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Exclusive: “History has proven my father to be right,” son of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat told Arab News
CAIRO: On October 6, 1981, Islamic extremists gunned down Egyptian President Anwar Sadat while reviewing troops in a military parade in Cairo to celebrate the 1973 war against Israel. Sadat’s bullet-riddled body was rushed to Maadi Military Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 2:40 p.m. due to “severe nervous shock and internal bleeding in his chest cavity “.
Two years earlier, Sadat had become the first Arab leader to make peace with Israel – a move that angered many Egyptians and led to violent protests against him. The peace process continued without Sadat, and in 1982 Egypt formally established diplomatic relations with Israel.
In an exclusive interview ahead of the 40th anniversary of the assassination, Gamal El-Sadat, son of Anwar Sadat and president of Etisalat Misr, spoke with Arab News about his father’s political legacy, the values he held. learned from his father and his memory of that fateful day.
“I was traveling in the United States at this time with a few friends,” said Gamal El-Sadat, referring to his location on October 6, 1981. “I had just arrived in Florida. It was a fishing trip that didn’t It never happened, it was the only time I had missed the parade.
Back in Cairo, a group of officers wearing army uniforms and led by Egyptian army lieutenant Khaled Al-Islambouli stopped in front of the parade’s review stand. They then fired shots and threw grenades at a crowd of Egyptian government officials.
Anwar Sadat, who was shot four times, died two hours later while 10 others were also killed in the attack.
“In the morning, I woke up to a call from the manager of the complex telling me that there had been a shooting in the parade and that my father was injured,” said Gamal El-Sadat.
“I tried to call Cairo, without success, then I turned on the news. The bulletin said that Anwar Sadat had been injured in the arm, but was in stable condition. I kept trying to call Cairo until I reached my mother (Jehan Sadat) who directly told me “your father has passed away. “
Jehan Sadat was sitting in the bleachers of the military parade, a few meters from her husband when the deadly attack took place.
Gamal El-Sadat vividly remembers the events that unfolded immediately after his return to Cairo. Her father’s autopsy had not yet been performed. There was a theory at the time that the murder of Anwar Sadat could have been an inside job.
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Gamal El-Sadat remembered arriving directly at Sadat’s family home, but something happened. “I got a call from the then Prime Minister, Dr Fouad Mohideen, who told me that ‘we would like to do an autopsy because there is a bullet lodged somewhere. We just need to check because there is a theory that some of my father’s own bodyguards may have murdered him.
Gamal El-Sadat has said he would like to be present for the autopsy.
“The autopsy concluded that when the shooting started my father stood up and was shot in his arm and thigh. These were not fatal, ”he said.
“However, another bullet from an AK-74 assault rifle fired from one of the parade trucks ricocheted off the counter in front of my father, took an upward trajectory into his chest. The bullet went through his chest. heart and got stuck in his neck.
“This discovery dispelled any suspicion that my father’s murder was an inside job. Members of his security service carried only handguns. “
Less than two years before his assassination, in an unprecedented move for an Arab leader, Anwar Sadat traveled to seek a permanent peace deal with Israel after decades of conflict.
Sadat’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and his speech to the Israeli parliament sparked outrage in most Arab countries. The global reaction was different: Sadat and Begin jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978.
Gamal El-Sadat said: “Before going to Jerusalem, my father visited Syria when he met President (Hafez) Assad to invite the Syrian leader to join him. President Assad was a very dear friend of my father, but he said “No, I will not come with you”. So my father said to him, “Please, I ask you to give me your permission to speak on your behalf. If I fail, it will be me who will fail. If I am successful, then we will both be successful. But Assad told him ‘No, I won’t give you permission to do that too.’ So my dad left and was very unhappy because it was an offer that was okay with Syria at the time.
Gamal El-Sadat continues: “My father believed that the army had finished its role; there was no way we would go any further with the military. It had to be political. It had to be diplomacy. … He had no other choice. (He couldn’t be) the man who cared for his own fame and kept saying “I will throw (the Israelis) into the sea” and got the support of all countries, but did in the end nothing was done, because no one was going to throw (the Israelis) into the sea because their security was guaranteed by the United States and the Soviet Union.
Despite criticism from Egypt’s regional allies, Sadat continued to seek peace with Begin, and in September 1978 the two leaders met again in the United States, where they negotiated a deal with President Jimmy Carter. in Camp David, Maryland.
