Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- The wife of the late Egyptian President Mohammed Anwar Sadat, Mrs. Jehan Sadat, believes this year’s 6th October celebrations [marking the 1973 Arab war against Israel] to be the first time that the late president has been recognised as the the hero of the war that restored dignity to the Egyptian people. Unprompted, she said “for 30 years, we have never experienced this atmosphere. I believe that God has allowed me to live to this age for this moment, so I could see the people appreciating what Sadat did for them”. She added that “now I feel his history is not in vain.”
Egypt is witnessing a different kind of celebration marking the October 1973 victory this year, the first since the January 25th revolution under the armed forces’ transitional period. The celebrations this time are being held following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, ousted on the 11th February 2011 as a result of public pressure, who is currently being tried for charges of killing demonstrators and corruption.
Last week, Egyptian state television and government newspapers clearly championed President Sadat in commemoration of the 6th October war anniversary. Sadat’s speeches were broadcasted extensively, alongside scenes of him inspecting Egyptian army units, and songs written especially in his honour. The phrase “Sadat: a man of war and peace” emerged once again, with Jehan Sadat remarking that “it had disappeared for 30 years.”
Politicians and military officials who participated in the October War have accused government institutions and the media over the past 30 years of placing responsibility for the victory solely on the leadership and role played by former President Hosni Mubarak. They said that the media claimed the first air strike was carried out thanks to Mubarak’s efforts alone, as commander of the air force.
In an interview given to Asharq al-Awsat, Mrs. Jehan Sadat said that there was a news blackout during the era of the former regime, with regards to Sadat’s rule and his accomplishments. This did not only apply to news outlets but also to the academic curricula of schools and universities. Jehan Sadat recalls that “the former regime consolidated Sadat’s history into one or two lines in these books. The regime scarcely mentioned his achievements.”
However, she went on to say that “I do not want Sadat’s name to be on everyone’s lips every day, because we do not live in the past, there is the present and the future as well.” She merely hopes that “Sadat can be remembered only twice a year: once on the anniversary of his birthday, and once on the 6th of October as a sign of gratitude for what he did.”
On the 6th October every year in the morning, Jehan commemorates her late husband’s anniversary by visiting his grave in the company of a few supporters and citizens, without any news outlets or propaganda. This year, however, the scene in front of Sadat’s grave was completely different. According to Mrs. Sadat, “there was an affectionate demonstration staged by ordinary people in front of Sadat’s memorial. The celebration was spontaneous, where hundreds of citizens came to pay tribute without being invited.”
The 78-year-old wife of the late president, born in Cairo on the 29th August 1933 to an Egyptian father and a British mother, believes that ordinary Egyptian people did so because they appreciate what Sadat did for them. She said “Sadat’s primary goal was to serve his beloved Egypt. His endeavours were not mere rhetoric but actions, and he suffered a lot for them. He never thought of personal gains or rewards for his actions.”
She went on to say that “In my opinion, Sadat was never acknowledged properly. He sacrificed his life when he could have kept his seat and presidential position by contenting himself with slogans, condemning the occupation, and restricting himself to words only. Yet, he was doing what he believed was correct; he engaged in the October War and ended up victorious, and then made peace and protected Egypt against several dangers.” She pointed out that “had Egypt failed to sign the peace agreement with Israel, the country would have encountered many problems. Half of Sinai would have been occupied and now it would be full of settlements. Our situation would be similar to that of Syria and Palestine in their struggle against Israel. But as a leader, Sadat had a different perspective and a love for the homeland, and he managed to break out of Egypt’s impasse.”
Jehan obtained a Ph.D. degree from Cairo’s Faculty of Arts, and married Anwar Sadat when he was a junior army officer, before he became President of the Republic. She has three daughters (Lobna, Noha and Jehan) and one son named Jamal. She knew that Anwar Sadat had previously married Iqbal Madhi, with whom he had three daughters (Rawyah, Ruqayah and Kamelya).
The former President’s wife – full name Jehan Safwat Raouf – says she is now observing the political scene in Egypt after the revolution, stressing optimism that the future will be better than the past, in light of the parliamentary and presidential elections, and the new constitution. She expects Egypt to emerge in an excellent condition, but this will need time, as she puts it.
As a spouse of one of the Free Officers who staged the July 1952 revolution, and led the October war, Mrs. Jehan Sadat believes that “The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is now the safety valve for Egypt, and the revolution would have not been successful without the army protecting it”. She described the Military Council as “understanding, patient and wise.”
Jehan Sadat was the first wife of an Egyptian president to be actively involved in pubic work. She undertook social initiatives and projects such as the Wafa’ Wal Amal [Faith and Hope] society [an institution for handicapped war veterans], alongside initiatives for female education and women’s rights.
Mrs. Sadat urged the Egyptian revolutionary youths to agree upon one specific agenda or establish one political party, instead of the current state of fragmentation. She emphasized that these youths “initiated the revolution and the Egyptian people joined them, yet there is no unity among them.” She demanded that all political parties and movements act in the interests of Egypt first and foremost, and for themselves afterwards. She expressed hope that Egypt’s future will be different, with the youth playing a more significant role.
Jehan Sadat concluded her interview by saying that she “is not proud of the title of Egypt’s First Lady” which is traditionally given to the wives of presidents, indicating that she did not demand such a title, but rather it was coined by the press. She said “I’m proud of being called the Mother of Heroes [army veterans], a title which I earned during the battles of the 1967 setback and the 1973 war. I was among injured soldiers in hospitals day and night, and it was them who granted me this title.”