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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

Anwar El Sadat was president of Egypt for nearly 11 years before his assassination on October 6, 1981. In that time, he brought back the country’s multi-party political system, and launched Infitah, or ‘open door’ policy in terms of encouraging foreign investment. He threw out the Russian advisers and initiated economic reforms, ending the public sector’s domination of the economy. Through the ‘Corrective Revolution,’ he expelled many of Egypt’s leaders from the previous Nassar government, including pro-Soviets and other leftists, as well as some liberals and Islamists. He reclaimed the Sinai from Israel in the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

In 1977, Sadat became the first Arab leader to visit Israel and spoke at the Knesset in Jerusalem with his plans for peace between the Arabs and Israelis. Sadat thought Israel would relinquish the Sinai in return for his visit and the promise of peace, and then Egypt would undisputedly lead the Arab world. But it wasn’t that easy. Although Sadat’s visit to Israel created excitement and hope in both countries and the West, he was in trouble with other Arab nations as they didn’t recognize Israel and he didn’t consult with them before his trip to Jerusalem. Similarly, he hadn’t told Jordan of his 1973 war plans.

Meetings between Sadat, Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, and US president Jimmy Carter resulted in the Camp David Accords in 1978, which led to the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty in 1979. Under the agreement, each country was to accept the other’s existence, they would cease their wars which had been going on since 1948, Israel was to make a complete withdrawal from the Sinai, and the Suez Canal was to be freely available to Israeli ships. Israel never doubted Egypt’s legitimacy but many in Egypt questioned Israel’s right to exist and this has continued to the present day. A poll by the Egyptian government in 2006 found that 92 per cent of its residents saw Israel as an enemy. The situation in Israel is the opposite, where 85 per cent of residents in a 2001 poll still supported the Camp David Accords.

If it wasn’t for Sadat, the Camp David Accords may never have happened. It was Sadat who pushed for a bilateral agreement between Egypt and Israel rather than a multi-lateral one involving other Middle Eastern and European countries as favored by the US. He went to Israel in secret and pleaded his case. This led to the Cairo Conference and subsequently the Camp David agreements. The two accords, ‘A Framework for the Conclusion of a Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel’ and ‘A Framework for Peace in the Middle East,’ have led to peace between the two countries for 30 years. Both Sadat and Begin gained international respect and were joint winners of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978.

The Accords allowed Egypt and Israel to commence normal relations in 1980, including trade in crude oil and other commodities, regular airline flights between the countries, and an exchange of ambassadors. The agreements paved the way for the Oslo Accords in 1993 between the Palestinians and Israel, and the Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace in 1994, although neither of these has been as successful as the Camp David Accords.

On the downside of the 1978 Accords was Egypt’s suspension from the Arab League for a decade. Peace in the Middle East was put at risk with a number of Arab and eastern European nations threatening war against Egypt. Many of these countries were opposed to Egypt’s acceptance of Israel’s legitimacy to exist and were also annoyed that Egypt hadn’t negotiated a better deal for the Palestinians. There was a return to militant Islam. Sadat had sought the support of Islamists, and Sharia law had become the basis of Egyptian legislation, but his desire for peace with Israel got the Islamists offside. One of those jailed after his assassination was Ayman al-Zawahiri who joined the global jihad and became an Al-Qaeda leader. But Sadat knew that the Arab world needed Egypt. Jordan re-established relations with Egypt in 1984. Yasir Arafat went to Egypt in 1984 when he left Lebanon rather than head to Syria or Jordan. Egypt was re-admitted to the Arab League in 1989.

A result of the Camp David Accords has been a shift in the issue of peace in the Middle East from an Israeli-Egyptian problem to an Israeli-Palestinian one. This conflict has resulted in much bloodshed and controversy, but has remained more of a local issue than past wars between Israel and Egypt. Had Sadat not expelled the Communists and moved Egypt towards a market economy, and had he not initiated bilateral peace talks with Israel, the situation in the Middle East today may well have been ongoing hostilities between a Russian-backed Egypt along with other Arab nations lending support on the one side and a US-backed Israel on the other.