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Friday, 20 July, 2001, 22:11 GMT 23:11 UK
Film on Sadat gets mixed reactions
The late Egyptian President Anwar El-Sadat
There is no consensus about Anwar El-Sadat in Egypt
By Heba Saleh in Cairo

Twenty years after the assassination of the former Egyptian president, Anwar El-Sadat, a film about his life has just opened in Egypt.

Mohamed Khan directed the film, Days of Sadat, which is based on the autobiographies of the former Egyptian president and the first lady, Jehan.

Former Egyptian Prime Minister Mustafa Khalil
Mr Khalil: President Sadat really was a man of vision
"He's unlike any other of our presidents, in the sense that the guy comes from the countryside, poor peasant, struggling family, gets involved in liberation movements, assassinations. He falls in love after a first marriage with a younger girl, becomes a president, takes controversial steps, like making peace with the enemy. This is not a usual person," says Mr Khan.

In the West, Sadat is regarded as a man of vision and courage. But here in Egypt, there is still no consensus about the merits of his political decisions.

Arguments revived

The film has now revived passionate arguments about the man and his rule.

Sadat is shown in the movie announcing his ground-breaking visit to Jerusalem, which eventually led to a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel.

At the time, the Arab world reacted with shock and anger.

The Arab countries - all of them - acknowledged that the position would be to accept peace and try to negotiate with the Israelis

Mustafa Khalil
The retired diplomat and writer, Hussein Amin, says the agreement deprived Egypt of a chance to play an effective role in the region.

"It took Egypt out of the struggle against the unjust policies of Israel. Now we are not really doing anything positive to help the intifada, to help the Palestinians," Mr Amin says.

Many disagree.

Mustafa Khalil was prime minister under President Sadat. He says the Arabs eventually realized there was no alternative to living with Israel, pointing to the Arab Summit of 1996:

"In that summit meeting, the Arab countries - all of them - acknowledged that the position of the Arab countries would be to accept peace and try to negotiate with the Israelis. I think after that, it was very important that the Jordanians really finished their treaty with the Israelis and the Syrians, too, were negotiating," Mr Khalil says.

Controversial domestic policy

Sadat's domestic policy also created controversy.

Soon after his inauguration, President Sadat vowed that the spirit of his predecessor, Gamal Abdel Nasser, would survive.

The open door policy opened the door actually to all kinds of malpractices and dishonest dealings

Hussein Amin
But later, he was to change the fundamentals of Nasser's rule.

Socialist economics gave way to a free market liberalisation known as the open door policy.

Mr Amin says it ushered in corruption.

"The open door policy as practised by Sadat opened the door actually to all kinds of malpractices and dishonest dealings. The worst kind of people were the ones who benefited from it," he says.

No choice

Sadat's defenders argue that there was no choice and Egypt, with its crumbling infrastructure and expanding population, could not afford to stay socialist.

"President Sadat really was a man of vision and he knew that the annual budget was not able to finance all the development projects in Egypt. So I think he was a pragmatic man, in a way, to see what kind of a solution would best suit our conditions," Mr Khalil says.

Critics of the film say it is bad history.

They say the film is one-sided and glosses over what many saw as the defects in the man.

But this has clearly not deterred the young audiences, who are streaming to the cinemas, making Days of Sadat the highest-earning film in Egypt this summer.

The BBC's Heba Saleh in Cairo
"Critics insist the film is one-sided, and glosses over the defects of the man"
See also:

12 Jun 01 | Middle East
Timeline: Egypt
22 Nov 00 | Media reports
Egypt press lauds Israel envoy recall
21 Nov 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Egypt's message to Israel
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