The Aftermath of Camp David and the Assassination of Sadat

Egypt Table of Contents

The Camp David Accords brought peace to Egypt but not prosperity. With no real improvement in the economy, Sadat became increasingly unpopular. His isolation in the Arab world was matched by his increasing remoteness from the mass of Egyptians. While Sadat's critics in the Arab world remained beyond his reach, increasingly he reacted to criticism at home by expanding censorship and jailing his opponents. In addition, Sadat subjected the Egyptians to a series of referenda on his actions and proposals that he invariably won by more than 99 percent of the vote. For example, in May 1979 the Egyptian people approved the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty by 99.9 percent of those voting.

One of Sadat's most remarkable acts during this period was the so-called Law of Shame, which was drafted at Sadat's express instructions. Among the shameful crimes punishable under this law were "advocating any doctrine that implies negation of divine teaching," "allowing children or youth to go astray by advocating the repudiation of popular, religious, moral, or national values or by setting a bad example in a public place," and "broadcasting or publishing gross or scurrilous words or pictures that could offend public sensibilities or undermine the dignity of the state." Offenders could be barred from public life or from engaging in economic activity or managing their own property; they could be condemned to internal exile or prohibited from leaving the country. The Law of Shame was approved in a referendum by 98.56 percent of the electorate. This was remarkable since there was widespread opposition to the law, which was denounced as "an act of shame."

In May 1980, an impressive, nonpartisan body of citizens charged Sadat with superseding his own constitution. Their manifesto declared, "The style in which Egypt is governed today is not based on any specific form of government. While it is not dictatorship, Nazism, or fascism, neither is it democracy or pseudodemocracy."

In September 1981, Sadat ordered the biggest roundup of his opponents since he came to power, at least 1,500 people according to the official figure but more according to unofficial reports. The Muslim Brotherhood bore the brunt of the arrests. The supreme guide of the Brotherhood, Umar Tilmasani, and other religious militants were arrested. Sadat also withdrew his "recognition" of the Coptic pope Shenudah III, banished him to a desert monastery, and arrested several bishops and priests. Also arrested were such prominent figures as journalist Mohamed Heikal, and Wafd leader Fuad Siraj ad Din. Sadat ordered the arrest of several SLP leaders and the closing of Ash Shaab (The People) newspaper. A referendum on his purge showed nearly 99.5 percent of the electorate approved.

On October 6, while observing a military parade commemorating the eighth anniversary of the October 1973 War, Sadat was assassinated by members of Al Jihad movement, a group of religious extremists. Sadat's assassin was Lieutenant Colonel Khalid al Islambuli. The conspirators were arrested and tried. In April 1982, two of the conspirators were shot and three hanged.

Whereas a number of Western leaders, including three former United States presidents, attended Sadat's funeral, only one member of the Arab League was represented by a head of state, Sudan. Only two, Oman and Somalia, sent representatives. In Egypt 43 million people went on with the celebration of Id al Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, as if nothing had happened. There were no throngs in the streets, grieving and lamenting, as there were when Nasser died. In the Arab world, Sadat's death was greeted with jubilation.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress