24 Mar

Him in Hindsight, by Jehan Sadat

Former first lady Jehan Sadat talks to Gamal Nkrumah about the poignant influences on her politics and the release of her latest bombshell on the 30th anniversary of the monumental signing of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty


A light flickering on and off in Jehan Sadat’s sunlit sitting room is bugging one of her numerous cats, Jerry, I think the chubby ginger cat is called. He soon bores of the insubstantial and turns to me. Purring softly, as I stroke him, he eyes my notepad with curious suspicion. “I love my cats,” her brilliant emerald eyes sparkle with delight. She clicks her thumb and index finger, hunting for the right expression and apologises when he flies off at a tangent. “Cats are full of character. Small wonder the ancient Egyptians deified them.”

And, the conversation smoothly shifts towards the spiritual. “To include faith as a principle for peace in the Middle East seems at best counterintuitive. How can religion, which seems the source of so much misery in the region, do anything other than prove a divisive, countervailing influence to efforts towards peace? For me, the answer is simple: God, whether according to the Muslim, Christian, or Jewish tradition, enjoins us to treat others as we would ourselves be treated, to be compassionate, to be forgiving, to love our fellow human beings. God does not need to lead us to confrontations or brutality in his name. These actions represent the formulations and frailties of humankind.” We chatter, touching further on the subject of personal faith, deep religious conviction as opposed to superficial ritualistic religious lore — and above all God.

For Jehan Sadat religion is no abstraction: it is practical, functional and yet she confesses that she is instinctively drawn to the mystical. “I believe that events in our lives happen for a purpose, and yet sometimes marvel at the circumstances that have brought me, in some ways, full circle — face-to-face with a part of my life that I find most painful,” she smiles faintly without a trace of remorse.

“When my husband was slain by Islamic extremists, I never imagined that I would one day be living in America, speaking out in an effort to counter the idea that extremists speak for Islam. It would not have occurred to me in 1981 that the example set by my husband’s murderers could one day be seen as representative of my faith.” For her, there is no compulsion in religion, as Islam so explicitly makes clear.

“For me, being a good Muslim does not mean abjuring criticism or silencing dissent within our own communities.” Her dramatic rise from a cloistered childhood in the then leafy island suburb of Manial to the distinction of first lady is something of a fairytale.

Jehan is no shrinking violet. She has faced down many moments of despair with dignity and poise. She recalls forbidding moments that altered the course of her life, especially the assassination of her beloved Anwar. “Our nation seemed poised at the very edge of fiery conflagration, with fanatics on both sides fanning the flames.”…………………………………………………………….

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