UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Anwar Sadat

Anwar Sadat was a Free Officer who had served as secretary of the Islamic Congress and of the National Union and as speaker of the National Assembly. In 1969 he was appointed vice president and so became acting president on Nasser's death. When Nasser died, it became apparent that his successor, Anwar as Sadat, did not intend to be another Nasser. As Sadat's rule progressed, it became clear that his priority was solving Egypt's pressing economic problems by encouraging Western financial investment. Sadat realized, however, that Western investment would not be forthcoming until there was peace between Egypt and Israel, Soviet influence was eliminated, and the climate became more favorable to Western capitalism.

On October 3, 1970, the ASU recommended that Sadat be nominated to succeed Nasser as president. An election was held on October 15, and Sadat won more than 90 percent of the vote. Almost no one expected that Sadat would be able to hold power for long. Sadat was considered a rather weak and colorless figure who would last only as long as it would take for the political maneuvering to result in the emergence of Nasser's true successor. Sadat surprised everyone with a series of astute political moves by which he was able to retain the presidency and emerge as a leader in his own right.

Sadat moved very cautiously at first and pledged to continue Nasser's policies. On May 2, 1971, however, Sadat dismissed Ali Sabri, the vice president and head of the ASU. On May 15, Sadat announced that Sabri and more than 100 others had been arrested and charged with plotting a coup against the government. Also charged in the plot were Sharawy Jumaa, minister of interior and head of internal security, and Muhammad Fawzi, minister of war. These men were considered to be left-leaning and pro-Soviet. They were arrested with other important figures of the Nasser era. They had all resigned their positions on May 13, apparently in preparation for a takeover. But anticipating their moves, Sadat outflanked them and was then able to assert himself and appoint his own followers, rather than Free Officer colleagues, to leadership positions.

This action, which became known as the Corrective Revolution, began Sadat's move away from Nasser's policies. He announced new elections and a complete reorganization of the ASU. The armed forces pledged their support for Sadat on May 15. There were also some popular demonstrations in the streets in support of Sadat's moves. Sadat signed the first Soviet-Egyptian Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation on May 27, 1971. He later explained that he did it to allay Soviet fears provoked by his ouster of Ali Sabri and the others and to speed up deliveries of Soviet military supplies. Even as he was preparing to break the stalemate with Israel, however, he was already thinking of expelling the Soviet advisers.

The major vulnerabilities of the Nasser regime were its lack of strong support among the Egyptian landed and business classes and, after the 1967 defeat by Israel, its alienation from the United States, the superpower whose support was needed to resolve the conflict with Israel. Although Sadat assumed power as Nasser's vice president and was a veteran of the revolution, he soon reoriented the policies of the state to reconcile it with the need for support from the Egyptian middle class and for a good relationship with the United States. While retaining the essential structures of the Nasserist state, he carried out a limited political liberalization and an economic and diplomatic infitah (opening or open door) to the West. This shifted the state's base of support from reliance on Nasser's populist coalition to a reliance on the landed and business classes internally and an American alliance externally. The political system remained essentially authoritarian but with a greater tolerance of political pluralism than under Nasser; thus, parliament, opposition parties, interest groups, and the press all enjoyed greater, though still limited, freedom.

In July 1977, Sadat announced that he would establish his own party, the National Democratic Party (NDP), signaling the end of the Arab Socialist Union, which was merged with the NDP. Sadat also wanted a more pliable left-wing opposition party, so the Socialist Labor Party (Amal) was founded with Sadat's brother-in- law as vice president.

Sadat also allowed comparative freedom of action to the Muslim Brotherhood. Sadat felt he could use the Islamic fundamentalists to counter the growing influence of the left. The leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood were freed in 1974 along with other political prisoners. They were not allowed to become a legal organization, but they were allowed to operate openly and to publish their magazine, Al Awd (The Return) as long as they did not criticize the regime too sharply. This policy seemed to work until the peace treaty with Israel, and then the Brotherhood became a severe critic of the regime.

The movement away from a one-party system matched Egypt's turn away from the Soviet Union and toward the United States. Sadat hoped that his new political and economic policies would attract large sums of private American investment. He also felt that the United States was the only country that could pressure Israel into a final peace settlement. To enhance relations with the United States and to respond to the Soviet Union's refusal to reschedule repayments of Egypt's debt, Sadat unilaterally renounced the Soviet-Egyptian Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in March 15, 1976.

