Exclusive: ‘History has proved my father was right,’ late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s son tells Arab News

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Updated 06 October 2021

Exclusive: ‘History has proved my father was right,’ late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s son tells Arab News

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated 40 years ago on Wednesday. (Sygma via Getty Images)
  • Gamal El-Sadat discusses his father’s life and legacy in wide-ranging interview on the 40th anniversary of his assassination
  • He provides rare insight into the rationale behind Anwar Sadat’s decision to go to war and later pursue peace with Israel

CAIRO: On Oct. 6, 1981, Islamist extremists gunned down Egyptian President Anwar Sadat as he reviewed troops at a military parade in Cairo to celebrate the country’s 1973 war against Israel. Sadat’s bullet-riddled body was rushed to the Maadi Military Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 2:40 p.m. due to “intense nervous shock and internal bleeding in the chest cavity.”

Two years earlier, Sadat had become the first Arab leader to make peace with Israel — a decision that angered many Egyptians and led to violent demonstrations against him. But the assassination of Sadat did not derail the peace process, which continued without him, with Egypt formally establishing diplomatic relations with Israel in 1982.

In an exclusive interview ahead of the 40th anniversary of the assassination, Gamal El-Sadat, son of Anwar Sadat and chairman of Etisalat Misr, spoke with Arab News about his father’s political legacy, the values he learned from his father, and his memory of that fateful day.

“I was traveling in the US at that time with a couple of my friends,” Gamal El-Sadat said, referring to his location on Oct. 6, 1981. “I had just arrived in Florida. It was a fishing trip that never happened. It was the only time that I had missed the parade.”

Back in Cairo, a group of officers wearing army uniforms and led by Khaled Al-Islambouli, a lieutenant in the Egyptian army, stopped in front of the parade’s reviewing stand. They then fired shots and threw grenades into a crowd of Egyptian government officials.

Anwar Sadat, who was shot four times, died two hours later as 10 other people were also killed in the attack.

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat shown in a photo taken February 11, 1981 during a private visit to Paris. (AFP/File Photo)

“In the morning, I woke up to a call from the resort manager telling me that there was a shooting in the parade and my father was hurt,” Gamal El-Sadat said. 

“I tried to call Cairo, with no luck, then turned the news on. The bulletin said that Anwar Sadat was hurt in his arm, but he was in stable condition. I kept trying to call Cairo until I reached my mother (Jehan Sadat) who told me directly ‘your father has passed away.’”

Jehan Sadat was sitting in the stands at the military parade, just a few meters away from her husband when the deadly attack unfolded.

Gamal El-Sadat remembers very clearly the events that took place immediately after his return to Cairo. His father’s autopsy had not been conducted yet. There was a theory at the time that Anwar Sadat’s murder might have been an inside job.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Gamal El-Sadat recalled arriving directly at the Sadat family home but something cropped up. “I received a call from the prime minister at the time, Dr. Fouad Mohideen, who told me that ‘we would like to have an autopsy done because there is a bullet that is lodged somewhere. We just need to verify because there is a theory that some of my father’s own bodyguards might have assassinated him.’”

Gamal El-Sadat said he would like to be present for the autopsy. 

“The autopsy concluded that when the shooting started, my father stood up and he took bullets in his arm and thigh. Those were not fatal,” he said.

“However, another bullet from an AK-74 assault rifle that was fired from one of the parade’s trucks had ricocheted off the counter in front of my father, took an upward trajectory to enter his chest. The bullet went through his heart and got stuck in his neck.

“This finding laid to rest all suspicions about my father’s murder being an inside job. Members of his security detail used to carry sidearms only.”

Less than two years before his killing, in an unprecedented move for an Arab leader, Anwar Sadat traveled to seek a permanent peace settlement with Israel after decades of conflict.

Sadat’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and address to Israel's parliament were met with outrage in most of the Arab world. The global reaction was different: Sadat and Begin were jointly awarded the 1978 Nobel Prize for peace.

Gamal El-Sadat said: “Before going to Jerusalem, my father went to Syria when he met President (Hafez) Assad to invite the Syrian leader to join him. President Assad was a dear friend of my father but he said ‘No, I will not come with you.’ So, my father told him, ‘Please, I ask you to give me your permission to speak on your behalf. If I fail, it will be me who failed. If I succeed, then we will both succeed.’ But Assad told him ‘No, I will not give you permission to do that as well.’ So, my father left and was very unhappy because it was an offer that had no downsides for Syria at the time.”

