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Monday, 1 July 2013

In Search of Identity, by Anwer el-Sadat, Reviewed.

I rarely read autobiographies; they tend to be showcases for the subject, with little concern for the truth. However, this one is different. Partly because it’s a mix of personal and political memoir, but mostly because the author was fundamentally honest. That is, he was as honest as any man placed in a position of power and probably more so than most in that situation. For those who are unaware of the man, he was the President of Egypt (for those Americans who believe the world ceases to exist beyond their borders, this is a large country in North Africa, on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and site of the Suez Canal: sorry to all those other Americans who do know), from 15 October 1970 to 6 October 1981, when he was assassinated during a victory parade.

He was active in the military and in politics during a period of extreme upheaval in his country and took action that impacted on the whole of the Middle East and, possibly, the world.

The book is full of the detail that matters to the politician but it is written with a clear care for his country and a deep love of those he admired and respected. His relationship with Nasser in particular is told with such frankness but such affection that the reader feels present at many of the exchanges.
There is very little of his personal life in these pages. His wives each get a brief mention and his children are not even alluded to. This is a book about the public rather than the private individual. But he does detail his emotions and concerns during his period of imprisonment. And his matter of fact style does nothing to conceal his frustrations with fellow officers and politicians engaged in coups or revolution.

As a Brit, I was intrigued to learn of the hatred and sheer disrespect he and his fellow countrymen felt for Great Britain as we reached the latter days of imperial power. I had, of course, always known of the mistake that was the Suez War. And I was fascinated to learn of Sadat’s hero worship of Zahran, one of the victims of the appalling incident at Denshway. I knew of this shameful event that had typified the arrogant and despotic nature of British overseas rule at the time, as I worked on a piece for radio with a fellow author, Dave Wallis. It was never broadcast because the authorities felt it was too political.

The book also gives an insight into the gentler side of Islam, whilst unconsciously validating the opinion that faith schools that brain-wash young students do great damage to the ability of those pupils to make fully informed decisions or to question the reality behind the dogma they are fed.

As with many political memoirs, this is a book peppered with names. Some are world famous individuals carrying their own reputations; Jimmy Carter, Henry Kissinger, Aleksei Kosygin, Yasir Arafat, James Callaghan and Menahem Begin come to mind. But many are, of course, figures only really known within Egypt, with little exposure on the world stage. He brings these people to life, however, and places them into the context of a country struggling first with the ideal of independence and then with establishing the rule of law amongst a population dangerously divided by sectarianism.

It is a fascinating read. I recommend it to those who have an interest in world politics and, especially, to those concerned with past and present events in the Middle East. A good, if sometimes difficult, read.
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