In 11 years as president of Egypt, Mohammed Anwar Sadat reshaped the history of the Middle East, led the largest Arab country to peace with Israel, totally realigned his nation's foreign and domestic policies and earned a prominent place on the roster of daring and inventive statesmen.
Until he was killed yesterday at the age of 62, he led a life as rich in drama, daring, intrigue and fame as any political leader in modern times. He died on the eighth anniversary of one of his proudest achievements, the 1973 war with Israel that restored the pride of his vanquished nation.
As a soldier, conspirator, political leader and world figure, Sadat was always the consummate nationalist. He was a son of the fertile Egyptian soil, and the honor and independence of Egypt were the purpose of his life.
He pursued those goals with all the dedication of a shrewd, opportunistic and occasionally ruthless leader. Spurning conventional diplomacy and repudiating the traditional political style of the Egyptian bourgeoisie, he drove his country down new paths by the sheer force of his personality.
"In Egypt," he wrote in "Revolt on the Nile," a brief memoir of the 1952 revolution, "personalities have always been more important than political programs." Like his mentor and predecessor, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Sadat showed the truth of that observation. Once he became president upon Nasser's death in 1970, his program was his own and those who chose not to follow it were brusquely cast aside.
He broke relations with countries that opposed his policies -- including most Arab states -- and sent their diplomats packing. At home, searching for a formula that would give him credibility and control, he promised liberalism and political pluralism but cracked down abruptly whenever he perceived a threat to national stability or to his own power.
Sadat inherited a prostrate, bankrupt nation, devastated by the 1967 war and locked into political inertia by Nasser's police-state tactics. The Soviet Union held Egypt in economic and military bondage and the country had forfeited its independence in foreign policy to Nasser's pan-Arab aspirations.
Sadat broke all those chains. He expelled the Soviet military advisers, revived the country's spirit with his bold drive across the Suez Canal in 1973, released thousands of political prisoners, liberalized the national economy, restored relations with the United States and, in the grandest gesture of all, journeyed to Jerusalem to challenge Israel to make peace.
Though a devout Moslem, he never allowed religious considerations to affect his judgment of what was best for Egypt. Plotting the revolution that was to overthrow the monarchy in 1952, he rejected an alliance with the extremist Moslem Brotherhood because he and Nasser saw the Brotherhood's fundamentalist program as a step backward for Egypt.
He held to his course of peace with Israel when Egypt was expelled from the Islamic Nations Conference. He paid a debt of gratitude by giving refuge to the shah of Iran, rejecting the outrage of the Islamic extremists. And he protected Egypt's Christian minority from harassment by Moslem fundamentalists.
Under Sadat, Egypt adopted the motto "Science and Faith," but his working policy was, "no religion in politics, no politics in religion."
Sadat was lucky as well as daring. The erratic behavior of his critics, especially Libya's Muammar Qaddafi, enhanced Sadat's reputation. Egypt struck important oil deposits in the Gulf of Suez just when it was in desperate economic trouble. The tenacious diplomacy of Jimmy Carter at Camp David and later in Cairo and Jerusalem carried him over the final hurdle to peace with Israel.
But despite his claim to have reestablished the "rule of law" and transformed Egypt into a "state of institutions" that would survive a change of leadership, he never succeeded in creating a self-sustaining political system. If there are doubts about Egypt's future, it is because Sadat's observation is still true: the fate of Egypt is a function of the personality of whoever is in power.
He eased the one-party system, censorship and repression that characterized the Nasser era, but he was never comfortable with the relatively liberal political system that he erected in their place. Sadat had a paternalistic view of Egypt; he saw it as a big, loving but unruly family, and it was his role as father to make sure the children did not go too far.
His program was visceral and intuitive, not systematic, which made his presidency unfailingly newsworthy and dramatic but also leaves critical questions about the country's future unanswered. In the central policy document of his presidency, the October Working Paper of 1974, he said, "We do not fear differences of opinion, nor are we perturbed by free debate and expression of the various interests of the working forces, so long as these orbit in the legal circuits which we accept and so long as they aim at serving the objectives of Egypt and the Egyptian people."
