May 2, 2005
Peace, friendship at core of Sadat’s distinguished lecture
BY Eric Rangus
Jehan Sedat’s life changed on Oct. 6, 1981. That was the date Muslim extremists assassinated her husband, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat—Nobel Peace Prize Winner (shared with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin) for signing the Camp David Accords in 1978—as he watched a military parade in Cairo. From that point on her life, which always had been quite progressive for a woman in the Middle East, became even more active.
“If anyone had asked me 25 years ago what I’d be doing today, I would have said sitting beside my husband, on a balcony in Cairo overlooking the Nile, and visiting with my children and grandchildren,” said Sadat, who at the time of her husband’s death had been Egypt’s first lady for 11 years.
“When I lost my husband,” she continued. “I wanted to remove myself from public view. I was hurting and my children were hurting.”
Sadat rallied, though, resuming her teaching career and devoting her life to peace around the world—especially in the Middle East. She spoke about those efforts, as well as those of her late husband and one of his best friends, former President Jimmy Carter, at the 2005 Rosalyn Carter Distinguished Lecture in Public Policy, Monday, April 25, in Glenn Auditorium.
“Tragedy changes lives,” said Sadat, who teaches international relations as the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland-College Park. “For some, we demonstrate heartfelt compassion. With others, we turn small assumptions into larger disagreements.”
With that she launched into the core of her discussion: the struggle for peace and justice around the world. Her multilayered address focused not only on the importance of peace in the Middle East but that of social justice beyond silencing gunfire.
“The absence of war doesn’t guarantee peace,” Sadat said. “Human suffering does not stop with the end of violence. Hearts must weep, but heads must work, whether we are people in power or just regular citizens.”
Sadat said it’s important for Americans not to paint the Arab and Muslim worlds with a broad brush of anti-Americanism, and added that it is just as important for Muslim nations, particularly moderate ones, not to think all Americans hate them. She said that what the Arab world most wants is to be partners in the peace process, just as Egypt was at Camp David.
“Making peace in the Middle East is the most powerful weapon against extremists,” Sadat said, speaking not only of the war in Iraq but also of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Peace is the answer. President Sadat and President Carter knew this. My husband gave his life for it.”
The Carter lecture, which debuted in 1993, is co-sponsored by the Department of Women’s Studies. It honors women who have played significant roles in shaping public policy. Sadat’s public works as Egyptian first lady from 1970–81, as well as before and after that time, are many.
Sadat organized the Talla Society (named after the district where her husband was born) for the empowerment of impoverished village women in Egypt; founded the first rehabilitation center in the Middle East for disabled veterans and civilians; founded the Arab-African Women’s League; and organized a movement to reform Egypt’s civil rights laws. Some of those reforms included property rights for divorced women and extended rights to child custody; in her introduction of Sadat, Rosalynn Carter said many of these laws are known in Egypt as “Jehan’s laws.”
Sadat came to the United States in 1985 and, prior to establishing the Sadat chair at Maryland, taught at the University of South Carolina, Radford University and American University. Currently she lives six months of the year in the States and six months in Egypt.
Like their husbands were, Carter and Sadat are close friends, and some of the most engaging stories came from the intimate details they revealed. Some were funny: In her introduction of Sadat, Carter spoke of the first time Jehan met her husband—shortly after her cousin had hit her in the face with a mango. Others were tense: Carter spoke of the stressful negotiations of the Camp David Accords. As she sat outside the meeting room with Mrs. Carter and Mrs. Sadat, Susanne Mubarek (wife of then-Egyptian Vice President and current President Hosni Mubarak who also was in attendance) was clenching her fists so tightly that her hands bled.
Sadat, during her address, summed up her connection with Carter nicely. “My dear friend Rosalynn Carter and I know what it is like to be the wife of
a great man,” she said.