The Tragedy of Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat

Anwar Sadat’s ascent to the presidency of Egypt took place in 1970, after the death of Gamal Abdel Nasser. His time in office was plagued by economic ills, foreign policy defeats, an increasingly aggressive and perceptible Islamic revival, and indignation towards the lifestyle of the president. Nasser’s Arab Socialism accorded greater rights to the state for the purpose of industrializing the country, and the peasants were given a greater share of the land as well. Sadat abandoned an aggressively socialist economic policy in favor of a more capitalist-oriented model. The policy was called infitah, and was

(Left to Right) Nasser, Sadat, Sabri, Shafei

(Left to Right) Nasser, Sadat, Sabri, Shafei

meant to “secure material improvement for the majority of Egyptians” (Cleveland, p. 376). It’s failure to do so subjected the government to criticism. Much of the profits from liberalization went towards Sadat’s inner circle, who, like Sadat, spent lavishly. In contrast to Nasser’s austerity, Sadat and his wife Jehan lived like royals. Some suggested that their extravagance earned Sadat the name Faruq II. The presidency was increasingly pomp, and Sadat hid behind the largesse and ceremony of the office.


Egypt’s Sadat, Israel’s Begin.

While promoting more riches in the hands of economic elites, Sadat cracked down on genuine secularists and leftists. To aid in the crackdown, he allowed for a revival of Islamic symbols and the Islamic political organizations, both of which made him unpopular with Arab nationalists. Lastly, Sadat negotiated the Camp David Accords during the presidency of Jimmy Carter and signed it in 1979. It was deeply unpopular with the Egyptian people when Sadat made peace with Israel, flying to Jerusalem to speak in front of the Knesset. He had betrayed Arab unity and the Palestinian cause, although he received an annex to justify the accords. The annex was in regards to a Palestinian state. Sadat did not want to be seen as making a separate peace.

In reality, Sadat abandoned his Arab ally Syria in the October War of 73′ in the single-minded quest for peace from a position of weakness. Soon after Camp David, the Israeli political establishment disregarded the annex, continuing their settlement policies in the West Bank. Egypt was expelled from the Arab League and Islamic groups used the peace to justify his death, receiving a fatwa. Sadat’s separate peace, pompous personality, and inability to turn around the economy played the largest role in his demise. Yet his allowance for the Islamists, which by 1980 was popular on Egyptian campuses across Cairo, opened him up to an Islamic challenge which, at the time, condoned violence, assassinating Anwar Sadat at a victory parade.

His funeral, attended heavily by foreign dignitaries, was mourned by few Egyptians. Few Egyptians were present at his funeral. To the public, Sadat was considered a traitor, who sold out the Arab world, making peace with Israel to secure friendship from the United States in the Arab Cold War.

3 thoughts on “The Tragedy of Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat

  1. I remember Sadat and Menachem Begin were on TV and in the papers a lot in 1978 and ’79 when Cyrus Lance was doing his “shuttle diplomacy” thing. I’m not sure Sadat had much choice as Israel held the Sinai, but your story on how Egyptians and Arabs saw it, which wasn’t in the papers, is worth knowing. It does seem the current style of governance by strongmen got its place at about that time.


    • Factually, you are entirely correct to say Israel was holding the Sinai Peninsula since the defeat of the Arabs at the hands of Israel in 1967 and had set up the Bar Lev Line for defense, utterly humiliating Nasser and sending Sadat on a tunnel-visioned drive to regain it once he became president. The October War, for Hafiz AL-Asad, was an attempt to deal with Israel as equals. Making a comprehensive peace possible which could secure a balance-of-power was only possible if Arabs showed an ability to defend their interests. Sadat shared in Asad’s contemplation that a first-strike was possible for the Arabs, but Sadat’s war plans were self-constrained solely by the pursuit of Sinai, not in equality with Israel’s comprehensive power (military, economic, diplomatic) and the reconquest of Sinai and Golan,

      Here is the backdrop for Egypt’s geopolitical position, why he left himself with no choice, rather than forced into that position: Sadat worked simultaneously on two war plans before October. One was a joint strategy exhaustively detailed by Syrian and Egyptian military planners and code-named “Operation 41″(renamed Granite 2). But behind the Syrians back, Sadat was working on a second war strategy.code-named High Minarets.

      It was jointly planned that Egypt would recover the canal passes in Operation 41, but High Minarets in duplicity set out only to recapture 10 km of the Sinai, in the false belief that going any further would wipe out the Egyptian army by airstrikes. What made it all the more tragic was that the entirety of the war plans were promptly sent to American Henry Kissinger and Israeli Moshe Dayan. Sadat handed the war plans to the enemy himself (Patrick Seale, Asad:p. 199-200).

      When the war came, the first few days were wildly successful even beyond Syria’s expectations. But Sadat kept with the limited war, and after taking his few KM’s sat his army down, while Israel then put all its resources towards the Golan front. I’m not saying that the Syrians and Egyptians would have won a comprehensive peace had Sadat stuck to the plans jointly put forward, but by reducing his aims and leaving the Syrians at the mercy of Israel’s total force, Sadat seriously weakened Egypt’s regional position and the result of that was a bitter peace Egypt was never really able to forgive Sadat for. He was loved in the West, but loathed in his own country.


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