Born on December 25, 1918 (Mit Abul-Kum, Egypt)
Died on October 6, 1981 (Cairo, Egypt)
President of Egypt
Anwar Sadat was one of the most controversial figures in Middle Eastern politics in the twentieth century. As president of Egypt from 1970 until his assassination in 1981, Sadat came to symbolize the troubling divisions between the Arab and Western (countries such as Britain, France, Germany, Canada, and the United States) cultures. He worked to free his country from British rule, and then rose to a position of leadership among other Arab nations. He watched his country suffer devastating losses from ongoing conflicts with Israel, which captured the Sinai Peninsula during the Six-Day War in 1967 and forced a six-year closure of the Suez Canal, a waterway that provided Egypt with steady traders and other sources of income. To halt his country's distress, Sadat launched a successful attack against Israel in 1973 that recaptured Egypt's lost land, reopened the Suez Canal, and regained Egyptian status in the Middle East. Finally, Sadat signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1978. Although this act brought his country peace after more than a decade of ongoing conflicts, it also made Sadat the first leader of an Arab nation to officially recognize Israel as a legitimate country. This disrupted a long-standing
"Better to die honorably than to live in humiliation."
agreement among Arab nations to work actively to destroy Israel. Sadat was simultaneously called a hero and a traitor.
Grew to hate British rule
Sadat was born on December 25, 1918, in the small Egyptian village of Mit Abul-Kum, located in the fertile Nile Delta. His father, Mohammed el-Sadat, served the Egyptian army as a military hospital clerk. His mother, Sitt-al-Barrein, was one of his father's many wives. The Sadat family totaled thirteen children. When he was a youngster, Sadat's parents moved to Sudan, leaving him and his siblings to be raised by his grandmother in a sun-dried brick and straw-roofed house in Mit Abul-Kum. Sadat delighted in his village's variety of orchards and many festivals. He cherished his childhood village, remembering his life there as "a succession of pleasant discoveries," according to his autobiography.
His grandmother instilled in Sadat a great love of Egyptian history by telling stories of Arab power and pride before the British came to occupy the country in 1882. One story about a man from a nearby town deeply inspired Sadat. The man, named Zahran, was hanged for killing a British officer after British soldiers had carelessly set an Egyptian grain silo on fire. Zahran became a hero for his stand against the British. Sadat dreamed of being a hero like Zahran, and possibly of securing Egypt's complete freedom from British rule.
As a young man Sadat learned about both the Islamic and Christian religions. He attended a Koranic Teaching School, in which he learned by heart the Koran, the holy book of the Islamic religion. He also attended a Coptic Christian School for a short time, where he learned some of the Bible, the holy book of the Christian religion. Sadat would practice Islam faithfully throughout his life. His frequent prayers, during which he pressed his head to the floor, created a visible bump on the top of his forehead by his adulthood.
At age seven Sadat moved to live with his parents in Cairo, Egypt's largest city and capital. Sadat was fortunate that his older brother had no interest in education, for his father's meager salary could not have paid for both his sons to attend school. Sadat gladly completed both his primary and secondary education, and then continued his education at the Royal Military Academy. Upon Sadat's graduation from the Academy in 1938, he became a second lieutenant in the Egyptian army and was stationed in southern Egypt. Among the Egyptian officers at his post in Manqabad, Sadat met several men who believed that Egypt should be a free country, independent of foreign rule. At the time, Egypt was ruled by King Farouk (1920–1965; reigned 1936–52), who was considered by many Egyptians to be a king merely in title because the decisions he made were in the interests of Britain, not Egypt. Because Sadat met frequently with soldiers to teach them Egyptian history and to talk about how to improve Egyptian government, his room came to be nicknamed the "National Assembly."
Worked to free Egypt
In the late 1930s Sadat was transferred to a different military post where he continued to gather with soldiers to talk about a free Egypt. In 1939 Sadat helped found the Free Officers Organization for the purpose of expelling the British government from Egypt. In the early 1940s, the Nazis (the German government led by Adolf Hitler [1889–1945] which attempted the take over of large parts of Europe and killed large numbers of Jewish people and other non-Aryans, or white non-Jews) and their ally Italy began invading Libya, forcing Britain to send Egyptian troops to defend the western border of British territory. Some Egyptians soldiers, however, wanted to side with the Nazis in exchange for help in removing British control from Egypt. In 1941 Sadat and the other Free Officers started to plan a revolution with the assistance of the Nazis. When the British discovered Sadat's attempts to help the Germans, he was stripped of his military rank and arrested. While in jail Sadat studied English by reading newspapers and books, and learned German from another inmate. After two years in jail, Sadat tried to escape. His first attempt failed, but his second succeeded in 1944. Hiding from the authorities, he lived as a fugitive, using the name Hadji Muhammad, growing a beard to disguise his face, and working as a garage mechanic. He soon resumed his plans to overthrow the British control of Egypt. He planned one assassination attempt on Egypt's prime minister, but the effort failed. Another assassination attempt, this one successful, killed Egyptian political leader Amin Osman Pasha, who supported a union between Egypt and Britain. For his part in the assassination of Pasha, Sadat was again sent to jail in January of 1946. Sadat endured two years in prison before his trial, in which he was found not guilty. Much of his time was spent in isolation.