Gamal El-Sadat continued: “My father believed that the military had finished its role; there was no way we were going to go any further with the military. It had to be political. It had to be diplomacy. …  He had no other choice. (He could not be) the man who looked out for his own fame and kept saying ‘I will throw (the Israelis) into the sea’ and got the support of all the countries, yet not do anything in the end, because nobody was going to throw (the Israelis) into the sea because their safety was guaranteed by the US and the Soviet Union.”

Despite criticism from Egypt’s regional allies, Sadat continued to pursue peace with Begin, and in September 1978 the two leaders met again in the US, where they negotiated an agreement with President Jimmy Carter at Camp David, Maryland.

The Camp David Accords, the first peace agreement between the state of Israel and one of its Arab neighbors, laid the groundwork for diplomatic and commercial relations.

The peace efforts were greeted with suspicion and hostility across the Arab world. In addition to being subjected to political, economic, and diplomatic sanctions, Egypt was also suspended from the Arab League and the body’s headquarters was temporarily moved from Cairo to the Tunisian capital, Tunis.

Today, besides Egypt, five other Arab countries — Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco — have established full diplomatic relations with Israel.

Sadat was portrayed as "The Hero of the Crossing" following the 1973 war with Israel, which gave him a huge bump in status and popularity. (Getty Images)

“When my father came to office as president after Gamal Abdel Nasser, he made several proposals for peace with Israel, but they were never met with any seriousness,” Gamal El-Sadat said. 

“They were completely disregarded, and he came to understand that the world only listens to power. It was the October war that demonstrated that Egypt would not keep silent regarding Israel’s occupation of its territory.”

Gamal El-Sadat rejects the notion, however, that Egypt did not emerge victorious in the 1973 war. 

“The Israelis crossed over to the western side of the Suez Canal, yes,” he said. “They tried to take Suez but could not take Suez, which was a civilian city. And they could not go any further west. The Egyptian reserves blocked the west.”

Gamal El-Sadat continued: “My father understood the (necessity of the) peace deal earlier. He knew that wars were not going to solve the issue. He wanted other Arab countries to join Egypt in the Camp David Accord, and history has shown his vision to be right. Now Arab countries have begun to build strong relations with Israel as they have started to understand that the only solution is politics and dialogue.”

Gamal El-Sadat cited the generosity shown by Anwar Sadat to the dying shah of Iran as proof of the principles his father lived by. Their friendship dated back to the 1970s when Mohamed Reza Pahlavi stood by Egypt during the 1973 war with Israel and sent medical aid and doctors.

The coffin of late Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat is transported on a gun carriage during his funeral 10 October 1981 in Cairo. (AFP/File Photo)

After being overthrown by the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the ailing shah moved between Morocco, the Bahamas, Mexico, the US, and Panama. He then took refuge in Egypt on March 24, 1980, after being received by President Sadat.

Gamal El-Sadat said: “My father did not want to make an enemy of anyone or hurt anyone’s feelings. But he could not deny (the fact) that this man stood by Egypt — not by my father, but by Egypt in its time of need.”

For Gamal El-Sadat, Anwar Sadat was of course not just a president of Egypt whose place in history is recognized and secure. 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,” Gamal El-Sadat said. “Anwar Sadat was a man in touch with reality. He had lived a hard life and understood what it was to be poor. He appreciated life and understood that life has so many aspects other than money and politics.”

Indeed, Anwar Sadat’s personal history simply reflected the tortuous history of Egypt itself in the 20th century. He was born into a peasant family in the Nile Delta. He joined the Egyptian army, took the side of the Axis powers during World War II, 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 as vice president twice and whom he eventually succeeded as president in 1970.

“My father was a religious person and very humble,” Gamal El-Sadat told Arab News. “He taught me and my siblings to love our country, and always respect people regardless of their position or station. He used to pray with poor people to show me that we are all alike.”

Until her death from cancer at the age of 88 in July, Jehan Sadat spent much of her life dedicated to promoting social justice and female empowerment in Egypt. Long before she became a global public figure, Jehan helped lead a campaign to reform Egypt’s status law which would go on to grant women new rights to divorce their husbands and retain custody of their children.

She was frequently photographed alongside her husband on official visits abroad and in more intimate settings, at home with their family.

