Sadat, Anwar Al- (1918–1981)
Sadat, Anwar Al- (1918–1981)
SADAT, ANWAR AL- (1918–1981)
Egyptian military and political figure. Anwar al-Sadat was born in Mit Abu al-Kum, in Lower Egypt, the son of a government clerk. He graduated from the national military academy in 1938 as a communications officer and became friendly with Gamal Abdel Nasser, with whom he began to cultivate a network of officers opposed to the monarchy and British control of the country. Sadat also made contact with a number of clandestine groups working against the monarchy, including the Muslim Brotherhood. During World War II, Sadat was part of a cell within the army that collaborated with the Germans, in whom they saw an ally against the British. In October 1942 he was arrested by the British authorities for espionage on behalf of the Axis. Escaping from prison in 1944, he went underground with the Muslim Brotherhood until he was again arrested, accused of participating in the assassination of the finance minister, Amin Osman, in January 1946. After more than two years of imprisonment, he was released for lack of proof and expelled from the army.
In 1948 he launched on a career as a publisher with the review al-Mussawar, which failed; late the following year he was readmitted into the army with his old rank of captain. Reunited with his friend Nasser at his new posting in the Sinai, he joined the movement Nasser had founded, now called the Free Officers, which aimed to abolish the monarchy.
On 23 July 1952 Sadat participated in the coup d'état that overthrew King Faruq and Nasser assigned him to supervise Faruq's abdication. After the Free Officers took power, he became editor of the government's newspaper al-Gumhuriya (The republic) and a member of the Revolutionary Command Council. On 1 September 1954 he was on the tribunal charged with trying the Muslim Brothers who had attempted to assassinate Nasser, who by then had become president of the republic. In 1959 he became president (speaker) of the National Assembly, keeping that position until 1969.
From 1964 to 1966 he was one of Nasser's four vice presidents, and in 1969 he was appointed sole vice president. He presided over the 1969 Islamic summit meeting in Rabat that created the Organization of the Islamic Conference. When Nasser died of a heart attack in September 1970, Sadat was appointed interim president by the cabinet; his presidency was confirmed in a referendum in October (no other
candidates were offered). He resolved the internal power struggle that followed in May 1971 by having his chief rival, the leftist Ali Sabri, whom he had appointed as one of two vice presidents, arrested on charges of plotting a coup. At the same time he moved to cultivate conservative religious elements by emphasizing his own religious beliefs and allowing the creation of Islamist political groups. To improve the depressed Egyptian economy, he instituted a liberal economic policy meant to attract foreign investment capital, backtracking on Nasser's policy of nationalization and directed development.
It was in part to counter the unpopularity of his domestic policies that Sadat made his most dramatic efforts in foreign affairs. Not long after taking office he signed the Egyptian-Soviet Friendship Treaty, which originated during the Nasser regime, but feeling that the Soviet Union gave him inadequate support in Egypt's continuing confrontation with Israel, he expelled thousands of Soviet technicians and advisers from the country in 1972. (He reconciled with the Soviet Union early in 1973, after which military aid resumed.) Frustrated by the Israeli refusal to negotiate the return of captured Egyptian territory, he also reconciled with Saudi Arabia and Syria and planned for a campaign to recapture it. Egypt and Syria launched the October 1973 War; the Egyptians achieved a tactical surprise in its attack on the Israeli-held Sinai Peninsula, and although Israel successfully counterattacked Sadat came out of the war with greatly enhanced prestige as the first Arab leader to retake some territory from Israel. Sadat successfully achieved two objectives with this war: showing that Egyptian armed forces were capable of fighting well against the Israelis and provoking the Americans to step in to mediate a peace settlement. Sadat agreed to an Israeli proposal to seek a treaty under U.S. rather than UN auspices and concluded agreements in 1974 and 1975 dealing with disengagement in the Sinai.
