A year of mourning has ended for Jehan Sadat, 49, widow of the charismatic president of Egypt assassinated Oct. 6, 1981. Mrs. Sadat has chosen to continue wearing black for “at least a second year, maybe more.” But she is making her first trip abroad since the tragedy, an 11-day journey to Western Europe and the U.S. She arrives this week in Washington, where Nancy Reagan is scheduled to present her with an American Friendship Medal awarded posthumously to Anwar Sadat by the Freedoms Foundation. There also will be visits with old friends, including Henry Kissinger and former Presidents Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter. Jehan Sadat’s return to public life ends a year of seclusion at her home in Giza, spent mostly with her daughters—Loubna, 28, Noha, 24, and Jehan (called Nana), 21—and her 25-year-old son Gamal, a chemical engineer, and five grandchildren. In that time Mrs. Sadat worked on her autobiography and a Ph.D. thesis in literature. Most of all, she reflected. Before her trip, the former First Lady talked with PEOPLE’S Mideast correspondent Mira Avrech and explained why, for her, Anwar Sadat lives on.
How are you feeling now?
Something is lacking, as if there is only half of myself. There is something empty. I’m not a weak person, but I lost such a…I don’t know how to say it. I expected it for many years, but it came so suddenly. He has done so much, not only for his people but for humanity as a whole. It was so cruel to be assassinated for that.
You once said you knew that such a tragedy could happen to him at any time.
True. It was his fate. I knew it, and he knew it too. I joined him on one of his walks during the last month of his life. He was a very religious man who felt that God was with him, always. I remember his saying to me: “Jehan, I finished my mission, I feel that I am going to meet with God.” I tried to make fun of it and said to him: “I don’t think God tells anybody that he is going to meet him and fixes the time.” But he replied, “I feel it, Jehan, I feel it.” The last three days before the assassination he went all over the country, visited the villages and shook hands with everybody, almost as if he wanted to say goodbye.
Did you have a premonition?
Well, just a month or so before, I asked the officer responsible for his security to screen those in military uniforms more carefully. Any fanatic who wanted to kill my husband could put on a uniform. That, I believe, was some kind of premonition. But on the terrible day, no. It was the only day, really the only day, that I did not expect anything. Just three days earlier, you see, he had gone in an open train all over the place, made 12 different stops, and the crowds rushed to him, hailed and greeted him. How could I expect them to shoot him three days later?
We are told that when it happened, many broke down and wept, though you showed great personal strength. True?
Yes, everyone around me was crying. Well, it’s my nature, I always face the crucial times with strength, then suffer later. After his assassination, I used to blame everything, everybody, myself. I accused myself of not preventing it, but that was a normal reaction to tragedy. When I think about it reasonably, it was his fate. One has to accept that. Also, we have a saying here that if a man is very good and God loves him very much, he dies suddenly. That way he doesn’t feel it and will not have to suffer from a long illness. Maybe God loved him very much.
How would you sum up your husband’s historic achievements?
When my husband told me [in 1977] that he was going to Jerusalem, I said to him: “This is the best thing you have said in your entire life.” What he started with the peace initiative, what he went through, what he did, I agreed with completely while he was alive. Now that he is dead I agree even more. Maybe sometimes I used to be critical of little things, but when I listen to his speeches on tape now, concentrating on every word, I know that he was right in absolutely everything. Were those ideals worth dying for? One has to sacrifice for one’s beliefs. We do. He did. I believe his soul is very satisfied. He did his duty. Were he still alive, maybe the present, dangerous situation in the Middle East would be different.
Didn’t you disagree with President Sadat on some issues? Family planning, for instance?
That was the only thing we would really quarrel about. I would keep at him that Egypt needs family planning, and he would get impatient. Well, I never interfered with what he was doing but, in this case, I’m happy that he spoke about family planning in his next two speeches in parliament. We both love children, of course. He has a very close relationship to his grandchildren. Whenever he sees one, no matter how busy he is, you can immediately see Anwar’s face change, go soft. He becomes another man.
Do you realize that you often speak of your husband as if he were still here?
Our religion says that when the body dies, the soul continues to live. Yes, I still feel he is with me. Even now I, the children, we feel him. My son, Gamal, heard his voice one morning. It was dawn. He woke and was sitting up in bed when all of a sudden he heard his father’s deep, loud voice saying, “Why are you so sad, Gamal, and why is your mother sad and why are your sisters sad? Tell them that I am extremely happy and relaxed.” My son said he felt goose pimples all over him. He jumped out of bed and actually looked for his father but did not see anything. Only the room was filled with the echo of Anwar’s voice.
Did you have a similar experience?
Not exactly like that, but I was surprised by him after he died. I was sleeping in bed and found him beside me as if he were still alive. It was so real that I asked, “Anwar, are you here?” I stretched out my hand to touch him and ensure it was really his flesh. And he lay there and smiled at me.
It was a dream, of course.
Of course, but it was not like the usual dream that goes away when you open your eyes. I opened my eyes and could still see him next to me. I actually touched him and then, suddenly, he was gone. It was a shock.
Why have you decided to continue wearing black?
One does not snap one’s fingers on the last day of mourning and say, “Finished, now I can wear anything again.”
What are your future plans?
To return to the University of Cairo to teach Arabic literature. And I shall stick with the three projects I created. The first is Wafa Wa Amal, which means Faith and Hope, a rehabilitation center for handicapped war veterans and civilians. Another project is the S.O.S. villages for needy children. Then there is the Talla village where women of all ages are trained in handicrafts, and the profits are used to raise living standards.
Did some people you thought were your friends abandon you after your husband’s death?
Yes, of course. Some simply disappeared. I was very surprised, but perhaps they thought they would lose their position if they remained friendly. They are hypocrites. Yet my friends—my real friends, I mean—keep in even closer touch than before.
If you could start your life again from the beginning, would you change anything?
Even if the years repeated themselves, I would not say “no” to anything. Even though I would know that my husband would be assassinated in the end, I would not change a single thing.