Sadat's time in prison disrupted his personal life. Sadat had married his first wife in 1940; Ekbal Madi had grown up in Sadat's hometown of Mit Abul-Kum and the marriage had been arranged. However, Sadat sought a divorce soon after his release in 1948. Sadat worked at several different jobs between 1948 and 1950, making new contacts and keeping a low profile. He also met and married his second wife, Jehan Raouf, in 1949. Raouf had known of Sadat long before they met; she had followed his attempts to resist Britain in newspaper reports over the years. The couple went on to raise three daughters and one son.
Since Sadat had been found innocent during his trial, there was nothing to keep him from rejoining the military. On January 15, 1950, Sadat once again became part of the army, this time as a captain. During Sadat's time in prison, the Free Officers Organization had continued to grow, winning a loyal following among those who wished to rid Egypt of the British presence. The group formed officially as the Association of Free Officers in 1949 under the leadership of Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918–1970; see entry), who created an extensive system of independent cells, or groups of people, within the Free Officers in order to minimize damage to the overall organization's plans in case one of these cells was arrested by the British. Nasser, a friend of Sadat's since age nineteen, welcomed Sadat back into the highest ranks of the organization, giving him a seat on the governing council. In 1952 the Egyptian public rioted due to their frustration with the British. Before King Farouk could stop the riots and regain the public trust, the Free Officers attacked. On July 22, 1952, Sadat announced the beginning of the Egyptian revolution on the radio. Many members of the Egyptian army that were part of the Free Officers turned against the government and were supported by the Egyptian people. By July 26, the Free Officers had gained control of the Egyptian government and had sent King Farouk out of the country. Of the revolution, Sadat remembered in his autobiography, "The dream on which I had lived for years—a dream to which I devoted my entire life—had finally materialized."
Emergence of Egypt as leader among Arab nations
The revolutionaries elected Nasser as chairman of the new government, which they renamed the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC). The RCC controlled Egypt until 1956, when Egypt formally installed a democratic government and elected Nasser as president. Britain signed an Evacuation Agreement in 1954, making Egypt truly independent for the first time in more than seventy years. By 1956 the last British soldier left Egypt, and Egypt claimed the British-built Suez Canal as its own, bringing much-needed profits to the country.
During the first years of Egyptian independence, the new government withstood several attempts to overthrow it by imprisoning political opponents and outlawing the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic fundamentalist group that hoped to establish a government based on the laws of the Islamic religion. The new government also instituted some new policies, such as putting all Egyptian industries that had been run by private owners under the control of the government. This helped the Egyptian economy to grow for prices of products dropped as spending increased. By the 1960s Egypt had the largest population and army among the Arab nations. The government's growing strength helped Egypt emerge as a powerful political leader as well.
Sadat gained a reputation as a calm, level-headed government official and a trusted advisor to President Nasser in the first years of the new government. Between 1954 and 1956 Sadat acted as minister of state. In 1957 he became secretary-general of the National Union, the single most powerful political party in Egypt. In the early years of the new government, Sadat also published a newspaper called al-Gumhuriah, meaning "The Republic," which looked at issues from an Arabic point of view and spoke out against Western ideas.
The newly independent country of Egypt began to seek alliances with other Arab and Muslim nations. President Nasser worked to develop the idea of Pan-Arabism, or a unity among Arab nations. While Egypt tried to strengthen its position among Arab nations, it needed to create relationships with more powerful countries that could provide Egypt with military equipment. When the United States proposed a weapons agreement that Egypt felt would limit its new independence, Egypt turned to the Soviet Union for military aid. With the friendship of Arab nations and its own newly acquired weapons, Egypt became a major threat to the Jewish nation of Israel. When Israel was created in 1948, with the support of the United States and other Western countries, the country of Palestine ceased to exist. Arab Palestinians became refugees, forced to leave their homes and live in tents and poorly constructed homes in other Arab countries. Egypt and many other Middle Eastern countries supported the Palestinians and often fought for the destruction of Israel and the creation of an independent Palestinian nation, for many Arab countries were fearful that Western nations were trying to invade the Middle East by supporting the creation of a non-Arab state in the region. Egypt was a leader in supporting the Palestinians and it sponsored the First Arab Summit in 1964, where the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was officially formed to represent the political interests of Palestinians.
