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During the 1985-86 school year, Jehan Sadat graced the RU community as our first Distinguished Visiting Professor, sharing her wisdom and experience with students on the subjects of women in the Third World and the history of her homeland, Egypt, and inspiring all who came in contact with her. Today, her insight is all the more welcome.

Jehan Sadat First, a bit of background. When 16-year-old Jehan Raouf married Egypt’s national hero, Mohamed Anwar El Sadat in 1949, she began a 32-year partnership with a revolutionary hero who would become President of Egypt, one of the 20th century’s greatest statesmen and recipient of the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize.

It was Anwar Sadat, the self-described “peasant born and brought up on the banks of the Nile,” who, after a 30-year standoff between Egypt and Israel, said, “Enough.” During his unprecedented, historic 1977 visit to Israel, Sadat extended his hand to Prime Minister Menachem Begin and the two promised to work together to achieve peace in the Middle East. The subsequent negotiations resulted in the peace treaty signed by Sadat and Begin at the White House in March, 1979.

And it was Jehan Sadat, a lifelong activist for social justice, who, during her 11 years as Egypt’s First Lady, became an international leader in the realm of women’s issues, child welfare, literacy and peace.

The basis for her life’s work is her belief in the family as the foundation of all society and the role of mothers as the primary instruments of social change. Convinced that “the most precious capital any country can have is an educated citizenry,” she has promoted education in all aspects and stages of life, particularly for women, as the major way for any nation to achieve lasting economic, social and political equality.

She developed a women’s emancipation, education and training cooperative known as the Talla Society. This financially self-sustaining organization provides clinic, kindergarten and family guidance services, and enables women to become self-sufficient.

She promoted parliamentary reform of Egypt’s personal status laws to ensure more rights for women, thereby ensuring security for families.

She founded the Wafa’ Wa Amal (Faith and Hope) Rehabilitation Center, a city for handicapped war veterans and their families, complete with hospital, clinics and rehabilitation, recreational and vocational training facilities.

That chapter of Jehan Sadat’s life came to a close with the assassination of her husband in October 1981. Deeply grieved, she withdrew from public life.

After a few years, however, she gradually resumed her role as educator, lecturer and activist. Currently, she is Associate Resident Scholar at the University of Maryland, where the Anwar Sadat Chair for Development and Peace was established and fully endowed in 1997.

As a world-traveling lecturer, Jehan Sadat’s mission is to maintain her husband’s legacy and to continue her own promotion of women’s rights, the importance of family and world peace. As the mother of three daughters and the grandmother of 11, her joy is spending time with her family and friends.

The wonders of email allowed me to interview her despite her incredible schedule.

She fondly remembers her time at RU. Although far from home and family, she says, “I was surrounded by the warmth and love of the staff and students and the community.”

What follows are, in her own words (albeit condensed), her thoughtful responses to questions about the current state of the world.

    I am heartbroken by what is happening in the Middle East. There will always be those who think guns and tanks and bombs lead to the solution of problems. They are wrong. I am clinging to my optimism that the process of peace – not anger, aggression, revenge, and retaliation – will once again occupy the minds and the hearts of the leaders of the region and the United States.

    My husband proved that face-to-face negotiations – made with open minds and open hearts – are the most productive way to settle differences and forge peace.

    Despite the protracted violence, I will not abandon the idea of peace. I will continue to give a message of peace and to remind others that my husband, who was the first to make peace, also gave his life for peace.

    I am always talking about women’s rights and the need for us to wage war on poverty, illiteracy and disease. [These issues] take their toll not only in dollars, but also and more important, in human potential.

    The best way to improve the standard of living and the economic well-being of a nation is through the education and training of the people.

    [There is] a growing sense of despair and futility in many corners of the world. The gap between the haves and have-nots seems bigger than ever before.

    In so many places, children are living in squalor and have little hope for the future. Children shouldn’t go to bed hungry or be awakened in the middle of the night by gunshots and the rumble of tanks. Children have a right to live in peace. It is the job of us – the adults and the governments – to give them the opportunity to live in peace.

    The children of today have so many temptations and social pressures, even in places where there is peace. It is our responsibility as their parents and grandparents to set examples and to give them values, by teaching them how to love and respect each other, so that they will also love and respect others, especially those different from themselves.

    In light of September 11 and subsequent events, I want them to distinguish between those who are evil and the religion of Islam, which is a religion of peace.

    I encourage your readers not only to see both sides of the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. Most important, I want them to work and pray for peace.

    I don’t know how to solve all of the world’s problems. I do know that having more women educated and trained and involved negotiating peace, directing the economy, and setting the standards in education and healthcare is a start. And I am absolutely certain that peace is the only way.

In 1941, while another war was raging, Dutch-American activist A. J. Muste wrote, “There is no way to peace; peace is the way.” Perhaps someone read those words to little Jehan Raouf.

Author’s note: For me, the joy of being a writer (in addition to the six-figure salary and seeing my prose in print) is that I get to know so many wonderful, beautiful, fascinating people – a garden, really, in their diversity. Jehan and Anwar Sadat were, and remain, personal heroes of mine. Their courage, vision and undaunted pursuit of peace and justice have reverberated throughout the world, and they have served as role models for others who would carry this civilization forward. Despite her elegant, larger-than-life public persona, my email chat with Jehan Sadat revealed to me a friendly, approachable, warm woman. If only we could have met for tea….

    — Shireen Parsons

 
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