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History, Egypt Under Sadat

Anwar al-Sadat, shuttle diplomacy, Camp David Accords, Syrian forces, Israeli officers

Anwar al-Sadat, who had been vice president under Nasser, became president upon Nasserís death. Sadat was generally assumed to be too weak to hold power for long. He surprised everyone in May 1971 by removing Nasserís most trusted lieutenants from key leadership positions. Sadat quickly gained popular support by repealing many censorship policies, calling for a new constitution, and changing the countryís name to the Arab Republic of Egypt.

Sadat's early initiatives in foreign policy were less successful. He proposed peace with Israel, calling for an Israeli pullback from the Suez Canal in exchange for Egyptís renunciation of war. His proposal fell on deaf ears. Libya desired union with Egypt, and in 1971 there was hope for a broader federation including Syria and Sudan, but no union ever occurred. In 1971 Sadat signed a friendship treaty with the USSR, but it did not enable him to buy from Moscow the weapons he wanted. Frustrated that the USSR was not providing Egypt with enough weapons, Sadat asked in July 1972 that most of the Soviet military advisers in Egypt leave the country.

Sadat came under increasing domestic pressure to initiate a new war against Israel to recapture the territories lost in 1967. He had hoped that the expulsion of most Soviet military advisers in 1972 would prompt the United States, now Israelís chief ally, to seek reconciliation with Egypt, but there was no such move on the part of the United States. Meanwhile, the leaders of Israel believed that the Soviet exodus would reduce Egypt's war-making potential, and so they discounted the possibility of an Egyptian attack. In September 1973, during an Israeli election campaign in which the leading candidates favored keeping the captured territories, Sadat made a secret agreement with Syria to attack Israeli positions in the Sinai and in the Golan Heights, Syrian territory that Israel had captured in the 1967 war.

The joint attack, begun on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur and during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, broke through the Israeli defenses. Egyptian forces advanced into the Sinai as Syrian forces retook part of the Golan Heights. Neither Egypt nor Syria fully capitalized on their initial gains, however, and soon the Israelis, completely mobilized and rearmed by the United States, went on the offensive. After 18 days of fighting, Israel broke through the Egyptian lines, crossed the Suez Canal, and seized portions of the canalís west bank down to Suez City. The UN Security Council passed resolutions calling for immediate negotiations between the warring parties. A Soviet threat to attack Israel and a U.S. threat of nuclear war finally ended the conflict. After the fighting ended, Egyptian and Israeli officers met in an attempt to disengage their troops.

Following negotiations by U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger with Sadat and Israeli prime minister Golda Meir, the Egyptian and Israeli governments agreed to a peace conference in Geneva, Switzerland, in December 1973. The meeting adjourned after one day and was not reconvened. In January 1974 Kissinger began traveling between Egypt and Israel, negotiating with the countriesí leaders in a technique known as shuttle diplomacy. His efforts produced a disengagement agreement that allowed Egypt to keep territory it had recaptured east of the Suez Canal and established a buffer zone separating the Egyptian and Israeli forces in the Sinai. Sadat agreed to reopen the Suez Canal and to allow the passage of ships to and from Israel. The two governments reached an interim agreement whereby Israel withdrew from additional Egyptian territory in return for a pledge by Egypt not to go to war with Israel.

As Egypt edged toward better relations with Israel, Sadat began a domestic economic policy, known as infitah (meaning "opening"), that encouraged private investment in Egypt. He hoped to stimulate Egyptís economy, which had stagnated under Nasserís brand of socialism and the effects of two wars with Israel. In the mid-1970s Sadat drew away from the USSR, terminating the 1971 friendship treaty between the two nations, and moved closer to the United States. Continued economic troubles and the election of a conservative government in Israel prompted him to take drastic action to end the costly conflict with Israel. In 1977 Sadat made a historic visit to Israelís parliament in Jerusalem to offer a peace settlement.

Sadatís visit to Jerusalem produced no immediate progress, but his initiative led to further meetings and negotiations between Egypt and Israel. In September 1978 U.S. president Jimmy Carter invited Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin to the presidential retreat in Camp David, Maryland, to continue negotiations. Although the Palestinians and almost all the other Arab governments opposed Sadatís actions, Sadat signed the Camp David Accords, a framework for peace that provided for Israelís phased withdrawal from the Sinai in return for full diplomatic ties with Egypt. Further negotiations led to a comprehensive peace treaty between Egypt and Israel in 1979.

Most Egyptians hailed Sadatís peace policy, mainly because they hoped that it would improve economic conditions. Instead, the economy suffered further from a boycott by Arab nations that opposed Egyptís separate peace with Israel. Egypt also became politically isolated from the Arab world. It was expelled from the Arab League, and the leagueís headquarters was moved from Cairo to Tunis, Tunisia.

In 1978 Sadat tried to promote political freedom by replacing the one-party political system under the Arab Socialist Union with a multiparty system. However, he tolerated no criticism of his peace with Israel and continued to suppress socialist and Islamist groups that he deemed subversive. In September 1981 he ordered the arrest of some 1,500 dissident political and intellectual leaders, thereby alienating most educated Egyptians. In addition, he imposed a state of emergency to prevent the Islamist groups from gaining power. On October 6, 1981, while reviewing a military parade in Cairo commemorating Egyptís victory in the 1973 war, Sadat was assassinated by a group of Islamist officers. Egyptian security forces unearthed a widespread conspiracy of terrorists alienated by Sadatís peace with Israel and the socioeconomic problems caused by his infitah policies. Few Egyptians or other Arabs mourned Sadatís death.



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