Headlines on the October 6th attack of Israel are absolutely heart wrenching! They are also hard to understand. While I can’t make full sense of this unfolding tragedy, I can provide some historical context. (In fact, I’ve been asked by readers of my early volumes to “fill in” with history from my last volume.) If you don’t know me, I’m Linda Lacour Hobar, the author of The Mystery of History, a world history curriculum for all ages, written from a biblical worldview.
My stories are from The Mystery of History Volume IV (spanning 1708 to 2014). They are:
- Part 1—The Formation of Israel (1948)
- Part 2—Ayatollah Khomeini Forms the Islamic Republic of Iran (1979)
- Part 3—The Assassination of Anwar Sadat (1981)
These history lessons are longer than a typical blog, so I’ll divide them into three posts. (This is the third of post of three.) And, for expediency, I’ll leave out the photos. (If you’re interested, there are color photos in all of our volumes.) Please keep in mind these lessons were written years ago for middle school and high school students. They won’t address everything going on today, nor are they supposed to. But I do hope this pertinent background information will help families as they pray for the Middle East!
Part 3—The Assassination of Anwar Sadat (1981)
Since the formation of Israel in 1948, the Middle East has been in a state of turmoil. Whether this conflict is viewed as political, the fulfillment of prophecy, or a combination of both, tension in the Middle East runs deep and wide. As a tragic example, we will look today at the assassination of Anwar Sadat (AHN wahr Suh DAHT), the president of Egypt, who was shot more than 30 times on October 6, 1981, for making peace with Israel!
Anwar Sadat was born in 1918 in a poor village along the Nile River. His family’s busy household of 13 children was located 40 miles north of Cairo, the largest city in Egypt and the capital. His father was a clerk at a military hospital. His mother was part Sudanese. (Her ethnicity gave Anwar his distinctive skin color, which was darker than the skin of most Egyptians.) At the time of Anwar’s birth, Egypt was a British colony. In his youth, Anwar heard stories of how Mohandas Gandhi peacefully led India out from under British control. He wondered if his Egyptian homeland, rich in the history of pharaohs and pyramids, would ever see the same kind of independence.
Through his childhood, Anwar Sadat was taught by a kindly Islamic cleric. At age 18, Anwar enrolled in a military academy. Upon graduation, he was transferred to a distant outpost in Sudan where he met Gamal Abdel Nasser (Guh MAHL AB dool NAH ser). To understand Anwar Sadat, we need to spend a little time on Gamal Nasser. (It will all tie in very soon!)
Gamal Nasser and Anwar Sadat were the same age. Having grown up in the same political climate, they had similar revolutionary ideas for setting Egypt free from British control. Nasser started the Association of Free Officers, a small secret society designed to overthrow the British. Sadat joined the group and was arrested and imprisoned twice for treason against Great Britain! (He also led a hunger strike against the British, as his hero, Gandhi, did. That landed Sadat in a military hospital, from which he subsequently escaped!)
Finally, after all the failures, the Association of Free Officers succeeded in 1952 in leading the Egyptian Revolution. As a result of that revolution, the British were driven out; the king of Egypt was ousted; and a new president was put in office. Gamal Nasser would, in time, serve as the second president of the new Egyptian Republic. As the president of Egypt, Gamal Nasser kept Anwar Sadat close by as a friend, an ally, an aide, and a vice president. (The two had come a long way from their young revolutionary days.)
Now you still may be wondering what any of this has to do with Israel and turmoil in the Middle East. I’m getting to that. President Nasser was one of several Middle Eastern Muslim leaders who deeply despised and deeply resented the formation of Israel. For example, Nasser said in 1967, “We will not accept any . . . coexistence with Israel. . . . Today the issue is not the establishment of peace between the Arab states and Israel. . . . The war with Israel is in effect since 1948.” (Endnote 1)
With that threat, and many more, President Nasser proceeded to close the Strait of Tiran (Tih RON) to Israeli shipping on May 22, 1967. (The Strait of Tiran, at the tip of the Sinai Peninsula, connects the Gulf of Aqaba [AH kuh buh] to the Red Sea and is vital to Israel’s trade and prosperity.) For crippling Israel’s trade, some considered the blockade of the Strait of Tiran an act of war! In addition to this, Nasser and the leader of Syria mobilized thousands of troops along the borders of Israel.
Israel saw inevitable bloodshed coming its way. To protect itself and survive, Israel attacked Egypt and Syria in what has been called the Six-Day War (fought June 5 to June 10, 1967). Much to the surprise and embarrassment of President Nasser, the Egyptian air force was caught off guard at the time of the attack and essentially wiped out. In victory against Egypt, Israel gained the Sinai Peninsula and secured the Strait of Tiran. In a successful assault against Syria, Israel took East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights — three heavily disputed territories. To Israel, the Six-Day War was a necessary victory to secure its right to exist as a state. To the Arab world, it was a humiliating setback.