Devastation of the Six-Day War
In the early 1960s, Egypt and Israel fought small battles over land and Palestinian rights. Tension between Israel and the Arab nations grew when it was learned that Israel had obtained nuclear weapons. By 1967, the Arab nations surrounding Israel, including Egypt, were working together in the hopes of hurting the Israelis and eventually destroying the country of Israel. Sadat, along with other Arab army leaders, planned to attack the Strait of Tiran, which was Israel's only route to the ocean and access for trade with Western countries. Sadat gathered a large number of planes at various Egyptian airfields in preparation for this attack, but did not realize that Israel knew of the coming battle. On June 5, 1967, Israel bombed Egyptian airfields, destroying most of the Egyptian air force and starting the Six-Day War. Within six days, Israel had captured huge areas of land along its borders, including the Sinai Peninsula and the Suez Canal, which had once belonged to Egypt. A peace was finally reached between Israel and the Arab nations, but Israel refused to give back any of the land taken over during the war. The Six-Day War ruined the confidence of the Egyptian government and military, and Sadat himself remained inside his home for days after the cease-fire.
Sadat and the military continued to fight small battles with Israel along the Suez Canal for the next two years before Egypt launched the War of Attrition in 1969 to try to win back the land lost in the Six-Day War. This time the Egyptian military proved to be stronger, but they still failed in regaining the Sinai Peninsula. In 1969 Nasser, whose health was failing, appointed Sadat as vice president of Egypt. Nasser died nine months later and Sadat was elected president on October 15, 1970.
Although he had spent many years as government official and a military leader, Sadat had not created a strong public identity for himself. Both Egyptians and international diplomats wondered what type of leader Sadat would make. Sadat began to define his presidency within days of taking office, by making changes to policies that Nasser had set up. He stopped the routine wiretapping of officials, allowed news media to publish and broadcast without fear of censorship, reversed foreign policies that isolated Egypt from all but the Soviet Union, and returned property and industry to private owners.
Sadat regains the Sinai
Sadat did continue to work with the Soviet Union in the 1970s, in the hopes of increasing his military to wage a war against Israel in order to win back the land Egypt lost in the Six-Day War. But in the summer of 1972 Sadat, angry over the Soviets' delay in sending promised support for Egypt's military, severed relations with the Soviet Union and removed all Soviet representatives from his country. Sadat tried to work with the United States and other Western countries, but these countries continued to support Israel and refused to sell military weaponry to Sadat in fear that he would use it to attack Israel. By 1973 Sadat began again negotiating with the Soviet Union and eventually reached a new agreement with the Soviets to supply Egypt with military equipment. With its new weapons in place, Egypt worked with the Arab country of Syria to launch an attack on Israel known as the Yom Kippur War, because it started on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. The Egyptian air force launched a surprise attack on the Israeli-held Sinai Peninsula, which allowed ground troops to cross the Suez Canal and into Israeli territory. Sadat explained his aspirations for the Yom Kippur War in his autobiography: "I used to tell Nasser that if we could recapture even 4 inches of Sinai territory ... first to go would be the humiliation we had endured since the 1967 defeat; for, to cross into Sinai and hold on to any territory captured would restore our self-confidence."
Egypt had apparently won the war seven days later on October 13, 1973, recapturing most of the land it had lost to Israel in the Six-Day War in 1967, and Sadat requested that Israel return all the land it had taken in the Six-Day War to Arab countries. Israel refused, and the war continued. Israel had lost more than one-third of its air force and many of its soldiers had died on the battlefield, but the United States came to Israel's aid.
Sadat, realizing that his army was being defeated by the United States forces, turned to the Soviets for help, but they refused to do more than supply military weapons in fear of starting a larger war with the United States. Sadat then requested help from Egypt's Arab neighbors and quickly received aid, including men, oil, and tanks. The Arab nations also imposed an oil embargo on all of Israel's allies. "No Gas" signs were soon seen at filling stations throughout the world. The Egyptian public turned out by the tens of thousands to hear Sadat speak, and his popularity was at an all-time high. He was hailed as the "Hero of the Crossing," referring to his crossing of the Suez Canal to regain the Sinai.
By the end of October, Sadat met with U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger and agreed to a cease-fire and withdrawal that would be supervised by the United Nations. But soon arguments about the withdrawal broke out between Egypt and Israel. Kissinger had to conduct separate talks with each side, until Egypt and Israel signed a final cease-fire agreement in January of 1974.
