The Israelis unhappily called it “a diplomatic pre-emptive strike.” The occasion was Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s bold decision to reopen the Suez Canal, closed since the Six-Day War of 1967. Sunken wrecks and unexploded ammo were hauled from the waterway, and on June 5 the first ship steamed through. Sadat, resplendent in dress whites and medals, watched with a smile as broad as the Nile Delta. His gesture helped promote a new round of shuttle diplomacy, and the eventual result was an Israeli withdrawal from part of Sinai and a scaling-down of the threat of more bloodshed.
Sadat’s troubles are, of course, hardly ended. He must persuade Palestinian militants to make peace with Israel, and the U.S. to include the Palestinians in future discussions on the Middle East. But the 56-year-old president, born into poverty, jailed for five years, once airily dismissed as “Nasser’s poodle,” has made good friends in Washington. He publicly embraces Secretary of State Kissinger and calls him “my dear friend, Henry.” On Sadat’s 11-day visit to the U.S. in October-November, he became the first leader of any Middle Eastern nation to address a joint session of Congress.
Sadat is a man of curious talents. In school and in prison, he learned English, French and German. He has written two contemporary histories and an unpublished novel. He is a movie bug who watches a film almost every night before bed. “I am a man of the street,” Sadat often says, yet his suits are custom-made. As a child, his sister once recalled, he would dress up in a white sheet like Gandhi and walk through their village leading a goat on a string.
A devout Muslim, Sadat has been married twice and has seven children. Though he enjoys the use of eight homes in Egypt, he once declared himself a “prisoner” of the presidency. Next year his term is up, and he has said, not very convincingly, that he has no desire to remain in office. Yet he acknowledges that his work is unfinished—not just peace in the Middle East, but the economic development of his poor country. Even before Sadat left the U.S. this fall, President Ford was asking Congress for $750 million in aid for Egypt. Sadat wants nothing less than “complete social security for every citizen.” That will take time, his time. “I am,” Anwar Sadat once said, “a patient man.”