One of the primary activities of my organization here in Egypt is the translation of articles from the Arabic press into English. We select between twenty to forty articles every week, with an emphasis on religious issues, but not to the exclusion of other factors which also affect Arab-West relations. We also publish our own reports within the weekly selection, which can be analysis of the news, critique of media reporting, or simply a selection of interesting voices which lend toward a broader understanding of the Arab World in general, and of Egypt in particular.
I am not involved in this process on a regular basis. We have a team of native speaking Arabs who provide the translation, and English speaking foreigners who work on the editing. We also have a variety of interns from around the world, including Egypt, who can write reports such as those described above. Although my work lies elsewhere, on occasion I also will have opportunity to contribute.
I have provided here a link to my first report. The work I do will not always be put on display, but when it is appropriate I will also provide reference here in the blog. I am glad that some of my work will also help readers here get a better glimpse of Egyptian society, as well as our small participation in it.
My report summarizes a lecture given by Jihan Sadat, the wife of the former president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated by Muslim extremists, in no small part due to his signature on the Camp David Accords establishing peace with Israel. Here is the text below:
On October 11, 2009 Her Excellency Dr. Mrs. Jehan Sadat presented a lecture to the Women’s Association of Cairo at the Oriental Hall of the American University of Cairo. Mrs. Sadat served as First Lady of Egypt from 1970 until her husband’s assassination at the hands of Muslim extremists on October 6, 1981. Mrs. Sadat began her lecture by noting the incongruity of this day as paying honor to two disparate concepts: a celebration of her husband as a man of peace, and a celebration of war as the means to liberate Sinai from Israeli occupation. Though a principled man of peace his whole life, Mrs. Sadat spoke of the October War, launched on October 6, 1973 by her husband, as a necessary step in achieving peace by demonstrating the strength of Egypt. Having won popular acclaim in Egypt and throughout the Arab World, however, Sadat returned to his peaceful constitution, pursuing a policy of rapprochement with Israel in effort to secure peace in the region. In 1978 Sadat visited Jerusalem and addressed the Knesset, fully aware of the implications of his decision. Furthermore, Mrs. Sadat states, he knew upon signing the Camp David Accords with Israel in 1979 that he could pay for this initiative with his life. Nevertheless, he pressed forward, and though his ideas were rejected entirely by his Arab brothers at the time, leading to Egyptian isolation from the Arab League, today his views are accepted by many, and imitated by some. Mrs. Sadat declares that her husband’s methods are not the only way to achieve peace, but they are the only ways which have worked.
Mrs. Sadat spoke also of her own struggle, stating that she could have fallen into despair and brokenness following her husband’s assassination. She described him as a good husband and father; they traveled everywhere together and considered one another as partners. Yet despite her state, she knew that her husband would be disappointed if she surrendered to her grief, so she has decided to embrace life, looking forward to the day they will be together again, but yet laboring to keep his legacy alive. This she achieves through involvement as a Senior Fellow at the University of Maryland through an endowment for the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development. She also has written a new book, My Hope for Peace, published in March of this year, to promote her and her husband’s efforts for a better world, focusing on principles for peace, and also on the subject of women’s rights.
From the Belfour Declaration in 1917 to the 1948 establishment of the State of Israel, continuing through the 1973 October War and its aftermath, Mrs. Sadat declared that her husband recognized the bloodshed, displacement, and hatred which characterized Arab-Israeli relations, resulting in no clear winning side. Though he had achieved success in the war, his faith pushed him to desire more, believing peace was more important than military victory. In pursuit of this goal he developed five principles which guided his conduct during negotiations and the pursuit of peace.
- All people desire to live in peace
- Realistic and pragmatic admission of the animosity between conflicting sides
- Direct and continual involvement of leadership to drive the engine of peacemaking
- The necessity of forgiveness
- The brotherhood of Arabs and Jews
In commenting on the current possibility for peace, Mrs. Sadat expressed hope. Jordan has followed Egypt in signing a peace accord with Israel, and though recent Israeli policy toward the Palestinians has been belligerent, she believes that Palestinians should be able to coexist with Israel. They should have their own state as well, with Israeli assurances of being able to live in peace. Finally, she praised President Mubarak for his continuation of her husband’s policies, working tirelessly to keep the two sides in negotiation.
