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Last Updated: Friday, 6 October 2006, 10:59 GMT 11:59 UK
Sadat's legacy of peace and conflict
By Magdi Abdelhadi
Arab affairs analyst, BBC News

Anwar Sadat
Sadat was the first Arab leader to recognise the state of Israel
Exactly 25 years ago a group of young soldiers broke away from a military parade in Cairo.

They opened fire on the podium where President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, flanked by his top brass and foreign dignitaries, sat watching the annual commemoration of the most important event in his political career.

Sadat was assassinated while marking 6 October - the day the Egyptian army stunned the world in 1973 by launching an audaciously successful crossing of the Suez Canal, destroying Israeli fortifications and recapturing the eastern bank of the waterway.

It was the war that brought him glory at home. But it also carried the seeds of his downfall eight years later.

The war eventually led to Israel withdrawing from the Sinai desert, which it had captured in 1967. But this came at a heavy price.

Against much opposition, Sadat concluded a peace deal with Israel, which included official recognition of the Jewish state.

That brought him many enemies in Egypt and the wider Arab world.

Recognition and contempt

Although the October war is viewed in Egypt as a great triumph, the recognition of Israel remains to this day a controversial and highly emotive topic.

Calls to expel the Israeli ambassador to Egypt or tear up the peace treaty are not difficult to find, particularly at moments of heightened tension, like now between Israel and the Palestinians, or during Israel's war recent against Hezbollah.

Soldiers open fire on Anwar Sadat and spectators
Sadat's Islamist assassins were his erstwhile allies against the left
The peace with Israel gained Sadat international respect and eventually the Nobel Peace Prize (together with Israeli Prime Minister Menachim Begin), but it alienated many at home and in the region.

Like much else in Arab politics, those who oppose the US and Israel are regarded as heroes, those who court them are villains. Sadat belonged to the latter category.

The peace he concluded with Israel remains a largely cold one because of the visceral hatred many feel in Egypt towards Israel, and the firm and widely held belief that the Jewish state was created on land the Zionists had stolen from the Palestinians.

Continued occupation of Gaza and the West Bank reinforces the deeply rooted hostility.

However, some people feel that history has vindicated Sadat's approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Just over a decade after his assassination, the Palestinians embarked on their long and arduous path of peace-making with their enemies, and the Jordanians followed suit by concluding peace with Israel.

Sadat had promised the Egyptians that peace with Israel would attract foreign investment and bring prosperity. It didn't.

The country's economic woes continued to accumulate, the gaps between the poor and the rich got bigger, and Sadat grew more and more intolerant of his critics.

Shortly before his assassination, he had thrown in jail his opponents from all political walks of life - left, right and centre.

But the political and economic reforms Sadat had initiated - steering Egypt away from the command economy and the one-party state he inherited from his predecessor, Gamal Abdul Nasser - have continued to shape Egyptian society.

Islamists wooed

Another enduring legacy of Sadat was the return of militant Islam.

Sadat had no power base when he succeeded Nasser.

Former Egyptian leader Gamal Abdul Nasser
Sadat steered Egypt away from Nasser's one-party state
To crush his opponents - most of whom were secular and leftist forces - he wooed the Islamists and sought their support.

Unlike his predecessor, he allowed them to campaign freely in society.

He amended the constitution making Islamic Sharia the main source of legislation.

Like other regional and international players during the cold war, Sadat used political Islam to strike at opponents he branded as "communists".

Once the genie was out of the bottle, it was difficult to put it back again.

Those who killed Sadat were his erstwhile allies in his battle against the left.

And they killed him because he concluded peace with their eternal enemy, Israel.

Among the many suspects jailed after the assassination of Sadat was a young Egyptian doctor by the name of Ayman al-Zawahiri.

After serving his sentence, he left Egypt to join the swelling ranks of global jihad, and eventually became the chief ideologue of al-Qaeda.


SEE ALSO
Sadat murder convict wins freedom
18 May 04 |  Middle East
Former militant arrested in Egypt
12 Jun 02 |  Middle East
Film on Sadat gets mixed reactions
20 Jul 01 |  Middle East
Timeline: Egypt
30 Jul 03 |  Country profiles
Sadat killing mastermind freed
29 Sep 03 |  Middle East
Egypt wooed with new street name
05 Jan 04 |  Middle East

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