This brings us now to Anwar Sadat. In 1970, he was the vice president of Egypt and next in line to rule the nation should anything happen to the president. Well, quite unexpectedly, President Nasser died of a heart attack. That thrust Anwar Sadat into a significant place on the stage of world history. Previously behind the scenes and in Nasser’s shadow, Anwar Sadat was barely known to the rest of world. As the new president of Egypt, that changed very quickly!
Sadat as the President of Egypt
Anwar Sadat started his presidency by following the policies of Gamal Nasser. Like Nasser, he begrudged the existence of Israel. Sadat started a campaign against Israel with a request. He asked Israel to return to the borders that existed before the Six-Day War of 1967. Israel would not agree to relinquish that much territory. It was willing to give up the Sinai Peninsula, but before negotiations could take place, Sadat attacked! Yes, in 1973, Anwar Sadat led several Arab states, including Syria, in a surprise attack against Israel.
The day chosen for the attack was very intentional. It was October 6, which in that year coincided with Yom Kippur (or the Day of Atonement), the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. That date also fell in the month of Ramadan, a holy month of fasting and prayer for Muslims. So the Fourth Arab-Israeli War, as this attack was named, is also called the Yom Kippur War, the Ramadan War, and the October War. Whatever it is called today, the conflict was both a political war and a “holy war” between Muslims and Jews.
As an important side note, one of Egypt’s allies was the Soviet Union. Israel found support from the United States. You know what that means? In the event the war went global, old opponents of the Cold War were pitted against each other — again! The Soviets didn’t feel up to the challenge and so quickly bowed out from helping the Arabs. Disappointed and insulted, Sadat expelled 20,000 Soviet advisers from Egypt. Sadat’s countrymen admired his audacity in sending the Russians packing.
The Fourth Arab-Israeli War (which again was several Arab states against Israel) was short in length, but full-blown in hostility. It lasted only 19 days, but both sides pulled out their best weapons of warfare and sacrificed thousands of troops on the battlefield. Once the fighting began, the Soviets changed their minds about bowing out and got involved by resupplying Arab forces. To counterbalance that, the United States provided Israel with air support and intelligence. United Nations forces showed up late on the scene but intervened on behalf of both sides by calling for an immediate ceasefire. With thousands having already died, both sides agreed to stop fighting.
In tactics and morale, Israel probably had the upper hand in the Yom Kippur War (as they would call it). As in the Six-Day War, Israelis proved to their Middle Eastern neighbors that they were a power to be reckoned with. To the Arab world, the Ramadan War (as they would call it) was both good and bad. On the positive side, it gave Sadat a boost in popularity for leading the effort against Israel and trying to take back Sinai. On the negative side, Egypt was not entirely victorious and Israel was not exactly defeated. After the dust settled, it would appear that the Arab states had been too divided to be effective, with Syria focusing on the Golan Heights and Egypt focusing on Sinai. The survival of Israel would prove to foster more hostilities from the Arab world. It also led Anwar Sadat to a change of heart toward Israel that would eventually cost him his life. Here’s why.
The Camp David Accords of 1978
Shortly after the Yom Kippur invasion, Sadat gave an interview stating that he would go to Israel in person if need be to help settle the differences between Egypt and Israel. Shocked and encouraged by this gesture, the Israelis took him up on it and arranged for a meeting in Jerusalem between Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Prime Minister, Menachem Begin (Meh KNOCK’HM BAY geen). (He was one of the first leaders of the Zionist movement.) The November 20, 1977, meeting between Sadat and Begin was historic: Anwar Sadat was the first Arab leader to visit Israel on friendly terms.
