Taking a seat in history
President Anwar El-Sadat is remembered in two museums. Amira El-Noshokaty compares them
Thirty years after the October 1973 war and 22 years after the assassination that shook the world, two permanent exhibitions are being set up to highlight the life and career of President Anwar El- Sadat. A special gallery at the Pharaonic Village on Jacob's Island on the Giza side of the Nile has placed events and mementos of his life on display, and Sadat's home town has also paid attribute to him with a modest museum.
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Sadat directing from the operations room during the October War; signing the Camp David Accords with Carter and Begin at the White House in 1978
Sadat stands trial for the assassination of Amin Osman; Sadat and colleagues; the Free Officers after their revolution; Sadat and Nasser; a pensive Sadat; the Norwegian Nobel Committee's announcement of the Peace Prize; wedding day with wife Jihan; strolling with family
Flanking a photo of Sadat's funeral procession are images of the president enjoying his last moments in 1981 and in a moment of levity with pipe
The Sadat annex at the Pharaonic Village is the latest in a series of special displays set up here to document all major components of Egyptian history: Pharaonic, Hellenistic, Coptic, Islamic, the era of Gamal Abdel-Nasser, and now Sadat. The scope of the village, which aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the Egyptian story, past and present, is well on its way to achieving its goal.
According to Mohamed Kamal, deputy general manager of the village, all the facts and historical data are based on literary evidence. These include Sadat's own book, In Search of Identity; Keeping Faith by former American President Jimmy Carter; the biography of Sadat's wife, Gihan El-Sadat, and Sadat: the Truth and the Myth by Moussa Sabri. "Some of Sadat's personal belongings were given to us for exhibition by his wife," Kamal says.
In the large, square exhibition hall one is greeted with a colour photograph of the late president in military uniform. To the right are snapshots in black and white and colour, vignettes of his personal life: his wedding and delightful, informal pictures taken with his children and grandchildren. On the partition walls are carefully chosen scenes relating to his political life.
"We focussed on the photographs to portray the diverse aspects of his life and personality," Kamal told Al-Ahram Weekly. The images reveal Sadat the man as well as Sadat the politician.
He was born the second of four children in the family of a modestly paid officer. One photograph shows the house in the village of Mit Abul-Kom in Menufiya governorate where he was born on 25 December 1918. When he was a small boy his family moved to Cairo where he continued his schooling; another photograph shows him in class.
Sadat's political activism did not surface until 1937 when he enrolled in the military academy. In February 1938, just nine months after his admission, he graduated with the rank of second lieutenant and was posted to Manqabad in Upper Egypt, where he first met Gamal Abdel-Nasser. Sadat continued as an officer in the Egyptian army until 1942, when he was imprisoned for attempting to collaborate with the German army. After his release he took part in a failed assassination attempt on the life of the prime minister, Mustafa El- Nahhas, and in the assassination of Amin Osman, a British sympathiser, for which he was imprisoned a second time.
After his release and the loss of his position as an army officer he worked at menial jobs -- a porter at the railway station, digging ditches, transporting refuse -- until he was reinstated in the army in 1951. He immediately joined the Free Officers group, and in 1952 it was he who made the public announcement of the revolution on national radio.
Sadat was appointed editor-in-chief of Al- Gumhuriya daily newspaper in 1953, a minister of state in 1954, secretary-general of the Islamic Congress in 1955, and Nasser's vice-president in 1969. On 15 October 1970, following the death of Nasser, Sadat was elected president.
Sadat inherited a nation in a political quagmire. Egypt had been defeated in 1967 war with Israel, Sinai had been lost, and he was faced with no easy task leading a nation in the face of such military and moral reversals.
The words of Henry Kissinger to Sadat, as recounted by Hafez Ismail in Egypt During the Sadat Years by Kirk J Beattie, are worth quoting. Kissinger warned: "You have to change the status quo, the situation that you are in; but I am not inviting Sadat to change the situation militarily, if he tries that, Israel will win another time by an even greater measure than she won in June 1967."
Kissinger could not have been more wrong. In 1973 Sadat led and won the Sixth of October war, a victory that was completed through an impetus for political negotiations that ultimately brought about the return of Sinai and resulted in Sadat's receiving the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize.
The draft of the Camp David treaty is one of the most important, and certainly the most interesting item on display at the Pharaonic Village. It is the original draft, brought from the Carter Centre in the US, of a document that charted the destiny not only of Egypt and Israel, but the whole of the Middle East. This chapter in history is told in a confidential document, handwritten on yellow pages, marked in the margins and underscored. Between 5 and 17 September 1978 words were added or crossed out, so that this document, which bears the handwriting of the two leaders, Jimmy Carter and Anwar El-Sadat, unveils the secret negotiations that took place in 13 historic days.
Facing the draft are photographs of the procedures. They too are rare photos obtained from the Carter Centre, along with a videotape of the Camp David negotiations. This will soon be shown in the exhibition.
At one side of the rear of the hall is a huge replica of the October war battlefield which clearly demonstrates that the main element for victory was that it was so unexpected. On the other side are photographs of the Egyptian air force, some of the president's personal belongings, newspaper clippings, and finally, towards the door, photographs of Sadat's funeral. He was assassinated in 1981 at the hands of religious fanatics during the annual Sixth of October parade.
One photograph, which faces those of his funeral, shows Sadat looking up as he watched the air show moments before the assassins in the military parade reached the presidential stand. It was the last taken of him.
Homage to Anwar El-Sadat at his home village is on a much more personal scale. Mit Abul-Kom lies an hour's drive north of Cairo, off the Cairo- Alexandria agricultural road. A sign points to the village. On the main road is a cream-coloured fence, and pink flowers peek near a sign written in Arabic calligraphy: Dar El-Salaam, the House of Peace. This is the rest-house where Sadat spent much of his time, and where he also met fellow politicians and journalists.
Here is a different Sadat. Before the glass and metal entrance is a photograph of the president walking in the village, Qur'an in hand. This is a more personal account of his life. The spacious house was renovated and opened to the public in 1997, and is now under the authority of the Sadat family.
Beside a panorama of photographs of various aspects of his life and times are two bookshelves. One holds the 13 books he wrote, and the other books written about him. There is a large television set on which most of his memorial speeches will be shown on demand, though without subtitles. In a spacious corner are some of his personal belongings: his robe, his cane -- carved by his own hand and which, according to the museum guide, he called "the cane of the Pharaoh". On the side walls are display areas that contain his many trophies. Among these are his Nobel prize and the honourary citizen's award of Chicago dated 30 October 1975. Here is the military uniform he wore the day he was assassinated, his blood still visible, his sedairi (waistcoat), hat and rifle, his famous pipes. There is also a collection of stamps bearing his image, his driving licence and his prayer rugs.
Pharaonic Village, Jacob's Island, Giza. Tel: 5688601/5688627
The Sadat Museum, Mit Abul-Kom. Tel: 048 740700 (Entrance free, no cameras allowed).