It was Sadat, as the "father" of the Egyptian people, who determined what those objectives were and whether "differences of opinion" aimed at serving them. The limits were far broader than they had been under Nasser, but they narrowed steadily after nationwide food-price riots in 1977 convinced Sadat that too much liberalization was dangerous. Just last month, he ordered the arrest of more than 1,100 Egyptians whose activities he regarded as provocative or troublesome.
Sadat knew every corner of Egypt and he had a sense of community with the working people. Born in an obscure Nile Delta village, he held a variety of jobs -- truck driver, newspaper reporter, canal-digger, bottled-water vendor -- that gave him a sense of the popular mood.
When Sadat returned from his historic visit to Israel in 1977, he rode in triumph in an open car through the dark, tumultuous streets of Cairo confident that the Egyptians would approve of his gesture, which they overwhelmingly did. If ever Sadat seemed vulnerable to assassination it was on that dramatic night -- not as he sat in the reviewing stand watching crack troops parade.
Even though it seemed clear that Sadat's policies had popular support, however, he was never content with less than full marks. A hallmark of his presidency was the referendum that ostensibly called on the people to decide on any major initiative. Invariably, the populace was reported as having given its support to the president by 95 percent or more.
The questions on the referendums were worded to elicit favorable answers and Egyptians and foreigners alike knew the results were spurious, but Sadat's quest for approbation always impelled him to report near-total support. This charade of popular participation in decision-making allowed Sadat to claim that Egypt was a democracy while the countries of his Arab opponents -- the "dwarfs" and "goatherds" on whom he poured such venom when they criticized his peace policy -- were portrayed as tyrannies and dictatorships.
When Sadat became president, he was lightly regarded in Egypt and abroad. Because of his dark skin, he was ridiculed as the "black donkey," an errand-boy for Nasser, and he had no political constituency of his own. It was widely assumed that his interim presidency was only the prelude to a power struggle. There was a power struggle, but Sadat won, and his authority over the country was made clear.
Sadat was the developing world's first media president. He was a brilliant manipulator of the foreign press, whom he courted with flattery, jokes and unusual access. He learned from Henry Kissinger how to score political points by appearing on television with Barbara Walters and Walter Cronkite and giving skillful interviews to newspaper reporters.
At home, he controlled public opinion by placing his hand-picked supporters in charge of the newspapers, delivering long, hand-waving, brow-mopping addresses in parliament and making endless forays into the provinces to visit model farms, dedicate factories and pray with his head on the floor of simple village mosques.
He lived well and dressed lavishly but his sense of timing and costume also took him into the countryside in safari suit and peasant gallabeya to talk about his wish to return one day to the life of a "simple farmer."
Those who looked down on him when he took office -- including U.S. and British intelligence, as he never tired of recalling -- might have had more respect for him if they had studied his personal history. From an early age, Sadat demonstrated a penchant for the dramatic, the passionate nationalism and the determination that characterized his presidency.
Sadat was born Dec. 25, 1918, in Mit Abul Kom, a Nile Delta village where he maintained a home until his death and to which he donated the royalties from his memoirs, "In Search of Identity."
In that book, he described himself as "a peasant born and brought up on the banks of the Nile." Actually he was "brought up" in Cairo and he never knew the backbreaking life of those who live by the soil in Egypt. But his village background helped shape his ideas of family and society and contributed to his belief that Egypt's prosperity lies in reclaiming the 96 percent of its land that is desert.
Unlike Nasser, a city dweller from birth to death, Sadat always retained an affection for the village that gave him, he said, "a feeling of inner superiority."
Sadat recalled life in the village in rapturous tones. Conveniently omitted from his descriptions were the realities of life in an Egyptian village: illiteracy, filth, chronic disease, overcrowding and early death.
