Sadat -- his strengh lay in his very Egyptianness

To all but his most inveterate foes, Anwar Sadat proved by his overall vision and statesmanship since hs assumed the presidency 11 years ago that he was one of the most impressive leaders in the world today.

His strength lay mostly in his very Egyptianness. He was, in fact, only the second truly indigenous Egyptian to rule Egypt since 525 BC.

The first was his immediate predecessor, Gamal Abdel Nasser, a man born of the narrow parched Nile Valley of Upper Egypt. Mr. Sadat, on the other hand, came from the densely populated, rich farmland of the Nile Delta, where most Egyptians live.

To that extent, Mr. Sadat is more quintessentially Egyptian than was Mr. Nasser. In turn, that has made Mr. Sadat more inclined to put Egyptian interests ahead of overall Arab interests than was Mr. Nasser

Yet the history books will probably say that both men's contributions to the record of human events in the Middle East should be largely measured by their psychological impact on the area as a whole.

Nasser, by standing up to Britain, France, and Israel in 1956, enabled all Arabs to lift their heads high for the first time in centuries. He went on from that to turn military defeat into diplomatic victory by manuevering the Eisenhower administration in the US to force the Israelis, the British, and the French to withdraw from the territory they had seized along the Suez Canal and in Sinai.

As for Sadat, there is cruel irony in the fact that the attack that killed him Oct. 6 came at a military parade marking the 8th anniversary of the opening of the October war of 1973. In that war, Sadat gave Egyptians and the rest of the Arab world an unprecedented boost in morale by proving (as most Arabs saw it) that Israelis were not after all supermen, and therefore were not automatically invincible on the field of battle.

Before 1973, there had been three Arab-Israeli wars, and in strictly military terms, Egypt had been on the losing side of all of them. The 1973 war hardly ended in Egyptian or Arab victory, but Mr. Sadat's great achievement was to destroy the longstanding inferiority complex of Egyptians and other Arabs alike by getting his troops across the Suez Canal in the first round of fighting and pushing the Israelis back from the Bar Lev line on the eastern side of the waterway. The Israelis had been dug in there since the sixday war of 1967 during which they had seized the whole of Sinai.

Mr. Sadat had been one of the most original group of nine, who, under Gamal Abdel Nasser, overthrew King Farouk in 1952. He was socially inferior to most of the other eight and was always a bit of an outsider in those early days because his mother was not an Egyptian but a dark-skinned Sudanese.

Yet he turned this eventually to his own advantage. He was always carefully loyal to Nasser, even when the latter gave him the more boring and less-interesting jobs to do on the fringe rather than in the inner circle. Other close associates of President Nasser fell by the wayside. Some even turned against its crushing defeat of the Egyptians by the Israelis, Mr. Sadat was one of the few remaining loyalists from the original revolutionary group. Mr. Nasser chose him as his vice-president.

For 18 years Mr. Sadat had watched President Nasser and had drawn his own conclusions about the latter's most egregious missions about the latter's most two: (1) allowing himself to get locked into an Arab rather than an Egyptian role, often to the detriment of Egypt's own national interests; and (2) letting fawning and unscrupulous associates build their own empires and feather their own nests, provided they maintained a basic outward loyalty to the person of the president.

If Mr. Sadat surprised most people once in the presidency himself, by sucessfully outmanuevering foes, rivals, and plotters, it was because he consciously did his utmost to avoid those two basic mistakes which contributed so much to the flaws in the Nasser presidency.

What many would call the highlight of his career was his November 1977 trip to Jerusalem, which he capped with an address to the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.

he visit to Jerusalem cost Mr. Sadat the good will of his Arab neighbors -- he broke relations with Algeria, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and South Yemen on Dec. 5, 1977.

But Mr. Sadat's opening to Israel led to the Camp David summit in September 1978. Out of the accords struck there between Mr. Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin came the Egypt-Israeli peace treaty, signed March 26, 1979 -- some five months after the two leaders were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.