New Film to Explore Sadat Legacy
A new movie on Anwar El Sadat is about to hit the Silver Screen and according to the Arabies magazine, the film will span some 30 years, from the pre-revolutionary era when the late president was part of the British resistance, to his assassination in 1981.
It will also cover many of the political events that shaped the country as well as some of the man's private moments, including a quirky romantic scene where a young Anwar and his future wife, Gehan, see a fortune teller.
"Almost 20 years have passed since President Anwar Sadat was assassinated by a man who claimed he had killed the Pharaoh," the article says. ”To this day, his legacy remains a divided one. There are those who think he was a hero, and those who think he was a traitor. For those seeking to understand the man, an objective account is impossible to find."
Actor Ahmed Zaki initiated the project. “It was in fact the sharp criticism written about Sadat that motivated me to read up on the subject," explained Zaki, who is portraying Sadat.
“The more I read, the more questions I asked, and the more fascinated I was with the complexity of his character. I want to make a film about Sadat because I want future generations to judge the man based on facts, not criticism."
Zaki's initial difficulties in securing support did not deter him. He sold his house for funds, acquired a script from Al-Ahram vice-chairman Ahmed Bahgat, nabbed reputed director Mohammed Khan, and began shooting the film.
Along the way, banks and television networks reconsidered their earlier refusals of financial backing.
"At first they thought it was a risky venture," said Zaki, who has shaved back his hairline and grown a mustache to assume the role. "Because of the extensive research and preparations, we were unable to give a set date for completion. Also, they felt it was not marketable."
Having now garnered the support of Sadat's widow, Gehan, as well as government offices that facilitated access to presidential and military sites, the project no longer appears risky. What remains to be seen is how the film will be received by Egyptian and other Arab audiences.
Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a political sociologist and head of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development, conducted a survey for a Beirut-based organization in 1979 that showed that the average Egyptian was generally in sync with Sadat's policies. The survey questions were constructed in such a way as to extract people's political, rather than personal, views of Sadat.
Ibrahim told the magazine that he was surprised at the outcome, and when a second survey reached the same conclusions, he dismissed it as the manifestation of state-sponsored brainwashing via the media.
Ibrahim met Sadat for the last time in 1981, two months before his assassination, when he was summoned to the president's cottage in Alexandria. During a heated discussion, spurred on by Gehan Sadat, eager for her husband to hear the truth about the state of the country's affairs from a forthright journalist, Sadat said: "Those Arab leaders are dictators, [they] are tyrannical, they have no intention whatsoever of liberating Palestine. Their real agenda is to stay in power and dominate their neighbors." He referred specifically to Syria and Iraq, which he predicted would one day try to conquer Kuwait.
"These Arab leaders, who are objecting, who are talking about steadfast fronts, have their own personal agenda," the late president added. "Whatever they say about Palestine, or about the Arab cause, is only camouflage."
Sadat was ready to debate his viewpoint with the leading Arab intellectuals of the day in a conference he challenged Ibrahim to organize.
"Either I will convince them that they are wrong, or they will convince me that I am wrong," Ibrahim quoted Sadat as saying.
A few days later, Sadat announced the mass imprisonment of many of the country's intellectuals and professionals, which he had done to avoid sedition. The conference never took place. Sadat's was to move westward, away from the Soviet bloc, and to open up Egypt’s doors to foreign investment via his policy of Infitah, or openness.
He had learned the lesson of bitter defeat in 1967 and launched a surprise attack against Israeli forces in 1973. He emerged victorious. When he traveled to Jerusalem in November 1977, he did not know that the trip would cost him his life. Two years later, a peace treaty signed at Camp David, Maryland, was the last nail in his coffin.
"One day, they will understand what I have done," he told his wife. "But not before 10 years when they see that no land is coming to them until they sit down and negotiate."
Sadat was severely castigated after his trip to Israel. His country was excluded from all official Arab gatherings, and the headquarters of the Arab League was moved from Cairo to Tunis.
When Egypt was forgiven some 10 years later and allowed back into the Arab fold, Sadat was not. He was still accused of "selling out," a theory best set out in Autumn of Fury, a book by former Al-Ahram chairman Mohammed Heikal.
"He was a realistic man. He wanted his land, and he wanted the others to get their land, but he knew that Israel was backed by the United States and that the United States was more powerful," says Gehan Sadat. "He wanted to open a new era and think of the future, not of the hatred of the past."
Gehan Sadat said many of the policies pursued today in Egypt were initiated by her husband and herself. She cited urban expansion projects, steps taken towards a market economy and democracy, as well as progress on women's issues.
"His critics were jealous," Gehan Sadat told the magazine. "He brought miracles to the country. He brought victory in 1973, and peace in 1979. He was the hero of the war and the peace."
This is the angle Gehan Sadat advised Zaki to take in the film. According to the magazine, upon reading the script, the former first lady offered Zaki access to family albums and invaluable insight into her husband's character.
Much to Zaki's surprise and delight, she did not ask for the removal of the personal aspects in the film, but did suggest that emphasis be put on war and peace, the essence of his legacy. Zaki is reluctant to reveal much else about the content of the film.
He does, however, relate some of the difficulties he faced.
"He came into the spotlight only when he became president," said Zaki. "We don't know much about his early life." For this, the production team has turned to Gehan Sadat to obtain as accurate an account as possible.
Gehan Sadat was not pleased with the Columbia Pictures' film about her husband, from the early 1980s, which was banned in Egypt. While Sadat was generally shown in a positive light, she felt the film seemed more intent on "making a clown out of [former President Gamal Abdul] Nasser."
She mentioned a number of inaccuracies in the film, such as the scene that shows Sadat crying. "Sadat never cried. He was a dignified man, kept his emotions inside. If they [the producers] had asked me, I would have helped them,'' she said.
”Regardless of what is said, the people love Sadat. Nasser will always be the beloved of the people because he freed the peasants, but Sadat was the first to cross the Bar Lev line" – Albawaba (Cairo).
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)