As the conflict in Gaza mounts, and hopes for ceasefire, let alone peace, seem to fade into the fog of war, my thoughts took me today back to Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian president who, against all odds, made Egypt the first Arab country to officially sign a peace treaty with Israel.
I was but a teenager when Sadat announced he will be visiting Israel. I remember the tension. Some conspiracy theorists in Israel predicted that the door of the Egyptian Presidential airplane will open, and instead of Sadat, a group of terrorists will burst out, shooting at the top Israeli leaders who were awaiting to greet the honorable enemy, turned into a friendly guest. That, of course, didn’t happen. But what I was thinking about today was what must have gone in Sadat’s head. He was an Arab leader who waged an almost successful war against the Jewish state (the Yom Kippur War of Oct 1973,) and no doubt had his own doubts as to the awaiting reception. I can imagine that an assassination by the Israelis was not off his mind; it is superbly brave to fly into enemy territory the way he did.
In the end, Sadat achieved by peace what he and other Arab leaders were unable to obtain by war. Israel surrendered back all the Egyptian lands it conquered during previous conflicts; and all this without shedding any more blood. Furthermore, Sadat did this with one of the most hawkish leaders Israel ever had: Menachem Begin of all people.
I must admit that at the time, I was much against that accord; against the return of lands to an enemy I didn’t trust one bit. I remember walking home one evening with a friend who was a leftist, and arguing feverishly that this peace treaty was not worth the paper in was signed on, that this so-called peace, would not last more than a few years. I was, I am happy to say, proven wrong. Not that the peace with Egypt had been easy or especially friendly. Incidents happened over the years that put the patience of both sides to the test. Still, here we are, thirty six(!) years later, and the peace still holds. Even more surprising is the current shared sentiments both Israel and Egypt have about the evilness of Hamas. Who would have guessed that Israel will find an ally in Egypt on this matter?…
Sadat, at the time, called for other Arab leaders to step up to the plate and join the initiative. The Middle-East could have been a very different place if they did. But they didn’t budge. The Arab nations as well as the wider Muslim World, viewed Sadat’s move as extremely unpopular; so much so that the Arab League at the time, suspended Egypt for signing the agreement with Israel. Three years later Sadat was assassinated by radical Islamists. A perfect leader Sadat was not, but his legacy will always include this superbly brave step. It is very unfortunate other Arabs leaders are unable to move beyond prejudice, self-interest and hate.
I will end this post with a quote from Sadat, words he said during his acceptance Nobel Peace Prize speech, which was awarded to him together with another brave leader, Menachem Begin, a hawk that was able to look into the future and leave the past behind.
“Let us put an end to wars, let us reshape life on the solid basis of equity and truth. And it is this call, which reflected the will of the Egyptian people, of the great majority of the Arab and Israeli peoples, and indeed of millions of men, women, and children around the world that you are today honoring. And these hundreds of millions will judge to what extent every responsible leader in the Middle East has responded to the hopes of mankind.”
Learned from: a great leader of the past.