Remembering Anwar Sadat

The late president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, was shot to death exactly thirty years ago today. He was visiting a parade of his own troops, when a young officer ran to the podium and emptied his weapon in the chest of a totally surprised president. Sadat had not realized in time how distant from his people he lived and ruled. He wasn’t aware of his impopularity or of the irritation his attitude as Rais, Egyptian pharao in modern times, provoked. His family owned every important company, from construction to banks and tourist attractions. Corruption was not only visible in government circles, it ran in the Sadat family. We speak of 1981. The price of bread kept rising, but Sadat did not change his tone of voice. It was Sadat the Saviour, the Ruler and the Peace keeper. After all he had signed the Camp David agreements with Jimmy Carter and Menachem Begin. He saw himself as the people’s hero while in reality they considered him as their oppressor.

The unhappy masses had been influenced by what then was still very much under ground: the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood. Actually, the death of Sadat triggered this movement to put its ideas on paper for the first time. There appeared to be a philosophy and a strategy and there were leaders and there was a hierarchy. Structure and organization, two unknown ingredients in Egypt, even today.  The authorities made sure that the ideological communiqué disappeared almost immediately, but the damage was done. Egypt would become the craddle of a strong islamic movement that dreamt of sharia and absolute respect for the Kuran. Sadat in the meantime talked to Allah during his meditation moments and especially during Ramadan. He had a special link to heaven, as he told me in the Sinai while I was working on his biography in the summer of 1981. Allah was agreeing with everything he did, Sadat said, so there was no reason for him to worry. He had that enlightenmed look in his black eyes while he pronounced these words. And then he was shot. I remember how quickly he disappeared from the political scene. No state burrial, no monuments, no honors. He was put away in some public cemetary; his wife, the charming Jihan, was locked up in her appartment. The immense bank accounts were blocked of course (and given back to the state??) and the children had to flee. Airforce general Hosni Mubarak took over the presidency so rapidly that it looked as if he was involved in the killing.  My book , “Anwar Sadat. The last Hundred Days”  (Thames & Hudson, London 1981/Viking Press, New York 1981/Molden Verlag Munchen, 1981), had been waiting on Sadat’s desk to be reviewed, although I had been free to write what and how I wished. He didn’t get to that. After he was shot the book was prepared for publishing in a great hurry and two (!) weeks later it was presented on the Frankfurt Book Fair. (Publishers can work fast if they really want…) More than 100.000 copies have been sold, especially in the US where Sadat was and still is very popular and where he had real friends, amongst others Henry Kissinger and Barbara Walters, who -as a respected journalist !- personally trained him to be a star on TV.  Sadat was American property. Mubarak made sure the book disappeared from Egyptian book stores almost as soon as it appeared. No worshiping of a predecessor under his rule. I still hope Jihan has kept a copy or two to look at the wonderful pictures in the book, shot by German photographer Konrad Muller.

Now we are living in the aftermath of the Egyptian Spring. What can we expect after all these years of dictatorial rule, from Nasser to Sadat and Mubarak? Structure and organization at last? This will mean islamization with the help of those who really seem to care for the well being of the masses: the Muslim Brotherhood. Or a military rule after all? One can’t imagine the officers giving up the privileges they received from their brother in arms Mubarak. Or can Egypt dream of free elections and democracy a l’Egyptienne? A lot will depend on the attitude of the same US that embraced Sadat and later Mubarak, for obvious strategic reasons. Another heavy responsibility on the shoulders of Barack Obama, as usually in the region, filled with dilemmas. Maybe it is time to leave it to the Egyptians themselves to choose, independent from American or Western interests. That would be a major change indeed.

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