The Camp David Accords, the first peace agreement between the State of Israel and one of its Arab neighbors, laid the foundation for diplomatic and trade relations.
The peace efforts have been met with suspicion and hostility in the Arab world. In addition to being subject to political, economic and diplomatic sanctions, Egypt has also been suspended from the Arab League and the organization’s headquarters have been temporarily moved from Cairo to the Tunisian capital, Tunis.
Today, besides Egypt, five other Arab countries – Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco – have established full diplomatic relations with Israel.
“When my father came to the presidency after Gamal Abdel Nasser, he made several peace proposals with Israel, but they were never taken seriously,” said Gamal El-Sadat.
“They were completely ignored and he understood that the world only listens to power. It was the October war that demonstrated that Egypt would not remain silent about Israel’s occupation of its territory.
Gamal El-Sadat, however, rejects the idea that Egypt did not emerge victorious from the 1973 war.
“The Israelis crossed over to the west side of the Suez Canal, yes,” he said. “They tried to take Suez but couldn’t take Suez, which was a civilian town. And they couldn’t go any further west. Egyptian reservations blocked the west.
Gamal El-Sadat continued, “My father understood earlier the (need for) the peace agreement. He knew wars were not going to solve the problem. He wanted other Arab countries to join Egypt in the Camp David Accord, and history has shown his vision to be right. Now the Arab countries have started to establish strong relations with Israel as they have started to understand that the only solution is politics and dialogue. “
Gamal El-Sadat cited Anwar Sadat’s generosity to the dying Shah of Iran as proof of the principles his father lived by. Their friendship dates back to the 1970s, when Mohamed Reza Pahlavi stood by Egypt’s side during the 1973 war with Israel and dispatched medical aid and medics.
After being overthrown by the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the shah moved between Morocco, the Bahamas, Mexico, the United States and Panama. He then took refuge in Egypt on March 24, 1980, after being received by President Sadat.
Gamal El-Sadat said: “My father didn’t want to make enemies of anyone or hurt anyone. But he couldn’t deny (the fact) that this man stood with Egypt – not my father, but Egypt in its time of need. “
For Gamal El-Sadat, Anouar Sadat was of course not only an Egyptian president whose place in history is recognized and assured. He also remembers his father as a kind and simple person.
“I am biased because I am his son, but I believe this statement is true,” said Gamal El-Sadat. “Anwar Sadat was a man in touch with reality. He lived a difficult life and understood what it was like to be poor. He enjoyed life and understood that life had so many aspects other than money and politics.
Indeed, Anwar Sadat’s personal story simply mirrored the twisting history of Egypt itself in the 20th century. He was born into a peasant family in the Nile Delta. He joined the Egyptian army, sided with the Axis Powers during WWII, and participated in activism against the British, who imprisoned him.
Anwar Sadat was a senior member of the Free Officers who overthrew King Farouk in the Egyptian revolution of 1952, and a close confidant of Nasser, under whom he served twice as vice-president and eventually succeeded as president. in 1970.
“My father was a religious and very humble person,” Gamal El-Sadat told Arab News. “He taught me and my brothers and sisters to love our country and always respect people, regardless of their position or position. He used to pray with the poor to show me that we are all the same.
Until his death from cancer at the age of 88 in July, Jehan Sadat spent much of his life dedicated to promoting social justice and the empowerment of women in Egypt. Long before becoming a global public figure, Jehan helped lead a campaign to reform Egypt’s status law, which would grant women new rights to divorce their husbands and retain custody of their children.
She has been frequently photographed alongside her husband on official visits abroad and in more intimate settings, at home with their families.
Jehan Sadat went on to obtain a Masters and Doctorate in Comparative Literature and, in his later years, held teaching positions in Cairo and the United States.
“Jehan Sadat was a public figure in Sadat’s time and beyond,” said Gamal El-Sadat. “She was a really strong woman. After my father passed away, she didn’t want to sit down and stay at home. She continued her career and obtained a doctorate. in Arabic Literature, traveled to the United States and began teaching as a visiting professor.
“She used to promote women’s rights in our part of the world. She continued to do this until the last few years, when she decided to spend more time with her family.
Jehan Sadat was only 46 years old when Anwar Sadat was assassinated. She spent the rest of her life trying to preserve her legacy of peace through her work as a lecturer around the world.