Trouble within Egypt
Sadat faced a trouble-filled year in 1975. The Egyptian economy was failing, and many Egyptians were starving. Protests erupted in Cairo, and crowds yelled their criticisms of Sadat. Needing to bring money into the Egyptian economy, Sadat resolved to reopen the Suez Canal. The waterway, which had brought hundreds of thousands of dollars in trade to Egypt, had been closed since 1967 because of the hostility between Israel and Egypt. With the help of the United States, Egypt opened the canal and was able to negotiate with Israel. Israel returned land on the east bank of the canal and the oil fields in the Sinai Peninsula, and Egypt allowed Israel access to the Red Sea so that the Israelis could increase their trade.
Historic Visit to Israel
On November 19, 1977, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat flew to Israel to discuss peace. Although Israel and Egypt were technically at war, Sadat was welcomed to Israel with the respect shown to any statesman. Disembarking from his plane, Sadat was greeted by Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, along with other Israeli dignitaries, including former prime minister Golda Meir (1898–1978; see entry). Israeli soldiers stood at attention while both the Israeli and Egyptian anthems were played. Sadat then visited Jerusalem, the holiest city for both Jews and Muslims. Sadat visited both the Israeli and Arab sections of the city, and prayed at the al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam's holiest sites.
On November 20 Sadat spoke before the Knesset (the Israeli legislature), on the issues of peace between the two countries:
I have chosen to set aside all precedents and traditions known by warring countries. In spite of the fact that occupation of Arab territories is still there, the declaration of my readiness to proceed to Israel came as a great surprise that stirred many feelings and confounded many minds. Some of them even doubted its intent.
Despite all that, the decision was inspired by all the clarity and purity of belief and with all the true passions of my people's will and intentions, and I have chosen this road, considered by many to be the most difficult road.
I have chosen to come to you with an open heart and an open mind.... I have chosen to present to you, in your own home, the realities, devoid of any scheme or whim. Not to maneuver, or win a round, but for us to win together, the most dangerous of rounds embattled in modern history, the battle of permanent peace based on justice.
Sadat urged Israel to return the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt and to grant Palestinians meaningful independence. Begin supported Sadat's speech by remarking that if Israel and Egypt could achieve peace, "a new era will be opened in the Middle East: an era of flourishing and growth, of development and progress and advancement, as in ancient times," as quoted by Virginia Brackett in Menachem Begin. Upon his return to Egypt, Sadat was welcomed home by many as a hero and his Egyptian support swelled. The rest of the world, save the Arab states in the Middle East, had been charmed by Sadat's easy manner and likable nature shown on the televised broadcasts of his Israeli visit. Although Egypt and Israel were still many years away from negotiating a stable peace, Sadat's visit had opened the door for talks to begin.
As Sadat concentrated on securing international funds to boost the Egyptian economy in 1975, young Egyptians began to worry that there were few opportunities in the country for employment and advancement. Many Egyptians were persuaded to join Islamic fundamentalist groups that promised a better economy and stricter laws if the government would switch over to Islamic rule. Although Sadat won reelection in 1976, he was aware of the growing Islamic religion within the Egyptian population. In his speeches he began to refer to his belief in Allah, the Islamic god.
Within a year Egypt's economy became even worse. Prices soared, even on such once-heavily subsidized (governmentsupported) foodstuffs such as rice, flour, and sugar. The population rioted, angered that Sadat lived a life of luxury, wearing expensive suits and building extravagant palaces, while they went hungry. Islamic fundamentalist groups convinced many that Western influences were to blame for the state of the Egyptian economy, and Western-style shops and cars were vandalized.
As the conflict within Egypt continued, Sadat pursued peace negotiations with Israel. Since the ceasefire of the Yom Kippur War, the two countries had not agreed on a final settlement of peace. Sadat met with U.S. president Jimmy Carter (1924–; served 1977–1981) in Washington and decided to approach Israel with a new offer of peace. On November 9, 1977, Sadat announced that he would be willing to go anywhere in the world, including Israel, to secure peace. Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin (1913–1992; see entry) quickly invited Sadat to Israel. Sadat's visit would make history.
Lost alliance with Arab nations
Although several Arab countries, including Syria, Libya, and Saudi Arabia, voiced their disagreement with Sadat's attempted peace plans, Sadat pushed forward. Sadat and Begin desired peace, but could not come to an agreement on their own. Many negotiations occurred throughout 1978. The talks centered on Israel withdrawing from land it had captured during the Six-Day War, as well as the rights of Palestinians to statehood. On September 5, 1978, Sadat and Begin met at Camp David, the U.S. presidential retreat. President Jimmy Carter mediated the negotiations, and within thirteen days Israel and Egypt had ironed out a peace agreement. The final agreement concentrated on the borders of Israel and Egypt, leaving the Palestinians with no firm commitment for peace. Even though the Arab nations tried to stop Sadat from signing the Camp David agreements, and even offered him $5 million not to sign, Sadat refused to bend to the Arab nations' will. Palestinians felt Sadat's official recognition of Israel severely damaged their pursuit of an independent Palestinian nation; in retaliation, the Palestinians launched terrorist attacks in both Egypt and Israel. The Arab League moved its headquarters from Cairo to Tunis, Tunisia. The next year Saddam Hussein (1937–; see entry) organized the Baghdad Summit, where he forced Egypt out of the Arab League for signing the peace treaty with Israel. Once a leader among Arab nations, Egypt was now considered an enemy.