Sadat's grandfather was literate, a rarity in rural Egypt at the time, and his father, who went to a secular school and spoke English, was a clerk in the army.
Sadat's early education was in the traditional Moslem style, centering on memorization of the Koran, but then his grandmother sent him to a Christian school to broaden his learning. From an early age, Sadat read widely. Among the books and newspapers were accounts of Mahatma Ghandi's struggle against the British in India, a struggle Sadat admired and later sought to emulate.
Sadat moved to Cairo and was enrolled in a city school with middle class children.
Sadat received his high school diploma at a fortuitous moment in Egyptian history. Under a 1936 treaty with Britain, the Egyptian Army was allowed to grow and for the first time the national military academy was opened to boys of the working class. Sadat got an appointment and the generation of young men who went in with him, including Nasser, was later to lead the 1952 revolution.
As a signal corps officer in upper Egypt, he met Nasser. In 1939, the young officers formed a secret group known as the Free Officers Organization, dedicated to the liberation of Egypt from British occupation and from the corrupt, self-serving bourgeois politicans who dominated the Egyptian government.
In World War II, Sadat was among those in the Egyptian Army who secretly supported the Axis powers in the hope of ending British domination in Egypt. In 1942, he was caught in a clumsy German spy plot, stripped of his military position and imprisoned.
After the war, he held odd jobs, scratching out a living for his wife and three daughters. He plotted ineffectually against the British and in 1946, he was arrested again, on a charge of taking part in the assassination of a finance minister.
Sadat was held in jail for two years before he was tried and acquitted. He spent much of that time in solitary confinement, reading and thinking. "My wide-ranging reading," he wrote later, "not only broadened my mind and enriched my emotions, it also helped me to know myself better."
While in prison he also decided to divorce his wife, a village girl he had taken in an arranged marriage as a young man and with whom he no longer felt he had anything in common.
Sadat wrote in his memoirs that he was "ashamed" of this decision, but that did not deter him. Convinced that he was destined for a career in public life, he knew his wife was a liability and he had his eye on a half-English girl in a family of distant relatives who was studying at the French lycee and would make a suitable mate. She became Jehan Sadat, the president's wife, the redoubtable woman who startled Egypt with her outspoken crusading on sensitive issues such as birth control.
Through the intervention of a friend at the royal court, Sadat was reinstated in the army as a captain in 1950. He resumed his participation in the Free Officers group and was active in planning the 1952 revolution. The monarchy, they felt, was corrupt and compromised, and they sought a new government that would put an end to partisan wrangling and to British military presence in Egypt.
Sadat almost missed the coup because he was at the movies and returned home late. But when he received Nasser's message he threw on his uniform and it was he who announced the revolution on Cairo radio on July 23, 1952.
The Free Officers had no political program -- their ranks included communists and religious conservatives, united only by their desire to be rid of King Farouk and the British -- and for the next 18 years Egyptian policy was essentially a function of Nasser's power.
Sadat was a faithful servant of Nasser in various positions and traveled widely outside Egypt, especially in the Communist countries, but he had no independent function or personal consituency. He served as one of several vice presidents, as speaker of the impotent parliament and as editor of the newspaper of the only legal party, the Arab Socialist Union. At the time of Nasser's death, in September 1970, Sadat was the only vice president and he took over as interim president.
By that time, the Suez Canal had already been nationalized, the High Dam at Aswan had been built and Egypt was a founding member of the nonaligned movement. All major industries, banks and insurance companies had been nationalized under Nasser and a land-reform program had been imposed, so that the issues facing Sadat when he took power were not those that had preoccupied him as a young revolutionary.
Sadat offered broad hints from the beginning that he was prepared to try new initiatives on negotiations with Israel, but nobody was listening.
His first task was to consolidate his hold on the presidency, which he did in May 1971. Alerted to a coup by pro-Soviet officials, Sadat headed it off by ordering the arrest of the participants.
