Friday, October 12, 2012

Jehan Sadat - My Hope For Peace - Book Review

This new book by Jehan Sadat, widow of the late President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, reads like combination of timely essays and an autobiography that reads easily. The essays include impassioned well reasoned and referenced defense of Islam as a religion of peace and equality distancing Islam from violence and women subjugation. While Jehan Sadat religious belief of what Islam is, or rather her (our) versions of Islam are closely aligned, this part came across weaker than it could because of excessive generalizations. It is abundantly clear that a small majority or substantial minority of Egyptians doesn’t share Jehan Sadat or my versions of Islam.

Another essay like portion of the book covered Egyptian feminist movement and famous Egyptian feminists of the last one hundred years.  This was well researched and presented and only lacked those leftist feminists that suffered on the hands of Egyptian rulers. While she addressed the struggle for women suffrage, the omission of those who struggled for women suffrage in the early 1950’s and were subjected to regime hostility came across as an obvious omission. Similarly, while “we” may dislike and disapprove of Islamist ideology, leaving out Egyptian women leaders who advocated Islamist policies is another glaring shortcoming, in an otherwise good essay. Needless to say, such leftist and Islamist women suffered under both presidents Nasser and Sadat.

Separate from the essays, two central themes dominate the book, one is the history of President Sadat, including her life as a first lady, and another her life as a widow and an independent woman post his assassination.  Jehan Sadat aimed to portray her late husband actions in the best possible light and primarily as a man of peace, her defense of his actions was total. While this is understandable and perhaps it would be unthinkable for her to comment negatively on the rule of her beloved husband, this part came across somewhat weak. I found it difficult that Jehan Sadat did not recognize that her late husband presided over a totalitarian police state and that many people were imprisoned and tortured during his rule. Moreover, those were not only sectarian Islamists as she claimed but also many who opposed him including leftists, liberals and Coptic Christians. Indeed Sadat took a hostile position against Sana Hassan (author of Enemy in the Promised land) who strongly advocated for peace with Israel, Hassan was the wife of an Egyptian diplomat, Tahseen Bashir, who was pressured by Sadat to divorce her.

While it may help Jehan Sadat view of her husband to portray Sadat as a man of peace, who worked tirelessly for peace for decades, somehow I felt as an Egyptian American who lived the Sadat era, that Jehan Sadat wasted an opportunity at shedding more light on a man who, was clearly an Egyptian patriot, but was more about being practical and goal oriented than being a man of peace. Sadat moved quickly to achieve his goals and his actions could have been more objectively analyzed, while remaining sympathetic. Nonetheless Jehan Sadat had many fascinating tales of President Sadat.

The most enjoyable parts of the book and the parts that come across most honest and revealing are those about Jehan Sadat herself, a real pleasure to read. Jehan Sadat, did not put herself on a pedestal and tried to defend her actions, she rather allowed her fears, uncertainties, weaknesses to show. The tales of her move from Cairo to the US and her life in the US, including receiving her first pay check, her first bank account, her first time arranging her own accommodation in Washington DC are all fascinating to read. Jehan comes across a courageous and determined woman, with deep faith and lots of humanity.

While, the essay and the defensiveness of Anwar Sadat have some obvious weaknesses, this does not reduce from the overall value of My Hope For Peace. Jehan Sadat, is not only a fascinating woman, she clearly is a talented writer with a gift for easy prose that flows. I highly recommend the book and I very much hope, that Jehan Sadat would write again

October 12, 2012