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.