For their efforts, Sadat and Begin were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978. Sadat granted the total of his award money ($164,000) to his hometown. The final peace treaty was signed on March 26, 1979. By November, Egypt had regained its control over the portion of the Sinai Peninsula it had lost. But peace with Israel came with a high price for Egypt. Seventeen Arab countries imposed economic sanctions against Egypt, refusing to trade or do business with any Egyptian businesses.
On October 6, 1981, Sadat sat in full military dress, viewing a celebration of the moment Egypt won back the Suez Canal and parts of the Sinai Peninsula. While Mirage E-5 fighter jets performed stunts in the sky, a truck pulled up in front of the president's viewing stand. Four attackers jumped from the truck; one threw a grenade and the others fired machine-guns into the stands. The attackers claimed to be a part of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group still attempting to create an Islamic government in Egypt. Sadat was shot during the attack and died of his wounds. Vice President Hosni Mubarak (1928–; see entry), who had been sitting next to Sadat at the celebration, survived his injuries to become Egypt's next president. Although Sadat would be remembered by many as the man who regained Egyptian land and helped to create peace in Egypt, some still fault him for his inability to produce a stable Egyptian economy and for cutting Egypt off from the rest of the Arab nations in the Middle East.
For More Information
Brackett, Virginia. Menachem Begin. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2003.
Israeli, Raphael, with Carol Bardenstein. Man of Defiance: A Political
Biography of Anwar Sadat. Totowa, NJ: Barnes and Noble Books, 1985.
Kras, Sara Louise. Anwar Sadat. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2003.
"Anwar al-Sadat." Jewish Virtual Library.http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/sadat.html (accessed July 3, 2005).
"Cold War Profile: Anwar Sadat." CNN.http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/cold.war/kbank/profiles/sadat/ (accessed July 3, 2005).
"President Anwar Sadat's Address to the Israeli Knesset: November 20,
1977." Jewish Virtual Library.http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Peace/sadat_speech.html (accessed July 3, 2005).
Anwar Sadat (1918-1981) was Egypt's president from 1970 until his assassination. He launched a surprise attack on Israel in 1973, then became the first Arab leader to sign a peace treaty with Israel. He shifted from Soviet to American patronage and relaxed Egypt's internal economic and political system.
Mohamed Anwar El-Sadat was born in 1918. His village, Mit Abul Kom, is about 40 miles north of Cairo in the Nile delta. Sadat lived with his grandmother while his father, a minor civil service clerk, was away in the Sudan with his Sudanese wife. The boy attended a village Quran (Moslem) school, then went briefly to a Coptic (Christian) school.
His parents returned to Egypt in 1925, and Sadat went to live with them in Cairo. In later years he relished visits to his village and spoke nostalgically of his humble rural origins. Sadat's father struggled to support 13 children on his modest salary. Poor grades led Sadat to shift from government to private secondary schools on two occasions, but in 1936 he earned the coveted secondary school certificate.
Plotting against British Rule and King Farouk
As a schoolboy, Sadat frequently demonstrated against the British, who occupied Egypt at that time. His heroes were all nationalists: Mahatma Gandhi, Adolf Hitler, Ataturk, and Egyptians Saad Zaghlul, Mustafa Kamil, and Mustafa Nahhas. He also admired a peasant martyr from Dinshaway (near Mit Abul Kom) whom the British had executed in 1906.
One result of the 1936 treaty which Prime Minister Nahhas signed with the British was the opening of the military academy to lower middle class youths like Sadat and Gamal Abdel Nasser. Sadat graduated from the academy in 1938 and was posted to Manqabad in Upper Egypt. There he first met Nasser, a natural leader, serious and somewhat aloof. The idealistic young officers talked politics, debating the best way to rid their country of the British.
In 1939 Sadat entered the Signal Corps. While Nasser was off in the Sudan, Sadat plotted direct action against the British. Occasionally he met with Hassan Al-Banna, the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group of religious zealots who wanted to root out Western and secular influences and turn Egypt into a theocracy.
Axis forces based in Libya pushed into Egypt in 1941, hoping to seize the vital Suez Canal. In the following year the British arrested Sadat for plotting with two German spies who were living in a Nile houseboat and trying to send information to Rommel's army. Escaping from jail in October 1944, Sadat hid out until the end of the war made it safe for him to resurface. He then participated in an unsuccessful attempt on the life of former prime minister Nahhas, who had cooperated with the British during the war. Sadat's role in the killing of Amin Osman, an Anglophile politician, landed him back in jail in January 1946. Sadat's friendship with King Farouk's private doctor linked him to the Iron Guard, a secret palace organization which struck at the king's enemies.