When Anwar Sadat addressed the parliament of Israel, he did so with extraordinary grace and eloquence. He said:
“I come to you today on solid ground to shape a new life and to establish peace. We all love this land, the land of God, we all, Moslems, Christians and Jews, all worship God. . . . Any life that is lost in war is a human life, be it that of an Arab or an Israeli. A wife who becomes a widow is a human being entitled to a happy family life, whether she be an Arab or an Israeli. Innocent children who are deprived of the care and compassion of their parents are ours. They are ours, be they living on Arab or Israeli land. They command our full responsibility to afford them a comfortable life today and tomorrow. For the sake of them all, for the sake of the lives of all our sons and brothers, for the sake of affording our communities the opportunity to work for the progress and happiness of man, feeling secure and with the right to a dignified life, for the generations to come, for a smile on the face of every child born in our land, for all that I have taken my decision to come to you, despite all the hazards, to deliver my address.” (Endnote 2)
Sadat’s address proceeded to outline a means to peace in the Middle East based on justice and mutual respect. He added, “No one can build his happiness at the expense of the misery of others.” (Endnote 3) Sadat’s visit to Israel led to more visits, but these would take place at Camp David, a military/presidential retreat located 60 miles from Washington, D.C. Hosting the event was U.S. President Jimmy Carter. (This was about a year before the American hostage crisis with Iran.) After 13 days of intense meetings, Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin signed a rough draft peace treaty, called the Camp David Accords, on September 17, 1978. (The full treaty was signed in 1979.)
One of many significant elements to the treaty was Israel’s act of returning the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. Egypt agreed to keep the region a “demilitarized” zone. For their mutual agreement to the Camp David Accords, both Sadat and Begin received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978. Needless to say, the entire event was unprecedented!
The signing of the Camp David Accords was, in fact, so big that it rocked the Arab world. While many Egyptians claimed to support the peace treaty, and many were glad to gain back the Sinai Peninsula, others felt betrayed by Anwar Sadat. You see, Sadat had changed and softened in many ways since becoming the president of Egypt. For one, he visited the United States to earn favor with the West. Second, he invited Billy Graham to Egypt for a Christian evangelistic rally. (That was surprising!) Third, he visited the Vatican and invited the pope to Cairo. And fourth, he offered refuge to the shah of Iran, a Shiite, when the shah was on his deathbed. All of this was pretty unusual behavior for a Sunni Muslim leader in the heart of the Middle East, which leads us to the tragedy of the story.
The Assassination of Anwar Sadat
On October 6, 1981, Egypt was remembering and celebrating the previous invasion of Israel on Yom Kippur with parades and fanfare. Sitting in the front row of the parade’s grandstand was Anwar Sadat. While jets flew in formation overhead, a vehicle stopped in front of the president. Armed gunmen jumped out of the vehicle and opened fire on the unsuspecting crowd in the grandstand. President Sadat was shot 37 times. The scene was one of complete chaos. Eleven died and 28 were wounded. In the mad shuffle, Vice President Hosni Mubarak was escorted to safety.
A group named the Muslim Brotherhood took responsibility for the assassination of Anwar Sadat. Some of the gunmen were killed that day while others were arrested. Unlike the assassination of John F. Kennedy, there was no mystery behind this murder! Members of the Muslim Brotherhood were publicly avenging what they believed to be betrayal by their own president. Anwar Sadat had dared to make friends with Israel — and paid for it with his life. (The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928, claims to be a peaceful political group seeking only to unify Muslims under Sharia law. As with the assassination of Sadat, their actions are not peaceful!)
After the death of Sadat, Vice President Mubarak declared Egypt to be in a state of emergency. Unfortunately, he kept it that way for 30 years! On paper, Mubarak served as the president of Egypt, but in action, he was a dictator. He established a one-party government that served him and him alone. Egyptians compared his authoritarian regime to those of the ancient pharaohs.
After years of oppression, the Egyptians turned against Mubarak. Starting in January of 2011, thousands of Egyptians gathered in Cairo in a peaceful protest demanding the resignation of their president. Never before in the history of Egypt had such a thing occurred! Within weeks, the voice of the people was heard and Mubarak stepped down from power. At present, a new government is under construction with many groups jockeying for power, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Should they take control of Egypt, Israel will be threatened again, as the Israelis are still not welcome in the Middle East. The world waits, on a nervous edge, for the future of the Middle East to unfold.
I will end this lesson with the words of Anwar Sadat. At one of his last interviews, a reporter asked him, “If you had only three wishes, what would they be?” He answered with sincerity, “One, peace in the Middle East. Two, peace in the Middle East. Three, peace in the Middle East.” (Endnote 4)
For more understanding of the Middle East, don’t miss my first and second posts related to this topic:
- Part 1—The Formation of Israel (1948)
- Part 2—Ayatollah Khomeini Forms the Islamic Republic of Iran (1979)
- “Six-Day War Comprehensive Timeline.” Accessed at: www.sixdaywar.co.uk/timeline.htm.
- “President Anwar Sadat’s Address to the Israeli Knesset.” Accessed on the University of North Carolina ibiblio Web site: www.ibiblio.org/sullivan/docs/Knesset-speech.html.
- “Anwar Sadat.” Accessed on the University of Maryland, Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development, Web site: http://sadat.umd.edu/people/anwar_sadat.htm.