Jehan Sadat would go on to earn a master’s and doctorate degree in comparative literature and, in her later years, took on lecturing posts in Cairo and the US.

“Jehan Sadat was a public figure during Sadat’s time and afterward,” Gamal El-Sadat said. “She was really a strong lady. After my father passed away, she would not sit back and stay at home. She continued her career and got a Ph.D. in Arabic literature, traveled to the US, and started teaching as a visiting professor.

“She used to promote women’s rights in our part of the world. She kept doing so until very recent years when she decided to spend more time with her family.”

Jehan Sadat was just 46 when Anwar Sadat was assassinated. She spent the rest of her life trying to preserve his legacy of peace through her travels and lectures around the world.

Blast at US outpost in Syria, no American injuries — US officials

Blast at US outpost in Syria, no American injuries — US officials
Updated 46 min 8 sec ago

Blast at US outpost in Syria, no American injuries — US officials

Blast at US outpost in Syria, no American injuries — US officials

WASHINGTON: A US outpost in southern Syria was attacked on Wednesday, but there were no reports of any American casualties from the blast, US officials told Reuters.
The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said it was too early to say who was responsible for the attack.
One of the officials said it was believed to have been a drone attack.
The garrison, known as Tanf, is located in a strategic area near Syria’s Tanf border crossing with Iraq and Jordan.
The garrison was first set up when Islamic State fighters controlled eastern Syria bordering Iraq but since the militants were driven out, it is seen as part of the larger US strategy to contain Iran’s military reach in the region.
Tanf is the only position with a significant US military presence in Syria outside the Kurdish-controlled north.
While it is not common for attacks on the US troops at the outpost, Iranian-backed forces have frequently attacked American troops with drones and rockets in eastern Syria and Iraq

Yemen counters Houthi attacks in Shabwa province

Yemen counters Houthi attacks in Shabwa province
Updated 20 October 2021

Yemen counters Houthi attacks in Shabwa province

Yemen counters Houthi attacks in Shabwa province
  • Army troops and allied tribesmen trying to regain three strategic areas Iran-backed Houthis captured in the past month

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s army troops and allied tribesmen on Wednesday launched counterattacks in the southern province of Shabwa with the aim of liberating three strategic areas that the Iran-backed Houthis captured during the past couple of weeks.
Local officials said hundreds of Yemeni troops attacked Houthis in the district of Bayhan and managed to recapture a military base along with a large swathe of land in the district after killing and capturing dozens of rebels.
Rashad Al-Mekhlafi, a military official at Yemen’s Armed Forces Guidance Department, told Arab News on Wednesday that military units from Shabwa’s capital Attaq, Abyan province, along with security forces also took part in the offensive in Shabwa.
“This is a well-prepared military offensive,” Al-Mekhlafi said. “There are great advances for the government forces.”
After months of relentless attacks on government forces, the Houthis have recently managed to seize control of three areas in Shabwa and the besieged Abedia district in the province of Marib. The advancement put them closer to oil and gas fields and Marib city, the main goal of their continuing offensive in the province.
In Marib, dozens of combatants were killed in fierce fighting between government forces and the Houthis outside the city of Marib as the Arab coalition intensified airstrikes in the province.
Al-Mekhlafi said that at least three Houthi field leaders were killed in fighting with government forces or in the coalition’s airstrikes. Several army officers and tribesmen were also killed in the fighting.
The focus of Wednesday’s fighting was on the Juba and Hareb districts, south of Marib city, where government forces pushed to expel the Houthis from areas they controlled during their latest incursions.
Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik pledged full support to army troops and tribesmen who have fought off relentless Houthi attacks in Marib. He also urged international aid organizations to help displaced people and civilians who come under Houthi missiles, drones, and ground strikes in Marib province.
The official Yemen News Agency (SABA) reported that the prime minister called the governor of Marib, Sultan Al-Arada, to express the government’s support with Marib’s authorities in their battles against Houthis. He also praised their handling of the desperate humanitarian situation in the city of Marib, which hosts more than 2 million internally displaced people.
Abdul Malik accused the Houthis of committing genocides in Abedia and other areas in the province. The Yemeni prime minister vowed to throw full weight behind government forces in order to win the “existential” battle in Marib.
Thousands of combatants and civilians have been killed in Marib province since early this year when the Houthis resumed a major military offensive to control Marib city, the government’s last stronghold in the northern half of the country.