The trial of Sadat and others in the Amin Osman case was overshadowed by the outbreak of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. The principal defendant escaped; Sadat and the others were acquitted and released. After dabbling in business schemes for a year or two Sadat won reinstatement in the army. He reestablished contact with Nasser's circle, who were now calling themselves "Free Officers" and planning to overthrow the corrupt and inept government. The riots of January 1952 destroyed foreign-owned businesses throughout Cairo and completed the public's disillusionment with the playboy king and the old politicians.
Nasser summoned Sadat to Cairo from his post in Sinai on the evening of July 22, 1952. But finding no further message from his chief, Sadat took his family to the movies and nearly missed the coup. However, it was Sadat who broadcast the news of the coup to the public on the morning of July 23. King Farouk was sent into exile and Brigadier Mohamed Naguib served as the Free Officers' front man until Nasser broke with him and put him under house arrest in 1954.
The posts Sadat held during the Nasser years were not quite at the center of power. He edited the regime's newspaper, al-Gumhuriya. He served as secretary-general of the Islamic Congress and of the National Union, the forerunner of the Arab Socialist Union and Egypt's only political party. During the 1960s he was speaker of the National Assembly. Sadat, along with Field Marshall Abdel Hakim Amer, bears much of the responsibility for Egypt's disastrous involvement in the Yemeni civil war (1962-1967). Then Egypt's defeat by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War nearly destroyed Nasser's regime. Aware of his ill-health and of plots against him, Nasser named Sadat vice president at the end of 1969. Nicknamed "Major Yes-Yes" for his acquiescence to Nasser's wishes, Sadat had outlasted most of the other Free Officers who might have inherited the presidency.
Sadat Takes Command
Nasser died of a heart attack on September 28, 1970. A plebiscite quickly confirmed Sadat as his successor. Ali Sabri and others in the Arab Socialist Union, the army, and the intelligence organizations assumed Sadat could soon be shouldered aside. But Sadat's "Corrective Revolution" of May 1971 sent the plotters to jail and consolidated his grip on power. A treaty of friendship reassured the nervous Soviets a few days later.
Sadat liked to govern by surprises. In February 1971 he unexpectedly extended a ceasefire with the Israelis on the Suez front and announced plans to reopen the canal even though the enemy was entrenched on the opposite bank. Unable to obtain enough Soviet support for a military showdown and under increasing domestic pressure to act, Sadat pulled off another surprise in the summer of 1972. He expelled the numerous Soviet military advisers from Egypt.
Failing to win American attention as he had hoped, Sadat now openly declared his intention to fight Israel. No one took him seriously, so the Syrian-Egyptian attack on October 6, 1973, came as a surprise. Egypt's successful crossing of the Suez Canal contrasted with the 1967 fiasco, but the Israeli counter crossing under General Sharon left Egyptian forces in a critical position by the time U.S. and Soviet intervention produced a ceasefire. Sadat always portrayed the Yom Kippur War as an unqualified victory, calling himself "The Hero of the Crossing."
President Nixon and Henry Kissinger were paying attention at last. Sadat abandoned his Soviet option and risked all on Egyptian alignment with the United States. Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy produced limited Israeli pullbacks in Sinai in 1974 and 1975. Thereafter progress toward a settlement bogged down until Sadat's astonishing visit to Jerusalem in November 1977 to meet Prime Minister Menachem Begin and address the Knesset. President Jimmy Carter's personal diplomacy brought Begin and Sadat together at Camp David in September 1978. They signed two "framework" agreements, one providing for an Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty within three months, the other for a five-year transition toward autonomy and Palestinian self-government in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Begin and Sadat signed the final treaty in March 1979, and they shared the Nobel Peace Prize for 1978. The Palestinian part of the agreement remained a dead letter, however, with Begin pursuing hardline policies toward the Palestinians and the other Arab states.
In renaming the United Arab Republic the Arab Republic of Egypt, Sadat signaled his intention to put Egyptian interests ahead of the Pan-Arabism of the Nasser era. Nothing practical became of the Federation of Arab Republics (Egypt, Libya, and Syria), a scheme he had inherited. The impetuous young Gaddafi of Libya, who saw himself as Nasser's true heir, turned hostile and plotted to overthrow Sadat. In July 1977 open warfare flared for a time on the Libyan-Egyptian border.
Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Palestinians saw the Camp David agreement as being made at Arab expense. Other Arab states agreed, and at an Arab League meeting in Baghdad the Arab states decided to withdraw their ambassadors from Egypt, sever political and economic ties, and move the headquarters of the league from Cairo to Tunis. The United States compensated somewhat for the loss of Egypt's Arab ties by massively increasing its aid to Sadat.
The October 1973 war made Sadat his own man in economic policies and domestic politics as well as in foreign affairs. In 1974 he turned sharply toward economic liberalization, in contrast to the statist policies of Nasser. He proclaimed an "open door" economy, hoping it would attract private investment from Western, Arab, and Egyptian businessmen. He returned some of the lands and businesses nationalized under Nasser to their former owners. A new class of free-wheeling entrepreneurs quickly made fortunes in land speculation, luxury apartment construction, and consumer imports.
Sadat's Regime Becomes Controversial
Sadat also planned his political liberalization with American audiences in mind. Abandoning Nasser's singleparty system, he encouraged "left" and "right" splinters to break off from the Arab Socialist Union's "center" in 1976. He made sure, however, that his own center party (called the National Democratic Party since 1978) kept over-whelming control in the People's Assembly. Manipulation of the laws and government harassment kept the Progressive Unionist left, the New Wafd right, and the religious purists from mounting all-out public challenges to the regime.
Even before the signing of the treaty with Israel, the early hopes for the Sadat era were fading inside Egypt. The "open door" had brought in foreign banks, tourism, and luxury imports, and it had encouraged many Egyptians to earn quick fortunes in Egypt's oil-rich Arab neighboring countries. But there was little investment in productive industries. A contractor named Osman Ahmad Osman, whose son had married one of Sadat's daughters, came to symbolize the nepotism and opportunism of the new rich whom the public labeled "fat cats." Student and worker opposition flared into full-scale riots in January 1977 when the government, acting under pressure from the International Monetary Fund, cut back the food subsidies which cushioned poverty for the average Egyptian.
The lifestyle of Sadat and his wife Jihan also aroused concern. Sadat divorced his rustic first wife on emerging from prison in 1948. His new wife, Jihan, was half-British, good looking, and considerably younger than himself. The couple developed a taste for the good life, ordering clothes from Paris designers. Sadat's first wife had followed Middle Eastern custom by remaining in the background, but Jihan enjoyed the limelight. She spoke up for women's rights, visited hospitals, and presided at official ceremonies. Reporters abroad were delighted with the couple's Western manner and their ready accessibility for interviews. Many Egyptians were not.
In his last years the Islamic religious groups which he had at first encouraged to balance off other opponents came back to haunt Sadat. The Muslim Brotherhood and its more radical offshoots deplored the Westernization and corruption of Egyptian public life. They opposed the treaty with Israel. The example of the Iranian revolution of 1979 and their own dismal career prospects also turned educated urban youths to fundamentalist Islamic groups in large numbers. The fears of the Coptic minority mounted simultaneously, and violence between Christians and Muslims broke out on several occasions.
In September 1981 Sadat struck out wildly at his diverse opponents. He arrested hundreds of politicians of all stripes, banned journals, stripped the Coptic Pope of his temporal power over his community, and expelled the Soviet ambassador.
Sadat had lost his political touch. On October 6, 1981, Muslim religious radicals shot him down as he reviewed a military parade commemorating the 1973 war. The shocked West paid tribute to Sadat by dispatching three former U.S. presidents and other prominent statesmen to his funeral. Prime Minister Begin also attended. Egyptians and Arabs reacted differently. The streets of Cairo, which millions of mourners had jammed when Nasser died, remained eerily silent. President Nimeri of the Sudan was the only Arab head of state to attend the funeral. Sadat had left a difficult legacy to his successor, Vice President Hosni Mubarak.
For Sadat's own story, see his Revolt on the Nile (1957) and In Search of Identity: An Autobiography (1978). The first book defers to Nasser, while the second plays up Sadat's own role in the 1952 revolution. Jimmy Carter's Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President (1982) discusses his negotiations with Sadat and Israel's Begin. David Hirst and Irene Beeson, Sadat (1981) and Mohamed Heikal, Autumn of Fury: The Assassination of Sadat (1983) provide unfavorable interpretations. P. J. Vatikiotis, Nasser and His Generation (1978) analyzes the generation of army officers to which Nasser and Sadat belonged. My Father and I (1986) by Camelia Sadat provides more intimate glimpses of the personal, as well as political, aspects of his life. □
Sadat, Anwar 1918-1981
Born in Mit Abul Kom, a town north of Cairo, Egypt, Sadat was one of the first students to graduate from a British military school. On graduating, he was posted to a remote government base where he met Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918–1970), a charismatic army major who was to become the nationalist leader of Egypt. They maintained a lifelong friendship. From 1942 on, Nasser secretly organized young cadets and officers to promote a republican, anti-British patriotic movement. The movement’s radical ideas were also directed against the corrupt monarchy of King Farouk (1920–1965), whose profligacy and incompetence were partly held responsible for the failures of the Egyptian army against Israel in 1948. In response to these military and political failures, Nasser’s group evolved into the Free Officers Movement, which staged a coup on July 23, 1952, against Farouk. Sadat, who became Nasser’s public relations minister, remained under the shadow of Nasser during the dramatic events in modern Egyptian history—the Suez crisis (1956) and the Six-Day War (1967)—until Nasser’s death in September 1970.