Mrs. Sadat also spoke passionately on the subject of women’s rights, highlighting the visit of President Obama to Cairo and his statement that our daughters can contribute to society as much as our sons. She believed that President Obama and her husband would have been good friends. Though her husband shared her convictions on women’s rights, Mrs. Sadat laughed that she continually nagged him about it. “Yes, yes,” he replied, “but I have also to build schools and hospitals; I will get to it eventually.” He did, and the ‘Jehan Laws’, as they are known, helped women achieve greater rights in terms of alimony and child custody following a divorce. Mrs. Sadat declared that women’s rights are not an issue for Islam, rather, it is an issue concerning how certain people practice Islam, and that this is true for any religion. A recent survey conducted by John Esposito of Georgetown University interviewed over forty thousand Muslims in over forty countries, and highlighted that Muslim women around the world want the right to work, to vote, and to serve in government, but are concerned far more about extremism and corruption than they are about issues of dress code. Mrs. Sadat said that religion and rights are not mutually exclusive, and praised the history of feminism in Egypt, urging the current generation to keep their story alive, but noting that their message has been woven into the tapestry of Egyptian culture. She also issued special praise for Mrs. Mubarak for her devotion to the cause of women’s rights, noting that more than ever before Egyptian women are going to school and becoming doctors, ministers, and professionals of all varieties.
Mrs. Sadat closed her remarks by expressing her personal hope that she has made a difference with her life. She hopes that women get their rights, not because they struggle for them, but because they deserve them. She prays for peace everywhere, not just in Egypt, but also in Sudan, in the Middle East, and wherever there is violent conflict. She hopes to leave behind a better world for her three daughters, eight granddaughters, and four great granddaughters. She has lived a full and worthy life, and though she looks forward to standing again side by side with her husband, she will not retire while so many issues, including her husband’s legacy, stand in need of promotion.
Concerning a direct question about the pursuit of peace and reconciliation in the local context, Mrs. Sadat acknowledged that it is not beneficial to go to a village woman and tell her to change her behavior, giving the example of family planning. It is in the interest of the woman and her family to have many children, since they will be put to work to gain income, though underage labor is against Egyptian law. If instead she can be given a job, this will reduce the necessity for her children to work, creating strides in children’s rights, and will encourage her to have less children, thus achieving the desired change. She also commented that mothers, in addition to the educational system, play a vital role in educating children about peace, helping others, and proper human interaction. For the local context especially, economic projects and education are vital in the dissemination of the message of peace.
Extrapolating, then, from the principles of President Sadat, Mrs. Sadat’s lecture provided guidance on the pursuit of local peace. In areas of sectarian conflict, first, it is important to remember that at base, all parties wish ultimately to live in peace. The conflict may have been started by misunderstanding or common affront, but as the complications escalate, it is easy to forget this principle. Second, it requires the realistic understanding that each side has hardened against the other, and the pragmatic planning to overcome mutual antagonism. This is where Mrs. Sadat’s comments about a project are especially poignant; a well designed project will bring people together, starting from the recognition they have not begun that way.
Third, peace and reconciliation is best achieved through the active participation of recognized leadership. Chances of success are few unless local leaders can be convinced to partake, for they have the clout to maintain momentum when individual incidents threaten to derail the process. Outside leadership may be even more powerful. Fourth, forgiveness is absolutely necessary, though this is a message that can only be preached, not enforced. Proponents of peace outside the process must keep forgiveness at the center of their discourse, lest anyone slip into the ease of its neglect in the details of negotiation. Finally, in a similar way, all must hold on to the centrality of the concept of Muslims and Christians as brothers, that this be maintained as an article of faith. Keeping these principles in mind will help guide local peace efforts in the manner they guided President Sadat’s efforts in the international arena. If realized in her own country, it will fulfill Mrs. Sadat’s hopes to have made a difference, to keep her husband’s legacy alive, and to see resolution of her own prayers for peace.
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