Sadat Becomes President of Egypt

Egyptian vice president Anwar el-Sadat assumed the presidency following the death in office of President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Sadat survived an attempted coup and went on to enjoy great popularity, particularly among the military.

Summary of Event

Gamal Abdel Nasser served as Egypt’s president for fourteen years and enjoyed widespread popularity. Anwar el-Sadat, who was the same age as Nasser, served as Nasser’s vice president from 1964 until 1966 and again from 1969 until 1970. Upon Nasser’s death on September 28, 1970, Sadat became the nation’s acting president, holding the office temporarily until an election could be held. Seventeen days later, on October 15, Sadat won the election, retaining the title of president of Egypt, an office in which he served until his assassination in 1981. Presidency, Egyptian
[kw]Sadat Becomes President of Egypt (Sept. 28, 1970)
[kw]President of Egypt, Sadat Becomes (Sept. 28, 1970)
[kw]Egypt, Sadat Becomes President of (Sept. 28, 1970)
Presidency, Egyptian
[g]Africa;Sept. 28, 1970: Sadat Becomes President of Egypt[10910]
[g]Middle East;Sept. 28, 1970: Sadat Becomes President of Egypt[10910]
[g]Egypt;Sept. 28, 1970: Sadat Becomes President of Egypt[10910]
[c]Government and politics;Sept. 28, 1970: Sadat Becomes President of Egypt[10910]
Sadat, Anwar el-
Nasser, Gamal Abdel
[p]Nasser, Gamal Abdel;death of
Nixon, Richard M.
[p]Nixon, Richard M.;international relations
Kissinger, Henry
Carter, Jimmy
Begin, Menachem

Early in his presidency, Sadat began to deal with some of Egypt’s most pressing domestic problems, working to decentralize the economy to make it more diverse and flexible. He also took steps to make Egypt’s political structure less rigid and less complicated. In 1971, Sadat’s government was shaken by an attempted coup d’état led by Vice President Ali Sabry Sabry, Ali and a band of Sabry followers who held influential political posts. Sadat survived this attempted coup and even gained strength as a result of it. The attempt forced Egyptians to choose sides, and most of the public sided with Sadat, whose popularity among the army in particular reached new heights.

Despite the importance of Sadat’s domestic measures, it was in foreign policy that he made his greatest contributions. Convinced that the Soviet Union was not giving him sufficient support in his opposition to Israel, Sadat expelled thousands of Soviet advisers and technicians from Egypt in 1972. He formed an alliance with Syria and, in October, 1973, the joint forces of the two countries made their first attack on Israel, invading Israel’s Sinai Peninsula. The invasion marked the beginning of the Arab-Israeli War of 1973 Arab-Israeli War of 1973[Arab Israeli War of 1973] .

Although the Israelis were surprised by this initial attack, they mounted a successful counterattack. Thus, the war resulted in a technical defeat for Sadat, but most Egyptians considered it a tactical victory. The president gained considerable approval among Egyptians for being the first Arab leader to retake from Israel some of the land that Egyptians considered their own. Sadat’s next tactical move was to enlist the aid of other Arab nations to participate in an oil embargo against the United States and other Western countries. This action led to fuel shortages that paralyzed the industries of some nations and severely affected their economies.

With the Arab-Israeli War behind him, Sadat set about trying to assure peace in the often-explosive Middle East. Having established his power on the international stage with the oil embargo, he took positive steps to gain an accord with the United States. In 1974, at Sadat’s invitation, President Richard M. Nixon made an official visit to Egypt. Sadat traveled to Austria the following year to meet with President Gerald Ford, Nixon’s successor.

The most important contact Sadat made with a Western official was his growing closeness with U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger. With direct help and advice from Kissinger, who was well known for his “shuttle diplomacy” and for his willingness to play the role of unbiased deal broker, Egypt and Israel worked out agreements in 1974 and 1975 that returned control of crucial portions of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt, including the oil rights of those territories.

