When Anwar Sadat succeeded Gamal Abdel Nasser as President of Egypt in 1970, few people regarded the appointment as anything but a stop-gap.
When Anwar Sadat succeeded Gamal Abdel Nasser as President of Egypt in 1970, few people regarded the appointment as anything but a stop-gap. To the casual observer, it never seemed that Sadat possessed the charisma and political dexterity of his renowned predecessor. But now he is perhaps the indisputed leader of the Arab world.
He set out to carry through the policies which Egypt badly needed, to give his country honourable peace and independence. When he came to power, his country had suffered two resounding defeats at the hands of Israel and was still heavily dependent on military and economic assistance from the Soviet Union.
Sadat, the apparently ineffective leader, saw it as his prime task to re-equip Egypt against a future war with the Israelis. He accepted Soviet aid -- and the political strings attached to it. But then, in a move which astounded the world, he simply ordered the Russians out. And they went.
Similarly, Sadat allowed himself to be courted by the two arch-patriots of the Arab cause, firstly President Assad of Syria and then by Colonel Gaddafi of Libya. Already in association with Syria under the banner of the United Arab Republic, Sadat appeared to listen with interest when Colonel Gaddafi proposed total union between Libya and Egypt.
But in the end, Sadat demonstrated a striking independence of thought. He rejected the merger.
Instead, he turned his mind top the major problem facing Egypt -- the continuing conflict with Israel. For years, Sadat's speeches had rung with talk of war and the need for another and decisive war. He talked so often his words became devalued, but in October last year, he again took the world -- and particularly the Israelis -- by surprise by launching an all-out attack across the Suez Canal.
The military success was almost immediate and, although in the end Israel had regained the initiative, any success in the field was sufficient to raise Egyptian morale to the level of euphoria.
But perhaps Anwar Sadat's greatest triumph has been to extricate his country from that war with a peace formula which enabled Egypt to gain ground, both territorially and politically.
In essence, Sadat's forthright -- and totally Egyptian -- policies have proved that the Israelis are no longer insuperable: that Soviet support is no longer Egypt's only hope of survival: and that cordial relations with the United States, which came about through the peace-finding work of Dr. Kissinger, is no longer a taboo within the Arab world.
By any standard, Egypt is in a better position today than it was when Sadat was sworn in as President in 1970. It has peace, it has independence and it has hopes of economic recovery from years of war-readiness, particularly now that an international effort is being made to re-open the Suez Canal.
The revolution of 1952 which threw out the corrupt regime of King Farouk, gave Egypt the chance to take the leadership of the Arab world. President Nasser seized that opportunity and worked to make himself master of the Arab nations. President Sadat's triumph has been to succeed in putting Egypt's interests first, without damaging its relations with the other Arab states.
Most other nations -- and certainly the most fiery of the Arabs -- have consistently underestimated Sadat. But, after serving his apprenticeship in international affairs under the ebullient Nasser, he has at last emerged as a man with his own gifts of leadership and political perception.