he worked closely with Gamal Abdel El Nasser. In 1952, Nasser led a coup overthrowing King Farouk and changing Egypt’s political system from a monarchy to a republic. The public knew Sadat when Nasser assigned him to deliver a speech through the Egyptian radio on behalf of the Free Officers informing the public about the revolution.

“Sadat held various high positions in the new (Nasser) government, including chairman of the National Assembly from 1960 to 1968 and vice-president (1964-66, 1969-70). When Nasser died in 1970, Sadat was elected a president with more than 90 percent of the vote in a national referendum,” the encyclopedia stated.

Despite his strong position in Nasser’s government and his notable intelligence, Sadat like many other Egyptian politicians of his time, lived in the shadow of Nasser, the most charismatic leader Egyptians knew in their modern history.

When he started his term in 1971 succeeding Nasser, the leader of Arab nationalism who gained much of his popularity across the Arab world due to his flammable enthusiasm to fight Israel, Sadat promised to follow Nasser’s footsteps.

Realizing that he would not be another Nasser, Sadat, gradually, adopted new internal and external policies. Internally, Sadat had to come up with solutions to a heritage of economy and political problems Nasser left behind.

“At this time Egypt's economy was in shambles as a result of the 1967 war with Israel. Oil reserves from the Israeli occupied Sinai peninsula were lost, the Suez Canal remained closed due to Nasser's scuttling blockade, the United States refused communication with Egypt and the Soviet Union failed to produce any aid to the country,” said Edward Graham in his article: Islamic Extremism and Modern Egypt, published by the Middle East Information Network

Under these circumstances, Sadat sought to guarantee a stable internal front. He launched an arrest campaign against those he expected would object to his new policies. On May 14th, 1970, Sadat came up with his own revolution, known as the Rectification Revolution. The revolution targeted centers of power of Nasser’s time and included the arrest of ninety-one ‘Nasserites’.

In the same year, Sadat approved Egypt Permanent Constitution, which “defined Egypt as a "democratic, socialist state. Also, it called on Islamic Jurisprudence (Sharia) to be the main source of legislation. Some political analysts believed that Sadat was using Islam as a tool to gain popularity, to counteract the Nasserites and the communists and thus keep internal stability.

“He (Sadat) took on the title of the "Believer President," had television coverage of his attendance at daily prayers, pushed for increased Islamic programming in the media, as well as established religious classes in schools,” said Graham.

Simultaneously, Sadat went on rebuilding the army until he reached a state when it was ready to enter another war with Israel. By October 6, 1973 the Egyptian army crossed the Suez Canal into the Sinai. Egypt’s victory in this war added to Sadat’s popularity inside Egypt and extended it to the Arab and Muslim countries.

Sadat cleverly used the 1973 victory to push for a peaceful settlement with Israel. “Sadat not only wants peace but profoundly needs it. Egypt, disastrously impoverished and overpopulated, claustrophobically crowded into the life-sustaining Nile Valley, can no longer afford to spend 28% of its national budget on military hardware to aim at Israel,” the the Time reported on January 5ht 1978

In a speech before the Egyptian Parliament, Sadat called for peace with Israel and said he would not hesitate to go to Israel itself for the sake of peace. In 1977, Sadat’s made it real when he surprised the world by his visit to Israel.

“Before Sadat flew to Israel, the Middle East appeared to be on another of its terrible swings toward war, another violent spasm in the tragic politics of the region. The very memory of Anwar Sadat at Ben Gurion Airport, at Al Aqsa mosque, at the Knesset, will serve as an enduring reminder that a better way for the Middle East is possible,” the Time reported on January 5th, 1978

Sadat’s visit was followed by a peace agreement with Israel known as the Camp David Accord in 1979. With all support from the West, Egypt had to individually sign the agreement after the rest of Arab parties rejected it.

Sadat’s decision of peace revamped Egypt’s image in the international community and he became ‘the man of peace and war’. Sadat and Menachem Begin were given the Nobel Prize for Peace and the Time magazine chose Sadat in 1978 ‘the Man of the Year’.

Although the Western countries praised Sadat’s decision of peace, it was a shock for all Arab and Muslim countries. He cost Egypt friendly relations with all Arab countries. With no exceptions, the Arab countries boycotted Egypt in a summit held in Baghdad in 1977, dismissed it from the Arab League and moved the headquarters from Cairo to Tunisia. Moreover, its membership in the Islamic Conference Organization and the African Unity Organization was suspended.

