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.
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.
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 .
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