By 1977, Sadat was turning from “hawk” to “dove.” He announced that he would go to Israel if, by doing so, he could help to bring about a lasting accord between Israel and the Arab world. Given the depth of hatred and suspicion that characterized Arab-Israeli relations, this was a daring step. Sadat made his precedent-shattering journey to Israel on November 19-20, 1977, and announced to Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, his plan for peace. The plan called for Israel’s withdrawal from all the Arab territory it had occupied since the Arab-Israeli War of 1967 (the Six-Day War), in accordance with United Nations Resolution 242.

Egyptian president Anwar el-Sadat (left) attends the Camp David Peace Accords with U.S. president Jimmy Carter (center) and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin in September, 1978.

(National Archives)

Sadat’s historic trip to Israel led to the intervention of the United States in the region. President Jimmy Carter was determined to broker a deal that would lead to a rapprochement between Egypt and Israel, a necessary step toward assuring peace in the Middle East. Carter decided to bring Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin together not for a few hours of face-to-face meetings but for an extended period during which permanent and effective peace accords would be wrought.

Carter invited the two Middle Eastern leaders to Camp David Camp David Peace Accords (1978) , where they remained, virtually isolated from the world, from September 5 until September 17, 1978. Carter remained with his guests throughout their long stay, which was often fraught with violent disagreement and with threats that one or the other of the two leaders would walk out of the conference. In the end, Sadat and Begin managed to hammer out an agreement, and they urged other parties of the Arab-Israeli conflict to adhere to it. The agreement represented a landmark in international diplomacy. As a result, Sadat and Begin shared the Nobel Peace Prize Nobel Peace Prize;Anwar el-Sadat[Sadat]
Nobel Peace Prize;Menachem Begin[Begin] in 1978, an honor of which many considered President Carter equally deserving. The peace agreement, however, was controversial in the Arab world, as the less peace-oriented Arabs believed that Sadat had betrayed their cause. Anwar el-Sadat’s life was ended by an assassin’s bullets on October 6, 1981.


Sadat’s 1970 assumption of the Egyptian presidency marked a turning point for the nation. He began his regime with a shakeup in the administrative organization of his government, but his greatest contributions were marked by his work in international relations, particularly in dealing with deep-seated and long-standing disputes between Arabs and Jews. These disputes revolved around the land that was appropriated after World War II for the creation of the state of Israel.

Sadat’s visits to Israel and Camp David decisively reoriented Egypt’s attitude toward what would become known as the Middle East peace process. While that process remains ongoing, and while many Arab leaders still call for the destruction of Israel, Egypt has officially recognized the right of Israel to exist as a nation. Sadat’s meeting with Begin established that it was possible for an Arab state to recognize Israel and attempt to coexist peacefully with it—a possibility that had been very much in dispute in the previous decades. All subsequent attempts to bring about peace in the Middle East have built upon the actions of Anwar el-Sadat and the precedents he established. Presidency, Egyptian

Further Reading

  • Beattie, Kirk J. Egypt During the Sadat Years. New York: Palgrave, 2000. Focuses equally on Sadat’s vision in charting a new path for Egypt—in both foreign and domestic policy—and on the obstacles to the realization of that vision. Bibliographic references and index.
  • Finkelstone, Joseph. Anwar Sadat: Visionary Who Dared. Portland, Oreg.: Frank Cass, 1996. An appreciative assessment of Sadat’s complex evolution as president of Egypt over eleven years.
  • Hinnebusch, Raymond A., Jr. Egyptian Politics Under Sadat: The Post-Populist Development of an Authoritarian-Modernizing State. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985. Although he does not evade discussing Sadat’s foreign policy, Hinnebusch presents a fine analysis of the effectiveness of his domestic policies.
  • Lippman, Thomas W. Egypt After Nasser: Sadat, Peace, and the Mirage of Prosperity. New York: Paragon House, 1989. Lippman reveals some of the machinations Sadat used to gain popularity among his subjects by projecting an illusion of economic improvement and well-being.
  • Sadat, Anwar. In Search of Identity: An Autobiography. New York: Harper & Row, 1978. Sadat writes about all that led up to the peace accords that grew out of Camp David and to President Carter’s tireless role in bringing them about. A helpful and interesting resource.
  • _______. Those I Have Known. New York: Continuum Press, 1984. This reflective book, composed posthumously from Sadat’s papers, has an insightful introduction by former president Jimmy Carter, who was instrumental in bringing President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin together.

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