SADAT, MUHAMMAD ANWAR AL- (1918–1981), president of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Oct. 1970–Oct. 1981. Sadat was born to poor parents in the Egyptian village of Mit Abu-Kom. He joined the army and during World War II was active in an anti-British underground group (and was arrested in consequence). After the war, still in the army, he joined the "Free Officers" group, led by *Nasser, which carried out the July 1952 Revolution. Overshadowed by Nasser, Sadat managed the new regime's daily, al-Gumhuriyyah, served as a cabinet minister for one year and then as speaker of the parliament. Appointed as Nasser's vice president after the 1967 defeat, Sadat was elected president after Nasser's death on September 28, 1970.
Gradually, Sadat asserted himself increasingly as president and introduced a growing measure of economic and political liberalization, which bolstered his increasing popularity. Eager to overcome Egypt's military inferiority versus Israel, he signed a treaty of friendship with the Soviets which, however, failed to deliver the needed hardware for war. Consequently, he expelled them from Egypt in 1972 and started to prepare for war on his own, all the while attempting a political rapprochement with certain European states and the U.S. in order to secure their sympathy for his military moves against Israel.
The October 1973 attack in Sinai, while not leading to an Egyptian victory, gave Egypt the pretext to coopt the U.S. as an honest broker instead of a partisan of Israel. Thus, the Disengagement Treaties of May 1974 and September 1975 with Israel increased Sadat's prestige and started the process towards a settlement with Israel. Sadat's main argument was that such a peace should be achieved in parallel with Israel's renunciation of the so-called "conquered territories." This was the ideological basis of Sadat's visit to Jerusalem in November 1977 and of the Camp David negotiations, sponsored by Jimmy Carter, in September 1978. Israel's agreement to recognize the autonomy of the Palestinians paved the way for the signing of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel on the lawn of the White House in March 1979. This was the peak of Sadat's achievement, for which he was awarded, together with *Begin, the Nobel Peace Prize.
In subsequent years, Sadat's international prestige grew, but in Egypt, owing to the increasing poverty and unemployment, social criticism of Sadat increased, exploiting the very openness he had encouraged. Some of this nurtured Islamic fundamentalism. Sadat, an orthodox Muslim himself, first attempted to persuade the Islamic leaders to tone down their zeal, then started to arrest them in the thousands during the last months of his life. His assassination, during a festive military review on the eighth anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, ended the plans he had for Egypt.
In his later years, Sadat openly expressed his disappointment with Israel's policies, especially the June 1981 Israeli attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor and what he considered as Israel's dragging its feet over the granting of Palestinian autonomy. He argued that the return of Sinai was a "natural" act, since this had been Egyptian territory, and he perceived Israel as "ungrateful." U.S. economic assistance, too, could not solve Egypt's numerous social problems, nor appease popular criticism of his regime.
Sadat's assassination was welcomed by many, in contrast with the bitter national mourning following Nasser's death. Nevertheless, Sadat's legacy was both revolutionary and original, the likes of which have not yet been seen in Arab countries. His colorful and dynamic personality, aiming at radical solutions, was expressed in the heat of war and the challenges of peace. His talent for changing direction and undertaking new initiatives was unique. He was criticized by several Arab states for signing a peace with Israel which enabled it – they claimed – to oppress the Palestinians and attack Lebanon. However, Arab and Muslim states which had ostracized him found themselves following his example some 20 years later. Although relations between Egypt and Israel since 1977 have had their ups and downs, the treaty has served as a model for others.
R. Israeli, The Public Diary of President Sadat, 1–2–3 (1978–79); idem, Man of Defiance: The Political Biography of President Sadat (1985); idem, "Sadat: The Calculus of War and Peace," in: Craig and Loewenheim (eds.), The Diplomats 1939–79 (1994), 435–58.