“I took this decision after long thought, knowing that it constitutes a great risk, for God Almighty has made it my fate to assume responsibility on behalf of the Egyptian people, to share in the responsibility of the Arab nation, the main duty of which, dictated by responsibility, is to exploit all and every means in a bid to save my Egyptian Arab people and the pan-Arab nation from the horrors of new suffering and destructive wars, the dimensions of which are foreseen only by God Himself.”—Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat, Speech to the Israeli Knesset, November 20, 1977
Four years after launching the Yom Kippur War, Anwar Sadat (1918-1981) took the extraordinary “great risk” of peace by breaking with other Arab leaders in that region. The statement and the act reminds me of what Michael Collins, saddled with the responsibility of negotiating an end to Ireland’s war of independence with Britain, said at the conclusion of the process: “I may have signed my death warrant tonight.”
Following his public repetition, in a televised interview with CBS anchor Walter Cronkite, that he was prepared to discuss directly with the Knesset (Israeli’s Parliament) his desire for peace—even within a week of receiving the invitation—Sadat found himself before that body outlining his goals and his passion to end the suffering of countless Israelis and Egyptians. That opened the way for a meeting between him and Israeli leader Menachem Begin that resulted in the Camp David accords between their countries.
In 1981, Sadat incurred the full measure of the “great risk” he described to the Knesset, when he was assassinated by Muslim fundamentalists. In the violent statis of today’s Middle East, his overture to Israel remains the most significant step for peace in that troubled region. That is the most tragic commentary of all concerning that area.
(Photograph of Sadat taken at Andrews Air Force Base, January 1, 1980, upon his arrival in the United States for a visit.)