Jihan Sadat

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Jihan Sadat

Jihan Sadat (born 1933), the second wife of Anwar Sadat, she pioneered for women's rights in her country.

The woman who would become the second wife of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat was born near Cairo to an Egyptian father and an English mother. Her father was a surgeon and her family was upper-middle class. Sadat was raised as a Moslem according to her father's wishes. She attended a Christian school for girls and a secondary school in Cairo. It was in Cairo that Sadat met her future husband, Anwar Sadat. Her parents objected to the idea of their daughter marrying a divorced revolutionary; nonetheless, Jihan and Anwar were married in May 1949.

Jihan was the devoted wife of a rising political man and mother of their four children, but she was more than that. Although while a teenager she had been almost obsessed with Sadat as a local hero, even before meeting him, she always had an activist cosmopolitan streak. This led her to take bold (for a Muslim woman) initiatives, and, after her husband attained the presidency, controversial ones.

Jihan Sadat pioneered the cause of women's rights in her country. She set up cooperatives in Egyptian villages for peasant women. During her husband's presidency, two laws that gave women greater rights were issued. One law allowed for thirty seats to be filled by women in the Egyptian parliament. The second law provided women with the right to sue for divorce and retain custody of their children. Sadat was also concerned with various humanitarian causes. She established orphanages and a facility for rehabilitating the handicapped veterans of war in Egypt.

Sadat traveled outside the country on her own, something unprecedented for the wife of a Muslim leader. She returned to the university in 1974. In 1980 she earned a master's degree from the University of Cairo in Arabic literature. She received a doctorate in 1987, six years after her husband's death.

While many admire Jihan Sadat for her independent nature and activism, she has had her share of critics. Fundamentalist and traditionalist Arabs were scandalized by her Western mannerisms and willingness to grant personal interviews in Western magazines. One such interview was published in Playgirl although she seems to have been misled by her interviewer about where the article would appear. Others have found her typically bourgeois with more than a little taste for luxury and comfort.

Sadat's presence in the academic world has given her a place to continue her life following the death of her husband. She has taught in both Egypt, at the University of Cairo, and in the United States. Her pursuits in the U.S. have taken her to the American University in Washington, D.C., the University of South Carolina, Radford University in Virginia, and the University of Maryland. She has taught classes and led seminars on women's issues, Egyptian culture, and international studies. Sadat has also written a book on her life titled A Woman of Egypt.

Further Reading

Sadat, Jehan. A Woman of Egypt (1987). □