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.


Yasser kamel said...

A very nice article about our great former president Sadaat who I consider our last great native ruler to exist since the reign of our ancient pharaoh Ramsess III, 1100 B.C. Sadaat " the one and the only" among our recent rulers that enjoyed valor and inelegance which allowed him to vanquish his enemies and to accomplish a great victory in his war in 19973. We cried deeply once we lost him by his assassins who were members of a fanatic-Islamic group that never represented Islam in its actual core.

YMK said...

Thanks my dear brother for your comment. I equally admire Sadat; he was such a wise leader. Leaders like him are very much needed these days.
May his soul rest in peace.