Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

In search of Sadat | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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“Egypt, the land of innovation!” Nobody can doubt the truth of this statement. Egypt has been the home of great scholars, politicians, and creative figures, in the past and the present. I am not referring here to ancient Egypt, but rather Egypt during the Islamic era.

Egypt was the country that Imam al-Shafei emigrated to. It was also the birthplace of great [Islamic] jurists like Imam al-Layth Ibn Saad, who created his own madhab [school of thought] in the same manner as Imam Malik. Egypt was the home of incomparable Islamic interpreters like Al-Sayuti, knowledgeable historians like [Abd al-Rahman] al-Jabarti, and masters of creativity and wisdom, like the famous poet Baha al-Din Zuhair, whilst in modern times we have seen the likes of Hafez Ibrahim and Ahmed Shawqi. It was during this time that [Jamal al-Din] al-Afghani launched a campaign of [political] renaissance from Egypt, whilst Egyptian Imam Muhammad Abduh advocated the renewal of religion. This in turn gave birth to a generation of intellectuals who pioneered a literary movement and stimulated a stagnant culture like [Egyptian writer and intellectual] Taha Hussein. It was Egypt that gave the Arab world artists like Sayed Darwish, [Mohammed] Abdel Wahab, and Umm Kulthum.

Egypt is the country that was governed by one of the greatest rulers in the Islamic world; a ruler who almost inherited the Ottoman Empire, namely the Albanian army officer Mohammed Ali Pasha, the founder of modern Egypt.

Many people contributed to Egypt’s glory and success, and spreading this across the Arab and Islamic world, the majority of whom are duly appreciated and respected by history. Those who came after them extolled their virtues and praised their achievements, however sometimes this praise has exceeded the bounds of reality.

A few of Egypt’s great heroes have not received their due from history. Indeed, those that came afterwards not only didn’t praise these great figures, they criticized them!

In my own view, no Egyptian figure – living or dead – has been wronged by history as much as the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, the statesman who was assassinated by an act of treachery. Sadat’s image, following his death, was tarnished by the nationalist pan-Arab propaganda machine. Things worsened after the Khomeinist regime demonized Sadat, to the point that Iran named the street housing the Egyptian embassy in Tehran after his assassin, Khaled Islambouli.

Sadat could have been the second Mohammed Ali Pasha of Egypt. He was a man of the same cut as that of great Tunisian leader Habib Bourguiba. These men were not tempted by the popularity of the street and did not repeat its emotionally-blind chants and slogans. Despite their flaws, those men understood the meaning of responsibility and leadership. They came from the street, not from the palaces of power.

As for what we are seeing today in Egypt, it is critically important that we have someone with the same traits and characteristics as Sadat, particularly as he managed to protect Egypt from the disasters and catastrophes that would have befallen the country if his critics – and those like them – were in power.

I recalled Sadat whilst I was reading an interview published only a few hours before the passing of the last Egyptian ambassador to Israel. This man was one of the Egyptian intelligence officers who witnessed moments of both war and peace with Sadat. I am, of course, talking about the late Mohammed Bassiouni. I advise everybody to read this interesting interview in the latest issue of our sister publication, “The Majalla”. In this interview, Bassiouni commented on the “Arab revolutions”, pointing out the brilliant strategic mind that Sadat possessed, saying that Sadat always surprised those around him with his wisdom. Or, in Bassiouni’s own words, “he [Sadat] was a wise man who always looked ahead.”

Ambassador Bassiouni’s testimony was that of a man who had been hardened by experience. He made these statements on the brink of his passing, about a leader who met his end while risking the support of the Egyptian public in order to ensure their interests.

Sadat was among those who loved Egypt the most, but he loved it with his mind as well as his heart, not just one or the other.