Historical narratives will always disagree on any significant bygone event, especially one that changed the course of history. However, undeniably, the late Egyptian President Sadat was a far-sighted leader. He realised there can be no economic prosperity without political stability, and that is what he set out to accomplish through the peace treaty with Israel.
The year 2019 marks the 40th anniversary of the Camp David Accords, signed by the late Egyptian President Muhammad Anwar El-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin on 26 March 1979, facilitated by US President Jimmy Carter. Both Sadat and Begin were awarded the Nobel Peace prize for the treaty.
Sadat, during his speech as he jointly accepted the Nobel Peace prize said, “peace and prosperity in our area are closely linked and interrelated. Our efforts should aim at achieving both, because it is as important to save man from death by destructive weapons, as it is not to abandon him to the evils of want and misery. And war is no cure for the problems of our area. And last, but not least, peace is a dynamic construction to which all should contribute, each adding a new brick. It goes far beyond a formal agreement or treaty, it transcends a word here or there. That is why it requires politicians who enjoy vision and imagination and who, beyond the present, look towards the future.”
Astute, shrewd, forward-thinking, undoubtedly no history book can deny the 1973 October War victory Sadat and the Egyptian-Syrian armed forces were responsible for. The infiltrated and mostly demolished the Bar Lev Line-commonly thought to have been an impenetrable defensive chain- astonished both Israel, and the Arab world, and was the most striking achievement of the war. The late Major General Baki Zaki Youssef shattered the Bar Lev line fable, as he came up with the idea of using water to dissolve the Bar Lev Line, in preparation for the crossing of the Egyptian armed forces into Sinai.
The analysis of the forces participating in the 1973 October War on the Egyptian and Syrian fronts is still difficult. Some of the war documents are still classified and have not yet been published, so they differ in estimating the balance of power among the forces according to the various accounts of the war. In terms of measures only, bear in mind that the nature of Arab armaments were quite different from the nature of Israeli armaments at that time–which were qualitatively and technologically superior.
“Let me take you on more of a personal story. When I was in 12th grade, President Sadat surprised us with what we know now as the Yom Kippur war. It was a war that changed Israel forever and left all of us traumatised until this day. A few years later, President Sadat surprised us again when he came to Jerusalem. I watched his arrival with the mother of my boyfriend at the time, who lost his older brother in Sinai during the Attrition War a few years earlier. Watching her go from a sense of total loss to total hope when Sadat first showed up on screen was a very significant moment for me. It was a very unreal and real moment at the same time. No one in Israel was left untouched by his arrival. What Sadat did was the result of one very impressive leader who took a stand and had a very big influence on everyone in Israel one way or another. As a result of that visit, my generation and the generations that followed were saved, at least, on the Egyptian front. Here we are now, celebrating 40 years of a peaceful border.” Tzili Charney’s speech at the Sadat congressional gold medal reception, November 13, 2018.
Tzili Charney is a curator, costume designer, producer, and philanthropist. As a philanthropist, she devotes her time toward developing education, conflict resolution, and peace. She maintains her late husband’s position as chairperson of his real estate business at the LH Charney Associates in New York and retained his diplomatic legacy by establishing the Leon Charney Resolution Centre in Israel in his honour. The resolution centre’s hospitality extends to students from all over the world, and is committed to teaching future generations on both peace negotiations and diplomacy.
In August 2018, the US Senate collectively passed a bill to honour former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian embassy in Washington said.
“The Anwar Sadat Centennial Celebration Act S266 awards the congressional gold medal to Sadat, in recognition of his historic achievements and courageous contributions to peace in the Middle East,” it added.
Sadat is the first Arab and Middle Eastern person to be awarded the medal.
On 19 November 1977, Sadat became the first Arab leader to officially visit Israel where he met with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and expressed before the Knesset in Jerusalem his views on how to achieve inclusive peace to the Arab-Israeli conflict, which involved the full application of UN Resolutions 242 and 338.
He said that he hopes “that we can keep the momentum in Geneva, and may God guide the steps of Premier Begin and the Knesset, because there is a great need for a hard and drastic decision.” In his acceptance speech, Sadat emphasised the much-anticipated peace sought for by both Arabs and Israelis:
“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 honouring. These hundreds of millions will judge to what extent every responsible leader in the Middle East has responded to the hopes of mankind,” declared Sadat.
Yet, the treaty was exceedingly unwelcome in most of the Arab world and the wider Muslim world. His predecessor Nasser had made Egypt an icon of Arab nationalism, an ideology that seemed to be marginalised by an Egyptian position after the 1973 War. Neighbouring Arab countries presumed that by signing the accords, Sadat had put Egypt’s power structure ahead of Arab unity, betraying Nasser’s pan-Arabism, and demolishing the dream of a unified ‘Arab front’ for Palestinians’ support against the ‘Zionist entity.’
However, Sadat decided early on that peace is the solution. Sadat’s move toward diplomatic relations with the US was also seen as treason by many Arabs. In the US, his peace strategy increased his popularity among some Evangelical circles. He was awarded the Prince of Peace award by Pat Robertson.
In 1979, Egypt was suspended from the Arab League due to the Egyptian-Israel peace agreement, and the league changed its headquarters from Cairo to Tunis. Arab League member states upheld the belief of the elimination of the ‘Zionist entity’ and Israel concurrently. Egypt was re-admitted as a member in 1989 into the league and its headquarters returned to Cairo.
Resilient economic growth was the result of improved relations which Egypt gained through the Camp David Accords and with the west. However, a period of rapid inflation in 1980 was due to Egypt’s strained relations with the Arab world was the outcome.
Now, Sadat’s words still ring true today as they did forty years ago, and it is more imperative than ever to recall these virtues of benevolence and peace as we seek to create harmony and security in the Middle East. As President Sadat said during his visit to Israel in 1977, “There are moments in the life of nations and peoples when it is incumbent on those known for their wisdom and clarity of vision to overlook the past, with all its complexities and weighing memories, in a bold drive toward new horizons.”