Sadat was relatively unknown in international politics, despite the many positions he had held during Nasser’s period—minister of state (1954), secretary to the National Union (1959), president of the parliament (1960–1968), and vice president and member of the Presidential Council (1964). In his attempt to emulate Nasser, he initially adopted a stridently aggressive stance against Israel, including the surprise attack in the Yom Kippur War of October 1973. The war ended in stalemate; with the Egyptian economy in crisis, Sadat adopted a diplomatic approach to Israel, launching the Sadat Initiative in 1977. This started a peace process that led to the Camp David talks in September 1978 with U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin. The peace treaty that was signed in March 1979 involved the return of the Sinai to Egypt, the creation of demilitarized zones, and some autonomy for a Palestinian administration. Both Begin and Sadat received the Nobel Peace Prize, but the peace agreement was opposed by the Palestine Liberation Organization, several Arab states, and right-wing elements in Israel.
Opposition from within Egypt came from Muslim fundamentalists. Sadat attempted to co-opt radical Muslim groups, including the Muslim Brothers, whom Nasser had exiled. He realized that the extreme poverty of the peasantry and urban working class created a breeding ground for religious and political radicalism. To stimulate the Egyptian economy, Sadat in 1975 sought to expand the private sector and to reduce the old Soviet-style economy and state bureaucracy. This economic opening (infitah ) was combined with a policy of supporting moderate Muslim intellectuals such as Omar Telmesani, who began to publish Al Dawa (Call to Islam) in 1976. In return for their political support, Sadat allowed these religious intellectuals considerable cultural freedom.
This political pact began to disintegrate in 1977 when riots broke out in response to the negative consequences of the “open-door” economic policy and a radical group called the Society of Muslims (Al Takfir wa-l Hijra ) defied the government by kidnapping and murdering a cleric. Sadat’s peace process, which involved some recognition of Israeli sovereignty, was rejected by both moderate and radical elements of the Muslim community. The radicals, who became known generally as takfir — a devout Muslim who excommunicates other Muslims who are seen to be lapsed—spread their message through much of the Arab world. These movements accepted the teaching of Sayyid Qutb (1906–1966), who, as the founder of the Muslim Brothers, had preached the necessity of violent jihad against unbelievers and who was hanged for an alleged plot against Nasser.
In response to this radicalization, Sadat dissolved the Egyptian Students Union and brought a number of key activists to trial. Some 1,600 people were arrested, resulting in significant international and domestic criticism. He also attacked the Coptic community, forcing the Coptic Pope Shenouda III into exile (he was eventually restored by President Hosni Mubarak in 1985). As a result of this political crackdown, the radicals became a clandestine movement among the underclass of the slums of Cairo, declaring a war against Sadat and the moderate clerics who were accused of apostasy. Sadat was assassinated on October 6, 1981, during the yearly 6 October 1973 victory parade by Muslim fundamentalists inside the army. He was buried in the unknown soldier memorial in Cairo and was succeeded by Mubarak as president.
The problems facing Egypt in Sadat’s time continue to dominate Egyptian politics. The state bureaucracies remain firmly in control of the economy and, despite President Mubarak’s moderate reforms and the recent success of the Egyptian stock market, a democratic culture has been slow to develop. The Muslim Brothers are excluded from parliamentary politics because they are still regarded as an illegal organization. A fragile peace with Israel has, however, been sustained because both governments regard Hamas (Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya ) in the West Bank and Hizbullah (the Iranian-backed Party of God) as a threat. Periodic attacks on tourists, Copts, and members of the government have also curtailed the growth of the tourist industry. Between 1993 and 1997, Mubarak responded with ruthless oppression against members of the radical Gamaat Islamiya. In retrospect, Sadat’s era was progressive in attempting to secure peace and reform the economy, but he left behind a legacy of authoritarianism.
SEE ALSO Authoritarianism; Fundamentalism, Islamic; Nasser, Gamal Abdel; Peace Process
Kepel, Gilles. 2003. Muslim Extremism in Egypt: The Prophet and the Pharaoh. Trans. Jon Rothschild. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Sadat, Anwar el-. 1978 In Search of Identity: An Autobiography. New York: Harper and Row.
Bryan S. Turner