Muhammad Anwar al-Sadat was the third President of Egypt, serving from 15 October 1970 until his assassination on 6 October 1981. He was a senior member of the Free Officers group that overthrew the Muhammad Ali Dynasty in the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, and a close confidant of Gamal Abdel Nasser, whom he succeeded as President in 1970.
In his eleven years as president he changed Egypt's direction, departing from some of the economic and political principles of Nasserism by reinstituting the multi-party system and launching the Infitah. His leadership in the October War of 1973 and the regaining Sinai made him an Egyptian hero. His visit to Israel and the eventual Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty won him the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience award September 11, 1991 posthumously, but was an act enormously unpopular with the Arab world and Islamists, and resulted in Egypt being expelled from the Arab League.
Anwar El Sadat was born on 25 December 1918 in Mit Abu al-Kum, al-Minufiyah, Egypt to a poor family, one of 13 brothers and sisters. His father was Egyptian, and his mother was Sudanese. He spent his early childhood under the care of his grandmother, who told him stories revolving around resistance to the British occupation and drawing on contemporary history. During Sadat’s childhood, he admired and was influence greatly by four individuals. The first of his childhood heroes was Zahran, the alleged hero of Denshway, who resisted the British in a farmer protest. According to the story, a British soldier is killed. Zahran was the first Egyptian hanged in retribution for the soldier's death. Stories like the Ballad of Zahran introduced Sadat to Egyptian nationalism, a value he held throughout his life. The second individual was Kemel Ataturk who was leader of the modern Turkey. Sadat admired his ability to overthrow the colonial influence and his many social reforms . He also idolized Mohanda Gandhi and his belief of nonviolence when facing injustice. The fourth individual who Anwar al Sadat respected was Adolf Hitler. Sadat was opposed to colonial power and Hitler’s Nazi Germany posed a threat to Britain’s power. He graduated from the Royal Military Academy in Cairo in 1938 and was appointed in the Signal Corps. He entered the army as a second lieutenant and was posted in Sudan (Egypt and Sudan were one country at the time). There, he met Gamal Abdel Nasser, and along with several other junior officers they formed the secret Free Officers Movement committed to freeing Egypt from British domination and royal corruption.
During the Second World War he was imprisoned by the British for his efforts to obtain help from the Axis Powers in expelling the occupying British forces. Along with his fellow Free Officers, Sadat participated in the military coup that launched the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 which overthrew King Farouk I on July 23 of that year. After the revolution, he was assigned to take over the radio networks to announce the news of the revolution to the Egyptian people.
In 1964, after holding many positions in the Egyptian government, he was chosen to be vice president by President Nasser. He served in that capacity until 1966, and again from 1969 to 1970.
During the presidency of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Sadat was appointed Minister of State in 1954. In 1959, he assumed the position of Secretary to the National Union. Sadat was the President of the National Assembly (1960-1968) and then vice president and member of the Presidential Council in 1964. He was reappointed as vice president again in December 1969.
After Nasser's death in 1970, Sadat succeeded him as President, but it was widely considered that his presidency would be short-lived. Viewing him as having been little more than a puppet of the former President, Nasser's supporters in government settled on Sadat as someone they could easily manipulate. Nasser's supporters were well satisfied for six months until Sadat instituted The Corrective Revolution and purged Egypt of most of its other leaders and other elements of the Nasser era.
In 1971, Sadat endorsed in a letter the peace proposals of UN negotiator Gunnar Jarring which seemed to lead to a full peace with Israel on the basis of Israel's withdrawal to its pre-war borders. This peace initiative failed as neither the United States nor Israel accepted the terms as discussed then.
Sadat likely perceived that Israel's desire to negotiate was directly correlated to how much of a military threat they perceived from Egypt, which, after the Six-Day War of 1967, was at an all time low. Israel also viewed the most substantial part of the Egyptian threat as the presence of Soviet equipment and personnel (in the thousands at this time). It was for those reasons that Sadat expelled the Soviet military advisers from Egypt and proceeded to whip his army into shape for a renewed confrontation with Israel.During this time, Egypt was suffering greatly from economic problems caused by the Six Days War and the Soviet relationship also declined due to their unreliability and refusal of Sadat’s requests for more military support.
On 6 October 1973, in conjunction with Hafez al-Assad of Syria, Sadat launched the October War, known in Israel as the Yom Kippur War, a surprise attack to recapture occupied Sinai. The Egyptian performance in the initial stages of the war (see The Crossing) astonished both Israel and the Arab World as Egyptian forces pressed approximately 15 km into the Sinai Peninsula beyond the Bar Lev Line. This line is popularly thought to have been an impregnable defensive chain. Indeed the Egyptian performance was highly praised by Jewish American military strategist Edward Luttwak in an article that appeared in the Jerusalem Post in the wake of the 2006 Lebanon War:
“ ...hundreds of Israeli tanks were damaged or destroyed by brave Egyptian infantrymen with their hand-carried missiles and rockets....In 1973, after crossing the Suez Canal, Egyptian infantrymen by the thousands stood their ground unflinchingly against advancing 50-ton Israeli battle tanks, to attack them successfully with their puny hand-held weapons. They were in the open, flat desert, with none of the cover and protection that Hizbullah had in their fortified bunkers or in Lebanon's rugged terrain.... Later, within the few square miles of the so-called Chinese farm near the Suez Canal, the Israelis lost more soldiers fighting against the Egyptians in a single day and night than the 116 killed in a month of war in Lebanon - including the victims of vehicle accidents and friendly fire....Hizbullah certainly did not run away and did hold its ground, but its mediocrity is revealed by the casualties it inflicted, which were very few." ”
As the war progressed, three divisions of the Israeli army (IDF) led by then General Ariel Sharon had crossed the Suez Canal, encircling the Egyptian Third Army. Prompted by an agreement between the United States and Egypt's Soviet allies, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 338 on 24 October 1973, calling for an immediate ceasefire.
