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.

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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.


Help build solid basis for Libyan elections and don’t fixate on dates, Security Council told

Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” (Reuters/File Photo)
Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 25 January 2022

Help build solid basis for Libyan elections and don’t fixate on dates, Security Council told

Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Lawyer and activist Elham Saudi condemned “weak” vetting that resulted in candidates implicated in corruption and crimes against humanity being cleared to stand
  • US envoy highlighted concerns about deteriorating human rights situation in the country and continuing reports of violence and abuse targeting migrants, asylum seekers and refugees

NEW YORK: Mediators need to take into account the lessons learned in Libya in the past two years and focus on “creating milestones” for the country’s political transition, rather than fixating on the time frame involved, according to Elham Saudi, co-founder and director of Lawyers for Justice in Libya.

These milestones include an electoral law, a code for conducting elections, and a solid constitutional basis “that appropriately sequences presidential and legislative elections in line with the broader road map to complete (the) transition effectively,” he said.

Addressing the UN Security Council on Monday during its regular meeting about developments in Libya, Saudi said that when these steps are implemented, elections will naturally follow and will be “far easier to manage, protect and successfully deliver.”

Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” She said this month that “it is possible, and needed, to have elections before the end of June.”

However, Saudi said that “focusing on the dates for the elections instead of a clear process to facilitate them risks once again compromising due process for the sake of perceived political expediency.”

Growing polarization among political powers in the country and disputes over key aspects of the electoral process — including shortcomings in the legal framework for the elections, contradictory court rulings on candidacies, and political and security concerns as cited by the High National commission for Elections — resulted in the postponement of the elections, which had been scheduled to take place on Dec. 24 last year.

Saudi reminded members of the Security Council that “accountability is a prerequisite to political progress. Poorly defined and fundamentally weak vetting criteria applied to candidates applying for elections resulted in individuals implicated in corruption or crimes against humanity and human rights violations, including persons who have been indicted by the ICC (International Criminal Court), being accepted as candidates.”

Following the postponement of polling in December, Libya’s House of Representatives established a “road map committee” to develop a new path toward national elections. The committee will present its first report for debate on Tuesday in Tripoli.

Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN’s under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs, welcomed what she described as renewed efforts by Libya’s Presidency Council to advance national reconciliation but lamented the political uncertainty in the run-up to the elections. which she said has “negatively impacted the overall security situation, including in Tripoli, resulting in shifting alliances among armed groups affiliated with certain presidential candidates.”

She expressed concern about the human rights situation in Libya, citing “incidents of elections-related violence and attacks based on political affiliation, as well as threats and violence against members of the judiciary involved in proceedings on eligibility of electoral candidates, and against journalists, activists and individuals expressing political views.”

DiCarlo added: “Such incidents are an obstacle to creating a conducive environment for free, fair, peaceful and credible elections.”

Taher El-Sonni, Libya’s permanent representative to the UN, told the Security Council that while some people had been surprised by the postponement of elections, it had been widely expected.

“In light of the crisis of trust and the absence of a constitution for the country, or a consensual constitutional rule as advocated by most political forces now, it will be very difficult to conduct these elections successfully because the elections are supposed to be a means of political participation and not a means of predominance and exclusion, and a means to support stability and not an end in itself that may open the way for a new conflict,” he said.

El-Sonni called on the UN to offer more “serious and effective” support to the electoral process and send teams to assess the requirements on the ground.

“This would be a clear message to all about the seriousness of the international community in achieving elections that everyone aspires to, without questioning it or its results,” he said.

The Libyan envoy invited the council to “actively contribute” to the processes of national reconciliation and transitional justice, “two concomitant and essential tracks that have unfortunately been lost during the past years, although they are the main basis for the success of any political solution that leads to the stability of the country.”

He also once again called on the African Union to support his country’s efforts in this area.

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, senior advisor for special political affairs to the US mission at the UN, said it is time for the wishes of the millions of Libyans who have registered to vote to be respected.

“It is time to move beyond backroom deals between a small circle of powerful individuals backed by armed groups, carving up spoils and protecting their positions,” he said “The Libyan people are ready to decide their own future.

“Those vying to lead Libya must see that the Libyan people will only accept leadership empowered by elections and that they will only tolerate so much delay.”

Like many other ambassadors at the meeting, DeLaurentis also addressed the migrant crisis and reports of violence and abuses directed at migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Libya.

“Libyan authorities must close illicit detention centers, end arbitrary detention practices and permit unhindered humanitarian access to affected populations,” he said.


Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa

Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa
Updated 25 January 2022

Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa

Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa
  • More than 50 Houthis killed in operations targeting Marib and Al-Bayda

RIYADH: The Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen said on Monday that it had began “military operations” against “legitimate targets” in the capital, Sanaa, Saudi state TV reported.
The coalition said the operation is in response to threats and out of military necessity to protect civilians from hostile attacks.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia launched missiles toward Saudi Arabia and the UAE earlier on Monday, sparking widespread condemnation from the international community.
Meanwhile, the coalition said it carried out 14 operations targeting the Houthi militia in Marib and Al-Bayda during the past 24 hours, killing more than 50 fighters and destroying nine military vehicles.


US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue

US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue
Updated 25 January 2022

US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue

US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue
  • The comments came after Iran said it will consider direct talks with the US during ongoing negotiations in Vienna

WASHINGTON: The US State Department on Monday repeated that it remains open to meeting with Iranian officials directly to discuss the nuclear deal and other issues after Iran’s foreign minister said Tehran would consider this but had made no decisions.
Speaking at a briefing, State Department spokesman Ned Price also said the US had not made Iran’s releasing four Americans a condition of reaching an agreement for both nations to resume compliance with the nuclear deal, saying that achieving such an agreement was an uncertain proposition.
Earlier on Monday, the State Department said the US was prepared to hold direct talks with Iran after Tehran said it would consider such an option.
“We are prepared to meet directly,” a State Department spokesperson said.
“We have long held the position that it would be more productive to engage with Iran directly, on both JCPOA negotiations and other issues,” the spokesperson said, referring to the nuclear deal between Iran and major powers.
The spokesperson said that meeting directly would allow “more efficient communication” needed to reach an understanding on what is needed to resuscitate the 2015 deal.
“Given the pace of Iran’s nuclear advances, we are almost out of time to reach an understanding on mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA,” the official said.
The comments came after Iran said Monday it will consider direct talks with the United States during ongoing negotiations in Vienna aimed at restoring the deal.
“Iran is not currently talking with the US directly,” Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said in televised remarks.
“But, if during the negotiation process we get to a point that reaching a good agreement with solid guarantees requires a level of talks with the US, we will not ignore that in our work schedule,” he added.
(With AFP and Reuters)


‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official

‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official
Updated 24 January 2022

‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official

‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official
  • ‘No one should have to live in these conditions,’ Mark Cutts tells briefing attended by Arab News
  • Nearly 3m people internally displaced in northern Syria, most of them women and children

LONDON: Brutal winter conditions in northern Syria have ushered in mass-scale suffering for 2.8 million internally displaced persons, a top UN humanitarian official warned on Monday.

“We’re extremely concerned about the situation there,” Mark Cutts, the UN’s deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, said in a briefing attended by Arab News.

The IDPs, he added, are “some of the most vulnerable people in the world,” the majority of them living in temporary camps and tents.

“During this extremely cold weather, we’ve seen some real horror scenes in the last few days — about 1,000 tents have either collapsed completely or been very badly damaged as a result of heavy snow,” said Cutts, adding that temperatures have dropped to as low as -7 degrees centigrade.

About 100,000 people have been affected by the heavy snow, while 150,000 more have been affected by freezing conditions and heavy rain.

“These are people who’ve been through a lot in the past few years. They’ve fled from one place to another. The bombs have followed them. Many of the hospitals and schools in northwest Syria have been destroyed in the 10 years of war,” said Cutts, adding that what he and his team are seeing in camps now is a “real disaster zone.”

He said: “Our humanitarian workers have been pulling people out from under their collapsed tents … They’ve been clearing snow from tents with their bare hands.”

Children, the elderly and the disabled are suffering the most from the conditions, added Cutts, who appealed to the international community to “do more, to recognize the scale of the crisis, to help us get these people out of tents and into safer, more dignified temporary shelter.”

In a final plea, he said: “It’s absolutely unacceptable that you’ve got 1.7 million people living in camps in these appalling conditions — most of them are women and children and elderly people.

“These civilians are stranded in a warzone, and now, on top of that, they’re dealing with temperatures below zero. No one should have to live in these conditions.”


Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal

Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal
Updated 24 January 2022

Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal

Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal

TEHRAN: Tehran on Monday said it is “possible” to reach an agreement on the two issues of Iran-US prisoners’ release and the Vienna talks to restore the 2015 nuclear deal.

“They are two different paths, but if the other party (the US) has the determination, there is the possibility that we reach a reliable and lasting agreement in both of them in the shortest time,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said during his weekly press conference.

Khatibzadeh’s comments came in reaction to remarks made by the US envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, who on Sunday said it is unlikely that Washington would strike an agreement unless Tehran releases four US citizens.

BACKGROUND

The four US citizens held in Iran are Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi, 50, and his father Baquer, 85, as well as environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, 66, and businessman Emad Sharqi, 57.

“Iran has not accepted any precondition from day one of the negotiations,” Khatibzadeh said.

He added that “the negotiations are complicated enough, and should not get more complex with complicated remarks.”