The Camp David Accords brought peace to Egypt but not prosperity. With no real improvement in the economy, Sadat became increasingly unpopular. His isolation in the Arab world was matched by his increasing remoteness from the mass of Egyptians. While Sadat's critics in the Arab world remained beyond his reach, increasingly he reacted to criticism at home by expanding censorship and jailing his opponents. In addition, Sadat subjected the Egyptians to a series of referenda on his actions and proposals that he invariably won by more than 99 percent of the vote. For example, in May 1979 the Egyptian people approved the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty by 99.9 percent of those voting.

In September 1981, Sadat ordered the biggest roundup of his opponents since he came to power, at least 1,500 people according to the official figure but more according to unofficial reports. In the great "round up" of September 3, 1981 Sadat seemed to "go crazy" as one commentator recalled, arresting and imprisoning opponents and critics of every stripe. Communists, Nasserists, Muslim Brothers, academics, and liberal-minded journalists found themselves cell-mates that late summer day. Even Coptic Pope Shenouda was placed under house arrest. The Muslim Brotherhood bore the brunt of the arrests. The supreme guide of the Brotherhood, Umar Tilmasani, and other religious militants were arrested. Sadat also withdrew his "recognition" of the Coptic pope Shenudah III, banished him to a desert monastery, and arrested several bishops and priests. Also arrested were such prominent figures as journalist Mohamed Heikal, and Wafd leader Fuad Siraj ad Din. Sadat ordered the arrest of several SLP leaders and the closing of Ash Shaab (The People) newspaper. A referendum on his purge showed nearly 99.5 percent of the electorate approved.

Sadat was under extreme pressure for not providing the "peace dividend" he had promised would be the result of his bold move towards Israel, and his deepening friendship the United States. When prosperity for all did not appear, Sadat felt under enormous pressure. Combined with Egypt's isolation in the Arab world, it seemed that his gamble had failed. In his pride, he lashed out at perceived opponents. By discarding the Soviet Union and reaching out to the United States -- and Israel -- he had taken considerable political risk. He had calculated that the payoff in tangible and intangible terms would more than justify that risk. But as his international stature increased spectacularly as the Arab world's "Man of Peace," his standing at home did not keep pace, as heightened expectations for peace and prosperity were unrealized.

On October 6, while observing a military parade commemorating the eighth anniversary of the October 1973 War, Sadat was assassinated by members of Al Jihad movement, a group of religious extremists. Sadat's assassin was Lieutenant Colonel Khalid al Islambuli. The conspirators were arrested and tried. In April 1982, two of the conspirators were shot and three hanged.

Husni Mubarak, Sadat's vice-president, inherited power on the basis of constitutional legitimacy at Sadat's death. He consolidated Sadat's limited political liberalization and maintained the major lines of Sadat's policies while trying to overcome some of their excesses and costs.

Since becoming president in 1970, Sadat had lived in fear of being assassinated. He spent his first year thwarting a coup attempt by Ali Sabry (no relation to Sadat;s biographer), who thought Sadat was only a temporary substitute for President Gamal Abdel-Nasser. Traveling to Israel for peace talks in November 1977 made Sadat even more of a target for assassination. Sadat's security agents revealed that 14 different groups wanted Sadat killed, including Palestinian factions; Marxist organizations inside and outside Egypt; and the rejectionist governments of Libya, South Yemen, Iran, and Syria, who abhorred Sadat's decision to have peace talks with Israel. Between 1977 and 1981, security forces foiled 38 attempts to kill Sadat or his ministers and thwarted a coup attempt in Egypt.

Guarding Sadat was a challenge because of his feelings of fatalism and his unwillingness to change his itinerary. He even rode in a small car to the Cairo section of Agoozah to enroll his grandson in school. The Egyptian Interior Ministry received bits and pieces of information about a plot to kill Sadat during a visit to Mansoora. The plot turned out to be the final purchase of weapons for the coup that was to follow Sadat's 6 October 1981 assassination.

The jihadist cell that murdered Sadat had its roots within the military. The Egyptian government (intelligence, presidential guard, and interior ministry) had no knowledge of cell formation in Northern and Southern Egypt. Beginning in early 1980, mass disruption and chaos fomented under the cover of which it could assassinate Sadat. The cell had weapons cachesthroughout Egypt and had established revolutionary cells in most districts of the country. It is incredible that Egyptian security missed detecting such a massive undertaking.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list