The former president shall never cease to be controversial, writes Dina Ezzat
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First Lady Suzanne Mubarak and former first lady Jihan El-Sadat inaugurated the Sadat Museum on Tuesday...
If Egyptians were to choose the most controversial leader in their nation's long history, former president Anwar El-Sadat would find his name easily placed on a short list of contenders. Throughout his political career, during his 10- year presidency from 1971 to 1981, and beyond his tragic assassination as he was commemorating the October War, Sadat always managed to be controversial in his domestic and foreign policy actions and statements.
Next month, when the world celebrates 30 years of peace between Egypt and Israel, Sadat will once again be subject to a serious debate between those who will readily argue that he wrecked Arab rights when he pursued an ultimately unilateral peace deal with Israel, and those who would argue that the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement signed in 1979 between Sadat and former Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin was a political coup that reflects a vision which many Arab countries failed to see at the time.
This week, however, Sadat proved that his ability to remain controversial is way above average. The inauguration of the Sadat Museum at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina drew the attention of fans and critics alike. There is already a Sadat museum in his hometown village Meit Abul- Kom in the Delta. The one in Lower Egypt was established by a nephew of Sadat who is at odds with Jihan Sadat, the former first lady who was by accounts no less controversial than her husband.
At the Bibliotheca Alexandrina on Tuesday afternoon, such squabbles receded, as First Lady Suzanne Mubarak and Mrs Sadat inaugurated the museum . "It was upon the initiative of Mrs Mubarak that we worked on the Sadat Museum along with Mrs Sadat," said Khaled Azab of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. Azab said it took over a year of research and documentation to be ready to open the museum and a website for it.
As of tomorrow visitors to the library in Alexandria will be able to tour the 280 square-metre museum and to inspect a small collection of Sadat's medals and personal belongings. Visitors will be able to look at hand-written notes of the ex-president, the office in which he sat to study home and foreign political matters, and a massive number of photos depicting a presidency marked by much political commotion.
What visitors will not see are the signs of controversy that Sadat stimulated or was confronted with, either when he opted, and ultimately managed, to redesign the nation's economic and social schemes, or when he opted for the most shocking of political decisions. The signs of the harsh opposition that Sadat faced during his decade in office both at home and across the Arab world are muted by a carefully designed illuminated image that the museum puts out.
The military suit that Sadat was wearing when assassinated on 6 October 1981 by Islamists angry with his home and foreign policies, particularly his peace with Israel, is perhaps the most significant reminder that this president's story was not a fairy tale but of a leader who might still be called "hero of war and peace", as he liked to be described, but whose opposition was angry enough to shoot him dead on the anniversary of the one war in which Arabs were not completely defeated by Israel.
"What we are offering here is not a detailed account of the legacy of the late president Sadat but rather a profile of what Sadat offered," Ismail Serageddin, director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, said when the museum was under construction. On Tuesday, upon the inauguration of the museum, Serageddin said, "this museum is a sign of gratitude to a man who gave his life to serve his nation and who dared to go to war as in peace."
And according to Amr Chalabi, supervisor of the Sadat Museum, "today young men and women younger than 25 will be able to learn much about Sadat, if they come visit the museum."
It is for historians to discuss whether the Sadat Museum offers more or less. However, what it displays is sufficient to give a good glance- through of the rule of Sadat and even a glimpse into his personal taste and style if the visitor takes the time to look at a collection of hair and shaving brushes and some sleeping attire and suits of the one Egyptian president who was known for a keen interest in elegance.
"This museum is designed in a way that will help people think and discuss rather than anything else," said Hussein Chabouri, designer of the Sadat Museum. The way the museum displays its collection, Chabouri said, is meant to offer the visitor "the many faces of Sadat -- the political leader who went all over the world, the simple citizen who enjoyed small things like a little corner where he listened to and recited the Quran, and indeed the man whose mind was consumed by so many thoughts that he often chose to write them down for contemplation."
It is not clear whether the museum will attract its supposedly targeted audience of men and women born after or around the 1970s and 1980s.
One thing is clear: the Sadat Museum and its website will contribute to a wealth of information accumulated throughout the past quarter of a century on this man whose name will always be associated with the history and future of the Arab-Israeli struggle.