The magic time when Americans could be optimistic about the Middle-East... and an Arab leader was revered
WDEL Blog: Allan Loudell Tuesday, October 27, 2015On this date in 1978, the Nobel committee announced the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize: Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Sadat became the first Muslim to become a Nobel laureate.
To younger folks, I keep trying to explain how U.S. psychology about the Middle-East was so different during that period. Sadat became an immensely popular figure in the United States and appeared frequently on the evening news and interview shows.
During those heady times, almost anything seemed possible. President Jimmy Carter personally invested incredible time and energy to produce one of the two greatest achievements of his Presidency.
[What the U.S. media didn't cover in very much detail at the time was Sadat's suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood, and occasionally, Coptic Orthodox Christians -- a delicate balance.]
I was a student at the University of Illinois during that period, and when I heard Sadat was coming to Chicago, I missed a day of classes so I could cover the Egyptian president for my college radio station. I experienced a problem with credentials when I arrived at the Chicago hotel where Sadat would take questions from reporters, but Egyptian security waved me in.
I'll never forget. Dressed in a sharp pinstriped suit, Sadat spoke in a booming voice which reverberated around the room. A charismatic foreign leader. Yes, I did get to ask him a question. Never had the leader of an Arab country "captured" Middle America.
But that may have become his central problem. A darling in U.S. media, but increasingly alienating ordinary Egyptians, who remained embarrassed over Egypt's stalemate in that 1973 Middle-East war.
The 1978 Camp David accords and the 1979 Egyptian--Israeli peace treaty were the final straw. The magic - for Americans - evaporated October 7th, 1981, when Islamists assassinated Sadat during a military parade. This was really a foreshadowing of the decades to come.
Sadat may have deluded himself about security. I remember reading that he waved tighter security; he couldn't believe that he would be vulnerable in such an environment. President Carter later said in reaction to the assassination: "There was no sign of fear about Sadat. And I think he feels God will take care of him. He has a very remarkable sense of destiny."
During that celebration of Egypt's Armed Forces Day, French Mirage jet fighters flew nosily overhead, which actually diverted attention as several soldiers riding in a truck leaped to the ground and advanced to the reviewing stand for Sadat and his entourage. Some people thought the soldiers' advance was part of the performance. One soldier hurled a grenade while others began firing their weapons. Enter the words "Islamic Jihad".
I happened to working as the morning news anchor/reporter at the top A.M. urban station in Memphis at the time, and I recall some folks drawing parallels to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. It might have helped that Sadat was a man of color, reflecting his Sudanese mother. [And of course, Memphis derives its name from ancient Memphis, Egypt, and has seen displays of Egyptian antiquities over the years.]
Posted at 10:41am on October 27, 2015 by Allan Loudell