UN Security Council condemns Houthi violations in Yemen, Saudi Arabia

UN Security Council condemns Houthi violations in Yemen, Saudi Arabia
Updated 21 October 2021

UN Security Council condemns Houthi violations in Yemen, Saudi Arabia

UN Security Council condemns Houthi violations in Yemen, Saudi Arabia
  • Saudi envoy to the UN Abdallah Al-Mouallimi welcomes the Security Council statement, says it constitutes a strong condemnation of the Houthis

LONDON: The UN Security Council on Wednesday condemned the threat posed by the Iran-backed Houthi militia to navigation in the Red Sea and its increasing attacks on commercial ships off the coast of Yemen.
The Security Council called on the Houthis to reduce their military escalation in Marib, lift its blockade on nearby Abedia, and for an immediate nationwide cease-fire.
The Houthi militia has stepped up its offensive to take control of the strategic city of Marib in recent weeks, following a lull in September.
The UN Security Council also condemned the Houthis’ recruitment and exploitation of children in the conflict, some of whom are subjected to sexual abuse
The top UN body also expressed its concern about the faltering peace efforts in Yemen and called on all parties to constructively implement the Riyadh Agreement.
It said it welcomes and supports the Saudi initiative to end the war in Yemen and expressed its full support for the efforts of UN envoy to Yemen Hans Grundberg, calling on all parties to cooperate with him without preconditions.
The Security Council also condemned the Houthis’ attempts to target Abha International Airport in Saudi Arabia using explosive-laden drones.
Member countries also implicitly warned the Houthi militia against using Hodeidah port for military purposes, and renewed its warning of the risk posed by the lack of maintenance of a floating oil tanker moored in the Red Sea. They reminded the Houthis of their responsibility for the Safer tanker.
The Security Council stressed its full commitment to the unity, sovereignty and independence of Yemen, and emphasized the need to respect the arms embargo on Yemen.
It also expressed its support for the return of the Yemeni government to the interim capital, Aden, while also condemning an assassination attempt on the governor of Aden and the Yemeni minister of agriculture on Oct. 10.
Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UN Abdallah Al-Mouallimi welcomed the Security Council statement and said it constitutes a strong condemnation of the Houthi militia, Al Arabiya reported.
He also welcomed the statement on Abha airport and said he hoped that the UN envoy to Yemen has benefited from the council’s statement.

US mediator and Lebanese officials discuss future of border talks with Israel

US mediator and Lebanese officials discuss future of border talks with Israel
Updated 20 October 2021

US mediator and Lebanese officials discuss future of border talks with Israel

US mediator and Lebanese officials discuss future of border talks with Israel
  • Amos Hochstein met President Michel Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, PM Mikati and other ministers
  • Lebanon is ready “to continue to cooperate positively,” Aoun said

