Whenever I think about Sadat era in Egypt, one description always comes to my mind.“It was an era of State Funerals”.
It started with the funeral of Nasr when millions of Egyptians mourned their beloved leader & shed enough tears to turn their desert to a lush green countryside.Followed by a serious of funerals (though not technically a state one) of three legends of Arab music Farid al Atrash, Om Kalthoum & Abdel Halim Hafiz with more emotional scenes around Cairo.Then the funeral of the Iranian Shah (Reza Pahlavi), a graceful well organized one; even Buckingham Palace will give its organization a node of approval. Finally the funeral of Sadat himself, a very somber generic one, which was full of world leaders with hardly any local Egyptians present.
Each funeral symbolizes what went wrong not just in Egypt but also in the Arab world from the end of Arab nationalism, the end of classic Arabic music (with the emergence of loud noisy alternatives with virtually no artistic merits) , the rise of political Islam and the failure to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Many attributed Sadat assassination to his decision to make peace with Israel. This is oversimplification; it is far more complicated with many factors involved.
First, his core tenant – Egypt should come first – was completely wrong. A fundamentality flawed vision, which ignored the simple basic rules of geopolitics. You just can’t isolate Egypt from its neighbors in the Arab world.
Secondly, his main concern was to impress the Americans & Israelis. His people (the Egyptians) were simply not on his priority list. He took them for granted and thought he can change the Egyptian mentality just by altering the propaganda rhetoric from pro-war to pro-peace & they simply should follow, just like that.
Perhaps Sadat biggest & arguably most reckless mistake was his recalibration of the regime ideology by moving away from socialism and toward religion. He viewed pro-Nasr supporters as a direct threat to his rule. As a result, he decided to release members of Muslim brotherhood & other Islamic groups from prison in 1971. Not a bad move in itself, but Sadat went a step further. He allowed them to spread within the society with no restriction. He enacted a new constitution that states Islamic Sharia as the main source of legislation mainly to appease them.
Some of these Islamic groups (though Not all) viewed the Arab-Israeli conflict as a religious war between Muslims & Jews and have called for a holy war against Jews & crusaders. It is no surprise that Al-Zawahiri the second man in Al-Qaeda was involved in Sadat murder
Many dictators in the Middle East think they can use Islamic groups to achieve their political goals while still keeping a led on their political ambitions, forgetting that once you let the genie out of the bottle, there is no going back. Sadat played with fire, which in turn burned him at the end. These groups always have short memory and they turn against whoever disagrees with them. They definitely did turn against Sadat in a very violent way.
To add insult to injury, Sadat economical policy open the floodgate of corruption which mask the economical advantage of peace and prevent many ordinarily Egyptians from enjoying it.
On his journey to Peace, Sadat tried to combine many incompatible ingredients. His trip to Jerusalem left him with no room for maneuver and no reverse gear. Yes, he managed to get a peace deal but failed to achieve true peace.
As the controversy about the Camp David accord start to resurface following January 25th revolution, it is important to judge it in a very balanced unbiased way without any political spin. Egypt is currently at a crossroads and the stakes are high; any irrational hasty populist decision could be counterproductive with long-term implications
For some obscene Logic, people in the Middle East are harsher on their leaders’ peace mistakes than on their war disasters. I think it is about time to correct this flawed logic and give Sadat some credit.
Sadat was bold and indeed brave. He made up his mind, stood defiant and ultimately paid a hefty price. He lost his life but gave Egypt 32 years of relative stability.
There are many warlords in the Middle East but very few men of Peace. That is why I respect Sadat for what he did despite his grave mistakes