The events of that May are known in Egypt as the "corrective revolution." Sadat, having repudiated most of Nasser's policies, still clung to the Nasser legacy as the source of his own legitimacy. He claimed that his actions had "corrected" a revolution that had been led astray by "centers of power" around Nasser and thus he was able to abandon many Nasserite policies without rejecting Nasser himself.
Sadat believed Egypt could recover from its economic prostration only by ending the fruitless struggle with Israel. To make peace, he had first to wage war: to engage the Americans, whose participation he regarded as essential to any dealings with Israel, and to restore national pride, a prerequisite to negotiations.
The Soviet Union was holding back on weapons shipments and Sadat became convinced that as long as 15,000 to 20,000 Soviet military advisers were in Egypt restraining him, he could not go to war. So in 1972, he expelled them -- a gesture seen at the time as undermining Egypt's readiness for war but actually freeing Sadat's hand.
Egypt and Syria attacked Israel on Oct. 6, 1973 and shocked the world with their initial successes. Sadat became the "Hero of the Crossing" as Egyptian troops stormed across the Suez Canal. Israeli troops later crossed it and encircled the Egyptian Third Army at Suez and the overall battlefield results were inconclusive; but the Egyptians have always considered it a great victory.
As the United States sought to extract some longer-term agreement out of the cease-fire that halted the fighting, Egypt restored diplomatic relations with Washington and Sadat gave a triumphal welcome to Richard Nixon in 1974, just before Nixon was driven from office.
Kissinger's negotiations led only to interim agreements on partial Israeli withdrawal from Sinai but even these brought Sadat strong criticism from other Arab countries.
1977 was a difficult year for Sadat. In January, his attempt to cut food subsidies produced the worst riots since the revolution. In the summer religious terrorists kidnaped and killed a prominent Moslem sheikh. The economic liberalization had produced few results and Sadat needed some grand gesture to break the diplomatic impasse and polish his image.
That grand gesture was the trip to Israel. Abandoning pan-Arabism in a stroke and brushing off the outcry from other Arab states, Sadat granted the Jewish state de facto recognition and offered basically what he had been offering without success since the 1973 war: peace for territory.
That visit stirred the world and Sadat was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, but it did not bring a peace agreement. As the euphoria of the visit and the direct negotiations slipped away, it appeared that the chance for peace might be lost. The two sides did not trust each other and the key to bridging that gap was held by the Americans. As Sadat often put it, "The U.S. holds 99 percent of the cards in the Middle East."
The personal diplomacy of president Carter at Camp David finally led to a peace agreement in September 1978. Sadat agreed to recognize Israel and the Israelis agreed to return the Sinai, touching off new criticism from Arab states that Sadat had accepted a deal that sold out the Palestinians.
Sadat always rejected that criticism. At Camp David, he said, Israel agreed to "full autonomy" for the Palestinians; where, Sadat often asked, is the other Arabs' plan for extracting better terms?
After a border war with Libya in 1977 and its break with most of the other Arabs over Camp David, Egypt was left with few friends in the Middle East, but Sadat said that did not bother him. To him, Egypt, a country with a 7,000-year history, was a repository of civilization, a proud nation of tradition and culture, not to be ordered about by upstart dictators and petty sheikhdoms.
Sadat had enemies: the left, which he reduced to toothlessness; the Moslem Brotherhood, the Palestinians, Egyptians who were in despair over the country's sluggish economy and bloated bureaucracy. But he also had a vision for his country.
"Brothers and sisters," he told parliament in May 1980, after one of his periodic crackdowns on the opposition, "let me call on you in deepest sincerity and faith. I call on you in all honesty and purity of conscience: unite and do not be divided. Act with love. Love is medicine. Bless each other. Rancor is the worst evil. Destroy hatred, oust it and curse it. Cleanse your hearts of the epidemic of hatred."