BEIRUT: Amos Hochstein, the US envoy appointed by the Biden administration this month to mediate Lebanon’s maritime border dispute with Israel, held talks on Wednesday with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Najib Mikati on the future of the negotiations.
Aoun expressed “Lebanon’s readiness to continue to cooperate positively” with the process. However, the points of contention remain.
“The administration of President Joe Biden is ready to help Lebanon and Israel find a mutually acceptable solution to their common maritime borders,” the State Department said.
Hochstein, who is also the State Department’s senior adviser for energy security, also met Foreign Minister Abdullah Bou Habib, Energy Minister Walid Fayyad and army commander Gen. Joseph Aoun.
The speaker’s office said Berri’s discussion with Hochstein focused on “multiple files, particularly the demarcation of the maritime and land border between Lebanon and occupied Palestine. The framework agreement announced in October last year was confirmed.”
The US administration’s framework agreement for talks, which was implemented a year ago by Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs David Schenker, includes two demarcation zones, for land and maritime borders. In accordance with the agreement, the US acts as mediator at the request of both sides.
Lebanon has been seen as struggling with the demarcation of its maritime borders. After submitting a border proposal to the UN in 2011, Lebanese officials decided that it was based on mistaken estimates and demanded an additional 1,430 square kilometers, an area that includes part of Israel’s Karish gas field. The Israelis oppose this.
Berri told Hochstein: “We have a new opportunity to resume negotiations in the southern Lebanese town of Naqoura, thanks to the new US efforts in this context.”
He also highlighted “the importance of excluding Lebanon from the sanctions of Caesar’s law in the topics of piping Egyptian gas and electricity from Jordan through Syria to Lebanon.” Lebanon has been experiencing widespread power outages as a result of fuel shortages amid a crippling economic crisis. The Caesar Act is US legislation sanctioning the Syrian government for war crimes against the Syrian people.
“The US envoy conveyed to Berri an optimistic view about positive progress being achieved in what relates to these matters,” the speaker’s office said.
Oil industry governance expert Diana Al-Qaisi told Arab News: “The US mediator has reached out to the Egyptian minister of electricity regarding redirecting the Egyptian gas into Lebanon.”
She added that Hochstein’s talks in Lebanon focused on diplomacy and how best to facilitate negotiations between Lebanon and Israel on their maritime border to agree a mutually acceptable solution, though Lebanon continues to stand firm in its demands.
Lebanese officials have yet to agree a strategy for the next phase of negotiations and their starting point for talks on the border.
The focus of Lebanese authorities then shifted on Wednesday to the nation’s financial crisis and a forensic audit of Banque du Liban, the country’s central bank. President Aoun met a delegation from the company Alvarez and Marsal, who informed him that the audit of the bank’s accounts was due to begin on Thursday morning. Aoun urged them to work quickly due to the urgency of the task.
On Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund opened negotiations with the Lebanese government to agree a strategy to begin to address the country’s insolvency.
Jihad Azour, director of the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia department, stressed the need to address the losses faced by the financial sector and determine an accurate picture of the current financial situation in the country.
“Last time we had a full update of the situation was August 2020, before the resignation of the previous government, therefore many things have happened and we need to update the numbers and have a new baseline,” he said.

New violence erupts in Syria with 14 killed in Damascus bus bombing

New violence erupts in Syria with 14 killed in Damascus bus bombing
Updated 20 October 2021

New violence erupts in Syria with 14 killed in Damascus bus bombing

New violence erupts in Syria with 14 killed in Damascus bus bombing
  • Regime kills 13 in retaliatory shelling of Idlib

JEDDAH: At least 27 people died in separate attacks in Syria on Wednesday in the country’s worst day of violence for nearly five years.

Two bombs planted on an army bus in central Damascus were detonated early in the morning, killing 14 people. Video footage showed emergency crews searching the charred shell of the bus and a bomb squad defusing a third device near by.
The bombs were detonated as the bus passed near the Hafez Al-Assad bridge, close to the national museum.The capital had been largely spared such bloodshed since troops and allied militias retook the last significant nearby rebel stronghold in 2018.
“We hadn’t seen violence of that type in a long time,” Salman, a fruit seller, said at the scene. “We thought we were done with such attacks.”
The bus attack was the deadliest in Damascus since a Daesh bombing targeted the Justice Palace in March 2017, killing at least 30 people.
No one admitted Wednesday’s bombing, but the finger of blame was pointed at Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, an alliance of militants who control the northwest Idlib province. An hour after the attack, Assad regime forces began shelling the opposition-held town of Ariha in Idlib. Four children on their way to school were among 13 people killed, the highest civilian toll since a March 2020 truce brokered by Turkey and Russia effectively put fighting in Idlib on hold.
“At 8 a.m. we woke up to the bombardment. The children were terrified and were screaming,” said Bilal Trissi, a father of two who lives near by. “There are children who died and people who lost their limbs. We don’t know why, what are we guilty of?”
The Save the Children charity said the shelling caused minor damage to two schools in the area.
The UN children’s agency UNICEF condemned the shelling, which it says was a “reminder that the war in Syria has not come to an end.”
The Damascus bombing will also challenge the Assad regime’s assertion that Syria’s decade-old civil war wasover and that stability was guaranteed for reconstruction and related investment.
The conflict erupted in 2011 with the brutal repression of unarmed protesters demanding regime change and it has left about half a million people dead. Bashir Assad’s position once hung by a thread, but Iranian support and Russia’s military intervention in 2015 marked the start of a long and bloody fightback.
Regime forces have recaptured nearly all key cities, while US-backed Kurdish forces still run the northeast.The regime’s main focus is now Idlib region, home to opposition forces who were forced to surrender elsewhere.
In a separate incident on Wednesday, six members of a pro-Assad militia were killed in an arms depot blast in the central province of Hama. Regime sources said a “technical error” caused the explosion.