“For many Arabs, the Camp David peace process - even if it laid the groundwork for a still-awaited comprehensive peace settlement in the Middle East - remains a symbol of treachery and surrender. Sadat, hero of the 1973 war that helped redeem the Arab disaster of 1967, was for many the villain of Camp David, the man who sold out the Arab cause to the enemy,” said Harvey Morris in
the International Magazine on Arab Affairs

Along with all Arabs’ rejection to the peace treaty, Sadat faced internal rejection led by the Nasserites and Muslim brothers who were empowered by Sadat’s pro-Islamist policy.

Simultaneously, the West was admiring Sadat’s internal policies. He cut off his relation with the Soviet Union, a step that drew the attention to the United States and encouraged it to substitute it in term of financial and military assistance given to Egypt. Moreover, he stared an economic reform plan and what Egyptian economic experts called ‘the Infitah” or the open door policy that depended on enhancing the private sector and encouraging free trade.

Commenting on the Infitah policy, Sadat said, “Just as the crossing had brought victory on the battlefield, so this second crossing will bring victory on the home front in the shape of prosperity for all."

“The encouragement of foreign trade resulted in a large trade deficit brought on by "extravagant" importation of consumer and intermediary goods, coupled with a drop in overall exports,” Graham said.

“The socioeconomic structure was faced with the emergence of a new upper class, mainly merchants and middlemen, aggravated inflation on an unheard of scale, with the majority of economic burden falling on the middle and lower classes,” he explained.

As Sadat already turned the Nasserites and the Muslim Brothers against him by his foreign policies, his economic policy increased Egyptians’ discontent with his regime. Sadat climaxed internal dissatisfaction when he arrested all opponents and suppressed all opposition voices. Such a boiling situation in late 1970s indicated the end of Saddat’s era.

October 6, 1981- While reviewing a military parade marking the eighth anniversary of the 1973 war, Khalid Islambuli, a young army officer who belonged to an Islamic group, assassinated Sadat in a tragic scene that was being televised to thousands of Egyptians.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Who doesn't love Nasser?

Yomna Kamel

June 5th, 1967- In an unprecedented event, thousands of Egyptians marched in Cairo's streets to the presidential palace demanding him to return to office. Nasser agreed to return and started rebuilding the army until he passed away three years later.

