President of Egypt from 1970 until his death in 1981
Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1980
Born into a family of 13 children, Sadat grew up in a small Egyptian village about 40 miles north of Cairo. When Sadat was born, Egypt was a British colony. Egypt's debt had forced their government to sell the British government its interest in the French engineered Suez Canal that links the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean. The British and the French used these resources to establish enough political control over Egyptian affairs that they referred to Egypt as a British colony.
Some of the early influences in Sadat's life were:
- A man named Zahran. Zahran came from a small village much like Sadat's. In an incident during colonial rule, Zahran was hanged by the British for partipating in a riot that caused the death of a British soldier. Sadat admired the courage in which Zahran displayed on his way to the gallows.
- Kemel Ataturk - helped create the modern state of Turkey by forcing the downfall of the Ottoman Empire. Created an number of civil service reforms that Sadat admired.
- Mohandas Gandhi - toured Egypt in 1932, preaching the power of nonviolence in combating injustice.
- Believe it or not, one of Sadat's models was one Adolf Hitler. Sadat was fiercely anticolonialist and viewed Hitler as a potential rival to British control.
In 1936, as part of a deal between the UK and Egypt, the British agreed to create a military school in Egypt. Sadat was among its first students. Upon graduating from the school, the government posted Sadat to a remote outpost. It was there that he met Gamal Abdel Nasser, beginning a lifelong political association that eventually led to the Egyptian presidency. At the outpost, Sadat, Nasser and other officers formed a revolutionary group that was determined to overthrow British rule.
His commitment to the revolution landed Sadat in jail on two occasions. During his second stay in jail, Sadat taught himself French and English.
After his release from prison, Sadat contacted his old friend Nasser and found that the revolution had grown considerably. In July of 1952, the Free Officers Organization staged a coup that overthrew the monarchy. At the onset of the coup, Sadat began as Nasser's public relations minister and trusted adviser. Nasser assigned Sadat the job of overseeing the offical abdication of King Farouk. While working with Nasser, Sadat was beginning to learn the game of nation-building in a world full of "superpowers." Egypt, under Nasser, eventually became the leading "non-aligned" country in the world. In this status, they tried to give voice to the desires of the undeveloped and post-colonial societies. In 1956, Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. In a coordinated effort, the British, French and Israelis launched an attack on Egypt hoping to reestablish control over the Canal and the accompanying profits. The 1956 war ended only after the United States pressured their allies to withdraw. Egypt emerged as a hero for both successfully resisting colonial powers and maintaining control of the canal.
It was after the debacle of the Six Day War that Nasser's prominence began to suffer. In it, the Israelis completely destroyed the Egyptian air forces (mostly caught unaware on the ground), swept through the Sinai Peninsula to the Suez Canal and killing at least 3,000 Egyptian soldiers. The complete devastation threatened to bankrupt the government. Couple these events with the internal struggle going on among Arab nations and the growing Palestinian movement and you have the making of one dead Nasser. He died under the strain on September 29, 1970.
When he succeeded Nasser, Sadat was virtually unknown and untested. Over the next eleven years, he was able to prove his leadership abilities. In one of his first acts was after the Six Day War, he offered Israel a peace treaty in return for the return of the Sinai lands taken during the war.
Egypt was suffering from some problems that seemed insurmountable. Their economy was suffering and their relationship with the Soviet Union was deteriorating. In fact, when Sadat requested more military support from the Soviets to replace the devastated Egyptian air force, the Soviets promptly ignored his request. Sadat's response was quite dramatic; he expelled the Soviets from Egypt. This act helped solidify the peoples' support of Sadat.
Behind the scenes, Sadat was still planning to retake the Egyptian Sinai if Israel refused the peace initiative. In October 1973, Sadat launched an attack. With extreme precision, the Egyptian Army crossed the Suez back into the Sinai and drove the Israeli army into the desert. This also helped create a new momentum for peace between Egypt and Israel.
Sadat was convinced that peace with Israel would gain them an enormous "peace dividend." In one of his speeches to the Egyptian parliament, Sadat stated that he would go anywhere to negotiate peace with Israel. He would even go to Israel to speak for peace. The Israelis responded with an invitation to do just that and Sadat's speech to the Israeli Knesset initiated another new momentum for peace. That momentum would eventually lead to the Camp David Accords and a final peace treaty with Israel. It was for these efforts that Sadat won the 1980 Nobel Prize for Peace along with Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin.
Sadat's new relationship with the west and his peace treaty generated considerable opposition among fundamentalist Muslim groups. He was taking some gambles in response to new internal problems. He negotiated a number of loans to support improvements in the everyday life of your average Egyptian. He also enacted laws outlawing protest and declared that the Shari'a would be the basis for all new Egyptian law. He was assassinated at the hands of fundamentalists during a military review celebrating the Suez crossing of 1973 on October 6, 1981.