Renowned Egyptian statesman and soldier, served as president of Egypt from 1970 to his assassination in 1981. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his part in the negotiations for the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Accord of 1978.
Date of birth: 25 December 1918, Mit Abu al-Kawm, Nile Delta, Egypt.
Date of death: 6 October 1981, Cairo.
An Early Life
Anwar al-Sadat was born at Mit Abu al-Kawm, in the Nile Delta, on 25 December 1918. The son of an Egyptian hospital clerk and a Sudanese mother. The family was poor -- he had 12 siblings -- and the children spent much of their time with their grandmother whilst their parents worked long hours. He was schooled locally in Cairo, and then attended the city's Royal Military Academy, from which he graduated in 1938. He joined the Signal Corps as a second lieutenant, and his first posting was to the Sudan (which was under joint British and Egyptian control).
Sadat had been brought up on tales of resistance to British domination -- the Mahdi in the Sudan, Gandhi in India, etc. -- and when World War II finally came to North Africa in 1940 he openly supported the Germans, hoping that an invasion by Axis forces would lead to the end of British rule. He was implicated in a plot to smuggle German spies into Cairo, and to provide the German commander, Rommel, with intelligence. The British authorities had Sadat arrested, and he remained in detention until an acquittal in 1948.
The Free Officers Movement
Following the disaster of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Gamal Abdel Nasser, whom Sadat had met in the army, formed the Free Officers Movement, and Sadat was encouraged to join. On 23 July 1952 the Free Officers Movement launched an coup d'état against King Farouk I, starting what is now known as the Egyptian Revolution. The coup's figurehead was General Muhammad Naguib, who became president on 18 June 1953 (after the brief period of rule by Farouk's son, Fu'ad II). Naguib was in turn replaced by Nasser, as chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, on 14 November 1954.
Nasser was elected president on 25 June 1956, and Sadat continued to work within the government, holding various high offices (including Minister of State and Secretary of the National Union) and two terms as vice president (1964-66, and 1969-70). When Nasser died on 28 September 1970, Sadat took over as acting president. Many considered his appointment to be temporary, that he was just a puppet of those behind Nasser, but he proved to be an astute politician, and in a general election a month later he was elected president of Egypt.
President of Egypt
Anwar al-Sadat moved quickly to consolidate his position in power -- initiating the 'Corrective Revolution' to purge the government of Nasser's elite, loosening restrictions which had been introduced on opposition politics, and relaxing the government's control of the economy. He also set about revolutionizing the military -- which was still reeling after the disaster of the 1967 Six-Day War with Israel. It was necessary to show a strong military front if negotiations for the return of the Sinai Peninsular (which had been lost in the war) were to be fruitful. Sadat actively supported a UN initiative for peace in 1971, which included Israel returning to pre-war borders. But Israel was supported heavily by the US, and negotiations fell through.
Yom Kippur War
In 1972, irritated by the Soviet's lack of military support in an on-going war of attrition across the Suez Canal Zone, he expelled thousands of military advisers and technicians. He hoped that a more ambivalent approach to the west would help his cause. Meanwhile, he brought the army up to combat readiness. On 6 October 1973, Sadat launched a coordinated attack on Israel with Abu Sulayman Hafiz al-Assad of Syria. Known to Egyptians as the October War, or Ramadan War, this conflict is more commonly referred to by its Israeli name: the Yom Kippur War. The two pronged attack (Egypt into the Sinai Peninsular, Syria into the Golan Heights) was initially a success for Sadat, but Israel rallied (with resupply from the US) and took the offensive. But it wasn't about winning or loosing a war -- Sadat had invaded as a bargaining chip, to make Israel negotiate more favorably over the issue of the Sinai (and the question of Palestinian autonomy).
The UN stepped in, calling for a ceasefire (Resolution 338, 22 October 1973). Although all parties agreed, it was quickly broken and by the 25th, Egyptian forces were encircled by Israeli troops. Peace, however troubled, was finally achieved. Sadat was the first Arab leader to successfully reclaim land back from Israel (albeit 15 miles). It significantly enhanced his prestige amongst neighboring Arab states. Over the next couple of years agreements were brokered (specifically Sinai I in '74 and Sinai II in '75), but the negotiations stagnated. Anwar el-Sadat took the initiative and traveled to Israel. On the 19th and 20th of November 1977 he visited Jerusalem and presented his peace plan to the Israeli Knesset (parliament). This was, at least to Western eyes, Sadat's lasting legacy. The culmination of his work were the Camp David Accords, mediated by US president Jimmy Carter, in 1978 and a fuller peace agreement signed on 26 March 1979, when Egypt normalized relations with Israel. The peace treaty gave Israel three years to pull its military and civilians out of the Sinai and create a buffer zone on the border patrolled by UN peacekeepers.
Political Problems for Sadat's Presidency
Closer to home, amongst his Arab neighbors, things were looking worse. He received condemnation from other Arab League members (as well as the Soviet Union) for the peace deal. Egypt was expelled from the League, and all aid from Arab countries was cut.
At home too, Sadat was facing increased pressure -- with a growing economic crisis and mounting political dissent. He had hoped his peace agreement would open the door to Western capital (an open door, or infitah, policy was adopted) and the US responded with an aid programme, which by 1981 was worth $1 billion a year. In September 1981 Sadat ordered a pre-emptive attack on his opposition, putting more than 1,500 in jail.
But, perhaps most seriously, Sadat and Egypt were facing an increase in Islamic extremism. Nasser had put down the Muslim Brotherhood (executing Sayyid Qutb, the Brotherhood's leading intellectual, in 1966 for treason), but many activists remained in the country. Sadat's political freedoms had allowed an underground radical Islamic movement to swell, especially on university campuses which had been traditionally left wing and liberal under Nassers rule. A terrorist group, al-Takfir was al-Hijrah (Identification of Unbelief and the flight from Evil) was founded in 1967, and was responsible for several terrorist attacks during the 70s. Along with al-Jahad al-Islami (Islamic Jihad) and al-Jama'ah al-Islamiyah they set out to destabilize the secular Egyptian state.
On 6 October 1981, the anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, Sadat was overseeing a military parade in Cairo. A military vehicle stopped abruptly and five soldiers, later linked to Islamic Jihad, leapt out and began firing machine guns and throwing hand grenades. Sadat and six others were killed. He was succeeded by his vice president, Hosni Mubarak.