The centennial of a leader

Hany Ghoraba
Wednesday 23 Jan 2019

On the occasion of the centenary of his birth, Egypt is paying homage to the vision and the courage of former president Anwar Al-Sadat

“Fortes fortuna adiuvat,” or fortune favours the brave, is a Latin proverb that well describes the career of former Egyptian president Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat (1918-1981).

 It describes the late president’s deeds from his early years as a young political activist fighting the British occupation through his years in the presidential office and until his cowardly assassination by Islamic Jihad, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood organisation, in October 1981.

Hardly any other world leader in modern history was as courageous in dealing with his country’s issues as was Sadat during his 11 years as president of Egypt between 1970 and 1981.

Sadat’s great future vision and steady moves towards a peace treaty with Israel saved Egypt from an ongoing war that had lasted for over three decades, a plummeting economic situation, and an isolation imposed as a result of political confrontation with the West during the previous Nasser era.

Sadat’s work for peace in the Middle East laid the groundwork for the region to aspire to a more stable future, even if this did not happen as Sadat had planned.

Today, as the country celebrates the fourth decade of the signing of the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty, it is also paying homage to the man who dared to do what others could not and apparently still cannot do.

The Camp David Accords signed in September 1978 followed by the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty signed in March 1979 were the work of a political mastermind who was in advance of his time by decades.

Emerging victorious after the 1973 War with Israel and already reopening the Suez Canal for international trade by 1975, Sadat embarked on the most daring political move of the 20th century, which was seeking what was deemed as an impossible peace with Israel and thus ending a series of wars that had lasted since 1948.

For a leader to visit his enemies and deliver a historic speech in their parliament in 1977 urging them from the strong and confident standpoint of a victor to accept his extended hand for peace was unheard of at the time.

That day history changed in the Middle East forever, and the long and hard negotiations sponsored by then US president Jimmy Carter resulted in the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Sinai followed by the normalisation of diplomatic relations between Egypt and Israel.

Equally importantly, the 1978 Camp David Accords stipulated the recognition of the Palestinian right of self-determination to be manifested in a Palestinian state within the pre-June 1967 borders after five years and followed by the full declaration of that state.

Unfortunately, Sadat’s vision was too much for the Arab leaders to grasp at the time, since they were not known to possess either political aptitude or vision.

They boycotted Egypt and called the treaty an act of treason to the “Arab cause”.

The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) led by late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat rejected the treaty and committed the historic mistake of boycotting the talks.

Tyrannical Arab leaders such as former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, former Syrian president Hafez Al-Assad and former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi formed a coalition against Egypt and Sadat’s initiative.

At the same time, they blackmailed other Arab League countries into joining their rejection of the treaty. History has seen what these three leaders did to their own countries through dictatorship, failed military campaigns and corruption.

However, Arafat had to succumb to the realities of the changing political scene, especially after the fall of the Soviet Union, and this resulted in the signing of the Gaza-Jericho Agreement with Israel in 1994.

In the same year, Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel. The former Soviet Union was instrumental in rallying the afore-mentioned Arab leaders and others against the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty, and this helped to nullify its once strong political influence in the region.

Much to the Soviets’ dismay, the treaty went through, and eventually the Soviet Union itself was dissolved and disintegrated into 15 independent states in 1991, as Sadat had predicted more than decade earlier in his autobiography “In Search of Identity.”

Once again, Sadat’s clairvoyant vision was manifested in predicting the fall of the USSR, which no one else envisioned at that time.

Unfortunately, even 40 years after the treaty was signed, there are still some today who doubt the bravery and the wisdom of choosing the path of peace over war.

As a political rule, wars are fought when diplomacy and politics fail, but if the latter are successful in attaining the desired goals then there is no reason to fight a war.

Even if the peace with Israel has been labelled by some as a “cold peace,” or if others remain oblivious to the changing world of politics and the balance of power, the Egyptian nation’s future and its people should not be the price for them to change their narrow minds.

Anti-peace camp politicians, journalists and others will likely remain to bash the treaty and howl about the “Arab cause” from their lofty perches. They will keep running the anti-peace business as long as they can, because the “Palestinian cause” remains their most lucrative commodity to peddle.

What will these critics do if that cause is resolved? How will they pay for their stays in luxury hotels and for their luxurious way of living, garnered for decades through propagating anti-peace rhetoric while their own countries are suffering from tyranny, corruption and wars?

Sadat has earned his place in the annals of history, and his vision of peace has transcended the 20th century, entering the 21st century with Sadat as a centennial leader and a political mastermind of the finest sort.

Sadat’s efforts for peace earned him the Nobel Peace Prize with then Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin in 1978. He was once described by former Austrian chancellor Bruno Kreisky (1911-1990), along with former British prime minister Winston Churchill, as one of the greatest politicians of the 20th century.

Most recently, in December 2018 as part of his centennial tribute, the US Congress awarded him the Congressional Medal of Honour for his great deeds for peace in the Middle East.

Sadat was a master politician in a region that is nearly devoid of this calibre of statesmen. A mastery of the art of politics combined with a clear vision for the future were Sadat’s compass and lay behind most of his decisions. He knew when to go to war and when to negotiate peace.

He predicted the fall of the Soviet Union over a decade before its fall in 1991, and he also predicted that the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 would bring extremism in a turbulent region.

He did this even as many other world leaders were foolishly celebrating the fall of shah Reza Pahlavi and even foolishly predicting that a democracy would follow in what became one of the most barbaric and autocratic regimes of modern times.

Because of the great deeds of late president Anwar Sadat, it is fitting that we pay our proper respects to one of Egypt’s most dedicated sons in his centennial year. We should remember how his long-term vision still lives to this day, making him a leader whose vision was far ahead of that of his contemporaries.

Sadat can rest in peace, knowing that his vision for peace remains the only viable one in a turbulent region and that the guns of war will one day be silenced no matter how loud the war-mongers’ voices may remain.

* The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 January, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: The centennial of a leader

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