When the movie 'Nasser 56' was released in 1996, 26 years after president Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-1970) passed away, thousands of Egyptians who were too young to catch up with Nasser's time headed to the country's cinema houses to see their hero. The movie as the CNN described, "has struck a special chord among Egypt's disenchanted youth."
For the generations of Egyptians who lived Nasser's era, and for the generations that came after him, Nasser was not just a president, but also a prophet of freedom and social Justice. Despite releasing the drawbacks of his time, Nasser is still the man who kept for Egyptians their dignity and pride and who always worked for the dream of the Arab unity to come true.
"For all his faults, Nasser helped to give Egypt and the Arabs that sense of dignity which for him was the hallmark of independent nationhood. Egypt and the whole Arab world would have been the poorer, in spirit as well as material progress, without the dynamic inspiration of his leadership," diplomat Anthony Nutting, who knew Nasser and wrote a biography of him told the on July 1996.
When Nasser died of a heart attack on September 29, 1970, Egyptians and Arabs felt it was another major loss after the 1967 war against Israel. For the African and Asian nations, they lost a great leader who supported revolutionary movements across the world.
"It was an unforgettable day. It was a shock for all Egyptians, those who liked him and those who did not agree with him. I remember that day very well. I was accompanying a number of ministers on a visit to the front near the Suez Canal when we heard the news. All the way back to Cairo, we saw millions of Egyptians who left their villages and towns heading to Cairo. They were weeping and crying the loss of Nasser," a former officer at the army's public relations unit said.
"When we reached the presidential palace in Cairo, it was very difficult to find a path to the entrance with hundreds of thousands occupying the square and surrounding the place," he added. "Nasser's funeral was the biggest Egypt ever saw. Millions of Egyptians, Arabs, Africans, and even those who didn't agree with him, were there to pay their final respect."
Such great love to Nasser, which extends from a generation to another, is the fruits of his courageous decisions that surprised the world. From leading a coup on July 23 1952 overthrowing the monarchy and establishing the first Egyptian republic, nationalizing the Suez Canal, heading the United Arab Republic which united Egypt with Syria, his resignation after 1967 defeat to his sudden death at age of 52, Nasser had always been a very unusual president.
Born in January 1918 in Bacos, a small suburb in Alexandria, to a middle class Upper Egyptian parents, Nasser felt the suffering of the majority of Egyptians under a corrupted monarchy and British dominance over the country's resources. His early age experience motivated him to lead a revolution that changed the political history not only of Egypt, but also of the Arab and African countries.
Nasser graduated from the military college in 1938 and joined the army where he became more aware of the King Farouk's corruption. As he fought in Palestine in 1948 War, he believed more in the Arab cause. With a group of army officers who shared the same thoughts, Nasser formed the Free Officers movement. They managed to win the army's support and in months they led a bloodless coup overthrowing King Farouk.
Although Nasser was the actual leader of the coup, General Mohammed Naguib was appointed a president for two years until the Free Officers disagreed with some of his policies and decided to appoint Nasser a president.
When Nasser came to office, he started a social and economic revolution. He made education free for all Egyptians. He put an end to an over hundred year feudal system where Egyptian peasants suffered poverty and discrimination by the landlords. He nationalized the country's major financial institutions. Nasser's internal policies shocked some domestic groups as well as the Western countries, especially after he nationalized the Suez Canal.
Internally, Nasser was a controversial leader. His political, social and economic amendments were praised by the mass, but some groups did not appreciate them especially with political repression and censorship were used to control the country.
Nasser founded a powerful intelligence service, which helped him keep control over the country and chase his opponents. Political opponents were exposed to all sort of intimidation and many respectable journalists like Mostafa Amin, the founder of the country's leading paper, Akhbar Al Youm, were jailed. The Muslim Brothers group was banned and many of them were also jailed. Such a closed political atmosphere pushed the Muslim Brothers to engage in a failed assassination attempt when Nasser was giving a public speech in Alexandria.
Externally, Western countries were not also happy with Nasser's policies. "The coming to power in Egypt of the energetic young warrior sent shock waves through Britain, France and Israel. Leaders in all three countries feared him as a galvanizing ruler who had the potential to unify the shattered Arab world at the expense of the West and Israel," Donald Neff said in his article 'Nasser comes to power in Egypt frightening Britain, France and Israel' published by the on-line Washington Report on Middle East Affairs on July 1996.
In a demonstration of their rejection to his policies, the USA and Britain withdrew a promise to finance the project of the Aswan High Dam in Aswan, a matter that encouraged Nasser to nationalize of the Suez Canal Company.
In retaliation for Nasser's bold decision, Britain, France and Israel attacked Egypt, but the invading forces were faced by a fierce guerrilla war in the canal area and pressure from the UN. In few months, they retreated.
As he was hated by Western countries whose interests in the region were threatened by his policies, for many other countries in Asia and Africa, he was a friend and a hero.
Along with Nehru of India and Sukarno of Indonesia, Nasser founded the Non-aligned movement, which played a significant role in the political areas of the world's developing countries.
On the Arab level, Nasser, indeed, was the pioneer of Arab nationalism. Although it did not survive for long, Egyptian and Syrian Unity was the first attempt to unify the Arabs in the modern history of the region.
"In 1958 Egypt and Syria formed the United Arab Republic, with Nasser as the head. This was considered as the first step towards Arab unity. When it broke up in 1961, after a coup in Syria, Nasser kept on to the name as a symbol for his aspirations of Arab unity (the name was changed the year after his death),'stated Tore Kjeilen in his Encyclopedia of the Orient.
Such a powerful position as an Arab and international leader raised fear among the world's superpowers and Israel. It made Nasser a real threat to the Jewish state.
"I always feared that a personality might rise such as arose among the Arab rulers in the seventh century or like [Kemal Ataturk] who rose in Turkey after its defeat in the First World War. He raised their spirits, changed their character, and turned them in a fighting nation. There was and still is a danger that Nasser is this man," Israel's David Ben- Gurion said, according to Washington Report on Middle East Affairs in 1996.
His threats to throw Israel in the sea were always stressed in his speeches. Backed by the Western superpowers that were not happy with Nasser, Israel strongly attacked Egypt on June 5, in 1967. The fight continued for five days until it succeeded to put its hands over the Gaza strip and the Sinai Peninsula.
As Nasser felt the defeat was a shock for Egyptians and Arabs, who believed in him, he stepped down in a speech he delivered shortly after the war.
In an unprecedented event, thousands of Egyptians marched in Cairo's streets to the presidential palace demanding him to return to office. Nasser agreed to return and started rebuilding the army until he passed away three years later.