President of Egypt 1970-1981

Bio from Jewish Virtual Library:

Assessment / Legacy

Jon B. Alterman (1998) 'Introduction', Sadat and His Legacy: Egypt and the World 1977-1997, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Washington, DC., pp. vii-xx.

p. vii
  • 'praised as a prophet and cursed as a traitor', debate continues about Sadat's legacy to Egypt and the ME, partly due to promises made by/under Sadat still developing:
    • economy still developing, still widespread poverty/inequity
    • peace with Israel, while secured Egyptian border, has not benefited Palestinians to extent either P or E would have liked
    • many who lived under Sadat continue to 'speak and act violently against his legacy'
    • political liberalisation [BT- which took another 13 years post-publication to explode as the 'Arab Spring' and oust Mubarak]
p. viii
  • an 'unease' in defining Sadat, as world statesman, at ease amongst peasants, comfortable with the press, yet imprisoned thousands of domestic opponents.
  • learnt his political art [unsurprisingly] in Egyptian domestic politics, how to create photo opps, and how to 'build public support without the vindication of contested elections' through humility, 'willingness to be underestimated' and ...
p. ix
  • ... 'building confidence with [his] adversaries'.
  • Sadat's vision arose from combination of 'deeply held Egyptian nationalism' and realistic view of Egypt's future

[p.ix-xi Sadat pre-Presidential bio], concluding with a summary of his gliding through Egyptian politics as a seeming lightweight, few taking him seriously and the CIA giving him six months as President until a "stronger" candidate took over.
p. xi
  • Sadat benefited from being underestimated, although unknown the extent he promoted this
  • on becoming President, Sadat swiftly secured his position, by attempting to alienate main political opponent Ali Sabri (supported by USSR) by offering diplomatic relationship with USA (who didn't know whether it was a serious offer)
p. xii
  • domestically, Sadat symbolically distanced himself from Nasser's rule by charisma/intimidation yet continued many of the same practises, eg burning wiretaps and secret police files while continuing both or releasing political prisoners only to arrest others.
  • was excellent at using 'images and photo opportunities to create apparent realities' to promote favourable public opinion
  • expelled Soviet advisers in July 1972 & started October War in 1973 by breaking through the 'previously been thought impregnable' Bar Lev line on the east bank of Suez Canal. Even though the war swung in favour of Israel once the surprise wore off, this initial success...
p. xiii
  • ... allowed Sadat to consolidate Presidency in Egypt.
  • this 'audacious gamble' showed him as a 'serious player in international diplomacy' and as a 'brilliant strategist'
  • understood that domestic and foreign impressions and popularity were interlinked, so fostered international reputation through domestic policies such as dismantling socialist aspects of state apparatus and moving diplomatically westward away from the Soviet Union.
p. xiv
  • two priorities were to regain Sinai and improve economy. Best way of doing both were through support of world power, and he judged the Soviet Union had failed to help under Nasser, so therefore cultivated US Presidents by 'subtly appealing to each man's conception of himself and gaining the confidence of each' (Kissinger, 1982, Years of Upheaval, p.649). That Israel was also in the American fold allowed Sadat to negotiate peace as amongst friends (at least in eyes of US)
p. xv
  • symbolism also strategically used in foreign affairs, notably visiting Jerusalem in 1977: recognised Israel and won US support for recovering Egyptian land lost in war. A brave move, stemming from his observation that a favourable bilateral deal could be done quickly ...
  • ... rather than drawn out multilateral negotiations which would likely see only the Suez Canal remain in Egyptian hands and thus more war with Israel necessary to reclaim the Sinai. He saw the Americans were 'anxious for a deal in 1977' and Sadat used this for brokering peace and claiming domestic economic assistance.
  • while it was a risky option, 'Sadat, and Egypt, won much from his gamble'.


p. xvi
  • some denigrate Sadat's leadership styleas the peasant's 'shrewd combination of dissimulation and flattery in the face of power', but Alterman argues this underestimates Sadat:
    • his ability to identify and achieve goals: while opportunistic,
    • also took small steps on path to an identified big picture outcome
    • his taking forceful steps when necessary or he deemed the reward worth the risk (October War, visit to Jerusalem)
    • assessments of Sadat as 'son of the land' were the image he created for himself, but underestimates [that word again] his political and diplomatic skill domestically and internationally

  • Sadat's legacy will always be 'his courageous leap toward peace' but also
p. xviii
    • military security from all directions
    • tens of billions of US aid money for defence, but also improving infrastructure (eg nationwide electricity grid)
    • estabished Egypt as the leading state in the ME
    • took over a Soviet-focused and -model 'crumbling and inward-looking economy' and built the foundation for (still to come) Egyptian prosperity

  • tempered by the failures of (p. xvii) :
    • peace negotiations not ending Arab-Israeli conflict
    • economic measures failed to deliver prosperity to average Egyptian
    • lost touch and became more oppressive in domestic rule in his final months