Monthly Archives: July 2021

A Courageous Woman with a Vision

Jehan Sadat. former First Lady of Egypt (1970-1981) and professor of International Studies,
University of Maryland

A tribute to a woman who walked in peace within a region of constant turmoil–Jehan Raouf Sadat. She died on July 9 at 87 after living a full life in the Middle East and as an academic in the United States. I did not know her personally but my friends at the University of Maryland had a high regard for her. Through them I gained a particular respect for her vision.

Although she was young at 15 when she married the up-and-coming Egyptian military officer, Anwar Sadat, and he twice her age, it did not muffle her voice. She became a partner in his quest to challenge the British occupation of Egypt in the 1940s.

Rather than be a seen-and-not -heard First Lady in 1970 when he became Egyptian President, Jehan Sadat used her post to become a proponent for women’s rights. She influenced the country’s civil rights legislation and advanced laws, referred to as the “Jehan Laws”, which have given women in Egypt a range of new civil rights, such as the right to child support and custody in the event of divorce.

In 1972 she set up a charitable Rehabilitation Center to assist disabled veterans and other Egyptians inflicted with disabilities. The center also serves visually impaired children and has a music and choir band. known throughout the world. She established The Egyptian Society for Cancer Patients, SOS Children’s Villages in Egypt and headed the national blood drive. She headed the Egyptian delegation to the UN International Women’s Conferences in Mexico City and Copenhagen and founded the Arab-African Women’s League. Five years later she received a bachelor’s degree in Arabian Literature from the University of Cairo.

The First Lady gave her full support to her husband’s attempt to bring peace to the Middle East after several brutal wars had been fought. President Sadat came to Washington, DC in 1979 to sign the Peace Accords with Meacham Begin with President Jimmy Carter. Powerful members of his own military believed the signature represented treason against Egypt. In 1981 Sadat was assassinated by members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad during an annual victory parade in Cairo.

Mrs. Sadat mourned her husband but went on to continue her studies in Arabic literature, in which first completed in 1977 at Cairo University after her four children were grown. She continued to complete a PhD. In Arabic literature at age 52, six years after the death of her husband. She spent time in the Uni ted States as an academic at the University of South Carolina and the University of Maryland. At the latter she served as a senior fellow and a professor of international studies (1993). There she worked to establish the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace & Development there in 1997. Jehan Sadat said she “didn’t want to see starving children or weeping mothers who has lost their sons, so her husband did not die in vain.”

While the days of peace in the Middle East seem now to be a distant memory, if it has been nearly achieved once, the desire described by Mrs. Sadat—to prevent hungry orphans and the mourning of families over their lost sons and daughters—and the hope that the billions of dollars squandered on the instruments of war could be better spent providing for generations to come on both sides—remains alive. Has nothing been learned over the centuries?  It is not the land but the people who hold the value?  The youth now being lost could be the salvation for their countries–and the Middle Eastern region. They hold the ideas to resurrect the future and the ability to move their nations forward. With each volley of missiles, the Middle East dims its future and limits its ability to extinguish the rancor of opponents and shake off the horrendous history of blood. They diminish the opportunity to rise above the mayhem to build a prosperous future—not repeat the sins of the past ad nauseum.  This is what Jahen Sadat hoped to create. Even though she did not live to see it, we cannot abandon her vision.

What Does Freedom Mean?

Kellen Lenz artwork, July 2019

What Does Freedom Mean?

Updated post from what seems a decade past—just a year ago.

My best July 4th? A picnic on the National Mall, red-and-white checkered tablecloth laid out with fried chicken, butter-dripping off the corn-on-the-cob, and large slices of watermelon as we listened to Washington’s Symphony play John Phillip Sousa’s marching tunes. Inevitably my daughter would need a Porta-Potty visit when they broke into my all-time favorite, Aaron Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. We would be back in time for the opening bars of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture complete with cannons—the signal that fireworks would begin.

Not just any fireworks, but the loudest, most colorful display we would ever see. Red, green, blue, yellow, purple bursts high above us that seemed the size of a city-block—one on top of another, then side-to-side, flipping and disappearing, so another could appear to complete with a waterfall of white bursts shimmering nearly to the ground.

Washington’s fireworks are also the smokiest display with the smell of gunpowder descending into the audience, bringing me back to the origin of July 4, 1776. Fifty-six men from the 13 Colonies (it was just men then, but there were strong women, like Abigail Adams, behind them) signed the Declaration of Independence.

By signing they were acting against a powerful British Crown and several of them paid dearly for their bravery. Five men were tortured and killed by the British for treason. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons as Revolutionary soldiers and two other sons were captured.

How are we addressing freedom as we reopen the country following the Pandemic? A year ago, my blog “Celebrating a Nation of Promise and Contradictions” touched on some of the challenges we face. We realize that “freedom” is not doled out equally, neither economically, in the health care we receive, or based on the color of our skin. In the Pandemic we have been fighting a ghost that we cannot see. Months, now over a year, confined to working from home (or finally slowly going back, but much has changed) or still attempting to find work to replace what was lost. Now two million women have left the workforce in part due to the lack of dependable childcare and the need to be at home with children released from school learning online due to the Pandemic. What happens to financial freedom for those still struggling to pull themselves up from economic ruin?

The nation’s been a financial colossus, leading the world in—Gross National Product in January 2020 was over $19.5 trillion, and growing 2.1 percent. Obviously, it dropped in July 2020, to $17.4 trillion, but already has come back to $19.6 even though several million workers are still looking for work. The last few months the unemployed ranks have dropped, giving positive direction to the economy.

As adults we can get bogged down with our responsibilities as we struggle to weave our own safety nets. Freedom has more than one meaning when you are in close quarters with others—you cannot be free yourself if you are endangering others the phrase “what goes around comes around,” seems trite, but we see we are not at the end of this yet. Today we are averaging 2,000 new Covid cases a day nationwide. Much better than the 55,000 cases diagnosed per day a year ago. We cannot move forward without recognizing the 608,741 people lost to the virus as of July 3, 2021. And what over half a million lives lost means to their families and friends, and to the entire nation.

Freedom requires responsibility. We have a new meaning for freedom. It is being part of something greater than yourself. I suspect if we were being invaded by Martians, I hoped we would work together to protect our planet and our families. There would be no red or blue factions.

Enjoy the fried chicken and the tangy barbeque, corn-on-the-cob, and watermelon. Squeeze your family and carefully send up some fireworks, unless you live in drought areas, then have the kids paint some bright-colored facsimiles and appreciate you are not inhaling smoke!  We have got some work to do– we have become painfully aware of that this past year. But we are pulling away from one of the greatest challenges we have faced. Now let us begin to move forward…together.