In October 1975, having opened the Suez Canal to international traffic after it had been closed for eight years, he became the first Egyptian president to visit the United States. He sought American aid and investment and abrogated the friendship treaty with the Soviet Union in 1976 when the Soviets refused to delay repayment of Egyptian debts. In late 1977 Sadat made his dramatic trip to Jerusalem to deliver a speech to the Knesset, in which he offered Israel peace, recognition, and security guarantees while warning that no "durable and just peace" could be achieved "in the absence of a just solution to the Palestinian problem," and insisting on a complete withdrawal from the occupied territories, "including Arab Jerusalem," because "any move to ensure our coexistence in peace and security . . . would become meaningless while you occupy Arab territories by force of arms." He did not claim to be speaking on behalf of all Arabs, but he declared that he was not seeking a separate peace.
Five days after returning from Jerusalem, Sadat convened a meeting in Cairo to attempt to obtain the support of the Arab countries for an international peace conference. These steps, which made the Egyptian president an honored figure internationally, led not to an international conference but to Camp David—the separate peace that Sadat claimed not to want, with no Israeli concessions regarding the Palestinians or the occupied territories. Sadat signed the Camp David Accords in September 1978 and the subsequent peace treaty in March 1979. In October 1978 he and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The separate peace with Israel was unloved by Arabs and constituted a break with the entire Arab world. Members of the Arab League severed diplomatic relations; Egypt was suspended from the league and from the Organization of the Islamic Conference. It became highly dependent on American aid, which in turn affected Sadat's domestic policies.
In Egypt there was immense popular opposition to the treaty, with its perceived capitulation over the Palestinian issue, as well as to Sadat's economic liberalization. In the fall of 1974, about a year after the war, Sadat had introduced an intensified economic liberalization policy he called infitah ("opening up"). More foreign exchange was necessary to finance imports, and Sadat also wished to refinance Egypt's foreign debt. Largely at the behest of the World Bank, he reduced taxes and import duties, opened land and banking to foreign ownership, reduced protection for labor, reduced exchange controls, reduced food subsidies and price controls, and froze salaries. This policy brought inflation, increased the gap between rich and poor, created a whole new corrupt profiteer class (called munfatihin, "door openers") and brought tremendous hardship to the lower and middle classes. There were food riots in January 1977, which were suppressed violently by the army; 171 people died. Sadat referred to the rioters as "thieves."
In July of that year, a military expedition into Libya, organized to distract attention from internal problems, was opposed by most Egyptians. To retain control, Sadat governed in an increasingly autocratic and repressive manner, largely by decree and through rigged elections. He introduced legal limits on political activity. In June 1978 he had the leadership of the Wafd, an increasingly popular opposition party, arrested. He outlawed strikes, imposed censorship, repressed Palestinian political and economic activity in Egypt, and attempted to undermine the Palestine Liberation Organization. In January 1979, on an official visit to Sudan, he denounced Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and proposed that his country help the United States counter the "Soviet danger." In June 1979 he dissolved parliament and held a rigged election in which his own newly formed National Democratic Party gained the parliamentary majority. In May 1980, confronting a difficult economic situation and growing religious agitation, he appointed himself prime minister for the second time (the first had been in 1973–1974).
On 22 May 1981, a rigged referendum approved a constitutional amendment repealing the one-term limit for the presidency. In September 1981 he had nearly all activist dissidents and opposition political leaders imprisoned—some 1,500 to 2,000 people, among them the head of the Muslim Brotherhood—and dismissed Pope Shenouda III, head of the Coptic Church, who went into internal exile. When Sadat was assassinated by a group of young officers belonging to Egyptian Islamic Jihad, he was barely mourned; indeed his death was celebrated throughout the Arab world.
SEE ALSO Arab-Israel War (1973); Begin, Menachem; Camp David Accords; Eyptian Islamic Jihad; League of Arab States; Muslim Brotherhood; Nasser, Gamal Abdel; Organization of the Islamic Conference; Palestine Liberation Organization; Wafd.