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Anwar Sadat's Historic Journey, 25 Years Later

A quarter-century after his historic visit to Jerusalem, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's legacy continues to be debated in the Arab world and in Israel. On Morning Edition, NPR's Bob Edwards looks back at Sadat's 44-hour visit to Jerusalem, which was highlighted by the Egyptian leader's speech to the Israeli parliament.

"I come to you today on solid ground to shape a new life and to establish peace," Sadat told the Knesset. "But to be absolutely frank with you, I took this decision after long thought, knowing that it constitutes a great risk... "

At the time, Sadat's trip was considered remarkable and it created excitement in both countries and around the world. Egypt and Israel were sworn enemies, having fought each other in four Arab-Israeli wars. Arabs had previously refused substantial diplomatic contact with the Jewish state.

The trip led to a peace treaty betwen Egypt and Israel in 1979

Perception of Sadat's historic trip was -- and is -- mixed, especially between Israelis and Arabs. Hirsch Goodman, a senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University, says, in Israel, Sadat was as much a popular hero as he was a diplomatic hero.

"Israelis remember him very, very fondly..." Goodman says. "He's seen as a man who if there were more like him in this world, then perhaps we'd be able to live in peace."

At a time when Israel considered itself militarily superior to its Arab neighbors, Goodman says, Sadat "realized that he had to make a dramatic gesture that would position Egypt as an equal so that it could then make peace with Israel. You cannot make peace on your knees."

Mohammed Kamal, an assistant professor of political science at Cairo University, says the Egyptian people generally supported Sadat's visit to Israel because they thought it would help their economic conditions improve, a hope that largely did not materialize. But people in other Arab countries felt Sadat "split the so-called Arab front" against Israel. "He went his own way. He didn't even consult with the Arab countries before he decided to go to Jerusalem," Kamal says.

Nevertheless, Sadat's legacy in Egypt is one of peace. "For 25 years, you have had peace with Israel and I think this is a great achievement. Yes, it's a cold peace but nevertheless, it's peace."

In 1981, Sadat was gunned down in Cairo by Islamist radicals. Kamal says Sadat was assassinated not so much for going to Jerusalem but because he believed in developing a good relationship with the West. Fundamentalists, Kamal says, "had a different vision of Egypt."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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