Since the 1981 assassination of her husband, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, Jehan Sadat has created a new identity as a university professor, lecturer and activist for peace and women’s rights. Dividing her time between Egypt and the United States, she has a valuable perspective on both countries—and she is dismayed by what she believes are the damaging misperceptions held by many Americans about her culture and religion.
Sadat’s first book, the best-selling A Woman of Egypt, was the story of her life. Her new one, My Hope for Peace, timed for the 30th anniversary of the Egypt-Israel peace accord, is also personal in tone, but has a more varied mission. Writing for ordinary Americans not familiar with Islam and the Middle East, Sadat focuses on three themes: the imperative for a just, negotiated peace between Arabs and Israelis; the distinction between Islam as a worldwide faith and the horrific behavior of relatively few violent fundamentalists; and the search for peace within ourselves.
Mixing the personal and the political, Sadat uses simple, direct language to explain the basic history and beliefs of Islam. She makes a particular argument that Islam does not oppress women and can be the framework for their education and economic self-reliance. And she drives home the point that the forces behind the 9/11 terror attacks also killed her husband, whom she describes as a believing Muslim devoted to peace and progress. He remains a hero to his widow, who deplores the failure of both Arab and Israeli leaders to follow his example.
Certainly, Sadat sees the Arab-Israeli conflict through the eyes of an Egyptian committed to Palestinian rights. The reader will not find any criticism of the current Egyptian government, nor any friendly words for Ariel Sharon. Her approach is moderate and even-handed, always seeking a peaceful outcome for both sides. Sadat does not provide specific proscriptions, arguing instead that the most vital precursor for any real solution is the genuine intention of peace: “Lack of ideas is not the overwhelming hurdle, but rather the lack of political will and personal courage.”
Anne Bartlett is a journalist in Washington, D.C.