Last Friday, Egyptian former first lady Jehan Sadat died after a long illness (undeclared); she was 89 years old. The news in Egypt was vague, brief, and prompt; Egyptian president el-Sisi interrupted his biking trip to his fancy city, the new capital, to attend her private military funeral. Reaction in Egypt was mixed; ranged from the wife of a dictator, an Israeli traitor to the mother of All Egyptians.
The response in the west focuses mainly on the tragic death of her husband and being the champion of women’s rights in Egypt. “If Mohamed Ben Salmon gave women the right to drive in Saudi Arabia, Ms. Sadat gave Egyptian women the right to divorce. Ms. Sadat was the first visible first lady in Egypt, active in social programs, and played a prominent role in women’s rights.
Former First Lady of Egypt Jehan Sedat opened the St. Catherine’s Forum on Women in Leadership.
IN THIS PHOTO: St. Paul, Mn., Tues., Oct. 2, 2001–Jehan Sadat, former first lady of Egypt and an international peace activist, greeted audience members after her speech which opened the St. Catherine Forum on Women in Leadership
I met Ms. Sadat here in Minnesota back in October 2001; Ms. Sadat Came to speak in St. Catherine’s Forum on Women in Leadership. They called me and asked if I would like to interview a former Egyptian first lady! I wasn’t excited about doing the interview During her Husband’s tenure, I had my first brush with the police, political activism, impressment, and torture. This is now personal; a chance to meet the widow of the man who imprisoned me (and thousands of others). But I know if we were going to do the interview, I need to refrain from a personal vendetta and big questions. Ms. Sadat is a political lightweight, talks a lot about peace, not enough about justice, a lot about women’s rights that represented only 5% of Egyptian women; For me Naser’s wife or Morsi’s wife represent more women in Egypt . Ms. Sadat came to the world stage after a military officer assassinated her husband during a military parade on 6 October 1981. The tragic death of her Husband didn’t keep her out of the spotlight . She kept active on the public stage specially in the west as her star faded in Egypt. She taught at American University in Cairo, later in the university of Maryland USA; and she wrote two books, “A Woman of Egypt” (1987) and “My Hope for Peace” (2009). We held the interview in the press room on the 8th floor of Radisson Hotel downtown Minneapolis. I went up there; everything was calm and normal. I got to the 8th floor, found a large room, big windows, big curtains, overseeing downtown streets. The room was empty,except of a table and two chairs at the corner. As the crew set the scene, lighting, and the camera, I went outside to meet Ms. Sadat. A few minutes later, I spotted Ms. Sadat dressed in a lovely blue dress with 5 big buttons in front, walking with an entourage of three; a young lady, a Hotel staff, trailed by a man who looks Egyptian. I can spot an Egyptian in miles -a tip- seems lost, I rushed to greet them.
_ welcome to Minnesota, Ms. Sadat, I introduced myself as an Egyptian American, host of an Arab American TV show.
_Mashaa Allah, Masha Allah- “with god’s grace “, in Arabic- she said, breaking a smile. No one introduced the gentleman trailing behind; later, I learned he was her bodyguard Gen. Ahmed Mohamad Seoud. who was disinterested and kept quite, till at the end of the interview he randomly asked about the price of the camera. Ms. Sadat was chatty approachable and friendly. In the interview, I avoided political controversial questions. Her Husband was a complicated man, a hero for some and a valine for others. I was interested in Ms. Sadat’s relationship with Sadat, the man she knew! She was friendly and lovely, always smiling and aminated. She talked about the first time she met Sadat through a mutual family friend; she was only 14, a dark tall, assured man. She first met Sadat in 1948; she was the daughter of an Egyptian father and British mother. She lived the security of a middle-class family, Sadat lived the insecurity of a low-income family in the southern part of Egypt. He was a military man, a fugitive on the run, accused of plotting against the British occupation. Against her family’s wish, she married the man she loved the following year; she was only 15, Sadat was 30 years old, so much for women’s rights.
She talked about her Husband’s visits to her family, telling her funnies stories, “he was fond of his mother, always talk about his people in his village, liked to wear his traditional Jilbab, sit on the floor and smoke his pipe. She enjoyed taking evening walks by the river, going to the cinema together.
_ how could a very young middle-class girl fell in love with a much older man totally different background? For her, it was love from first sight, “I knew it; he was the man whom I want to spend the rest of my life with.” She explained.
I promised myself not to talk politics here, but I asked Ms. Sadat kind of jokingly if her Husband talked to her about the D-day of the 73 war ( the day Egyptian Armies crossed the Susie Canal and took back part of the Occupied Sinai).
_ no, promptly answered, with a smile as if she was hiding something.
Ms. Sadat talked about her Husband with the innocence of a teen in love with a man who died 20 years ago. She talked about her works to help Egyptian women gain a voice, her obsession with women’s rights and developments.
At the end of the interview, we started chatting together, comparing notes; she asked me about my life in America…, Then she asked me about the reasons I left Egypt! That was the critical moment; I tried to avoid politics and getting personal during the interview. – Ms. Sadat, did you know that I was imprisoned and tortured during your Husband’s tenure, I softly told her with a smile.
_ Ya Haram ( how horrible/Sad) almost apologetically. ! Then I realized that she is a mother, not the former first lady!
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