The initial Egyptian and Syrian victories during the war restored popular morale throughout Egypt and the Arab World, and for many years after Sadat were known as the "hero of the Crossing". Israel recognized Egypt as a formidable foe, and Egypt's renewed political significance eventually led to regaining and reopening the Suez Canal through the peace process.
On 19 November 1977, Sadat became the first Arab leader to officially visit Israel when he met with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and spoke before the Knesset in Jerusalem about his views on how to achieve a comprehensive peace to the Arab-Israeli conflict, which included the full implementation of UN Resolutions 242 and 338. He made the visit after receiving an invitation from Begin and once again sought a permanent peace settlement.
The Egyptian–Israeli Peace Treaty was signed by Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minster Menachem Begin in Washington, DC, United States, on 26 March 1979, following the Camp David Accords (1978), a series of meetings between Egypt and Israel facilitated by U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Both Sadat and Begin were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for creating the treaty. In his acceptance speech, Sadat referred to the long awaited peace desired by both Arabs and Israelis.
“Let us put an end to wars, let us reshape life on the solid basis of equity and truth. And it is this call, wich reflected the will of the Egyptian people, of the great majority of the Arab and Israeli peoples, and indeed of millions of men, women, and children around the world that you are today honoring. And these hundreds of millions will judge to what extend every responsible leader in the Middle East has responded to the hopes of mankind”
The main features of the agreement were the mutual recognition of each country by the other, the cessation of the state of war that had existed since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and the complete withdrawal by Israel of its armed forces and civilians from the rest of the Sinai Peninsula which Israel had captured during the 1967 Six-Day War. The agreement also provided for the free passage of Israeli ships through the Suez Canal and recognition of the Strait of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba as international waterways. The agreement notably made Egypt the first Arab country to officially recognize Israel.
President Jimmy Carter shaking hands with Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin at the signing of the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty on the grounds of the White House.The peace agreement between Egypt and Israel has remained in effect since the treaty was signed.
The treaty, which gained wide support among Egyptians, was extremely unpopular in the Arab World and the wider Muslim World. His predecessor Nasser had made Egypt an icon of Arab nationalism, an ideology that appeared to be sidelined by an Egyptian orientation following the 1973 war (see Egypt). By signing the accords, many non-Egyptian Arabs believed Sadat had put Egypt's interests ahead of Arab unity, betraying Nasser's pan-Arabism, and destroyed the vision of a united "Arab front" and elimination of the "Zionist Entity". Sadat's shift towards a strategic relationship with the U.S. was also seen as a betrayal by many. In the United States his peace moves gained him popularity among some Evangelical circles. He was awarded the Prince of Peace Award by Pat Robertson.
In 1979 the Arab League expelled Egypt in the wake of the Egyptian–Israel peace agreement, and the League moved its headquarters from Cairo to Tunis. It was not until 1989 that the League re-admitted Egypt as a member, and returned its headquarters to Cairo. Many believed that only a threat of force would make Israel negotiate over the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the Camp David accords removed the possibility of Egypt, the major Arab military power, from providing such a threat. As part of the peace deal Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula in phases, returning the entire area to Egypt on 25 April 1982.
The last years of Sadat's reign were marked by turmoil and there were several allegations of corruption against him and his family. In January 1977, a series of 'Bread Riots' protested Sadat's economic liberalization and specifically a government decree lifting price controls on basic necessities like bread. Dozens of nightclubs on the famous Pyramids Street were sacked by Islamists. Following the riots the government reversed itself and re-controlled prices.
Islamists were enraged by Sadat's Sinai treaty with Israel, particularly the radical Egyptian Islamic Jihad. According to interviews and information gathered by journalist Lawrence Wright, the group was recruiting military officers and accumulating weapons, waiting for the right moment to launch "a complete overthrow of the existing order" in Egypt. Chief strategist of El-Jihad was Aboud el-Zumar, a colonel in the military intelligence whose "plan was to kill the main leaders of the country, capture the headquarters of the army and State Security, the telephone exchange building, and of course the radio and television building, where news of the Islamic revolution would then be broadcast, unleashing - he expected - a popular uprising against secular authority all over the country."
In February 1981, Egyptian authorities were alerted to El-Jihad's plan by the arrest of and operative carrying crucial information. In September, Sadat ordered a highly unpopular roundup of more than 1500 people, including many Jihad members, but also intellectuals and activists of all ideological stripes.
The round up missed a Jihad cell in the military led by Lieutenant Khaled Islambouli, who succeeded in assassinating Anwar Sadat that October.
According to Tala'at Qasim, ex-head of the Gama'a Islamiyya interviewed in Middle East Report, it was not Islamic Jihad but the Islamic Group that organized the assassination and recruited the assassin (Islambuli). Members of the Group's 'Maglis el-Shura' ('Consultative Council') - headed by the famed 'blind shaykh' - were arrested two weeks before the killing, but they did not disclose the existing plans and Islambuli succeeded in assassinating Sadat.
On 6 October 1981, the month after the crackdown, Sadat was assassinated during the annual victory parade in Cairo.