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The Book of the Week is “My Father and I” by Camelia Sadat, published in 1985.
Born in July 1949, the author grew up in a distant suburb of Cairo, but possessed nostalgia for her father’s home village– Mit Abul-Kum, in the Nile delta. Her father was Anwar Sadat, whose mother was half Egyptian and half Sudanese, and whose father had eight wives; only the last two wives bore thirteen children between them. Anwar was the second oldest child of his father’s seventh wife.
Born in late 1918, Anwar’s young adulthood was typical of Muslim men of his generation who were headed for a political career. He chose his alliances and enemies pursuant to his future leadership role in mind. During WWII, he allied with the Muslim Brotherhood, a group desirous of replacing Egypt’s monarchy of King Farouk, with an independent Muslim theocracy. The British supported the king. During and after the war, Anwar did stints in jail for his pro-Axis, pro-Egyptian-independence activities. Further, he was discharged dishonorably from the Egyptian army.
By the late 1940’s, Anwar had two wives and two babies. The younger of the latter was Camelia. However, Anwar’s first marriage ended in divorce shortly thereafter. At thirty, he began his second marriage with his nineteen year-old bride. In 1950, he resumed his military career. He was appointed by Gamal Nasser to lead the group fighting for sovereignty for Egypt– the Free Officers’ Organization.
Anwar moved quickly up the political ranks. In July 1952, he and his cronies ousted King Farouk. In December 1953, he helped found a revolutionary newspaper, working in the communications (translation: propaganda) department of Egypt’s government. The very next year, he was named Minister of State. In 1956, Egypt saw the end of British occupation.
Camelia was a headstrong, independent child. When she was twelve, a marriage was arranged for her. The groom was 29. Unfortunately for them, a quiet, serious wedding reception (which was uncustomary) was the order of the day because Egypt was breaking its diplomatic ties with Syria.
Initially, Camelia accepted her fate as an obedient housewife (which was required by the Quran, and was the culture in Egypt). But after a couple of years, she became emotionally exhausted by the bossiness and physical abuse of her especially insecure husband. Camelia told her uncle about her marital problems, and reprimanded the husband. However, Anwar found out and told Camelia that a wife should obey her husband.
In the 1960’s, unrest in Yemen led to difficult geopolitical jockeying among Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and of course, the United States. In December 1970, Anwar was elected president of Egypt, at which time, it was on the outs with America. In 1971, he foiled a coup attempt against him. Egypt wasn’t diplomatically benefiting from Soviet financial aid, either, as the Soviets’ reputation for aggression made the U.S.S.R. an isolated state in the industrialized world.
Anwar was best known for his willingness to negotiate a peace agreement with Israel’s leader Menachem Begin, through an intermediary, America’s president Jimmy Carter. Read the book to learn many more details of his and his daughter’s life and career, and a bit of Egyptian history.