(Washington, D.C.) – The Middle East Institute hosted non-resident scholar Thomas W. Lippman for a discussion of his new book on the enduring impact of former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. In Hero of the Crossing: How Anwar Sadat and the 1973 War Changed the World, Lippman examines Sadat's legacy in war and diplomacy, in the global oil economy, and in Egypt's internal politics.
In his presentation, Lippman reviewed the motives that turned Sadat from the leader of the 1973 war and a Soviet client into an architect of a treaty with Israel and ally of Washington. He closed the discussion by noting that Sadat offered openings to Islamist activists of his era, but in the end they turned on him – establishing a relationship that reverberates in today’s confrontations between the Egyptian state and the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS. MEI's Vice President for Policy and Research Paul Salem moderated the discussion.
Lippman began his book talk by identifying the 1973 war as one of the most influential events in the Middle East with ramifications that extended well-beyond the region. Sadat, according to Lippman, was “a rare individual in the Arab world who could strategize across disciplines and across time.”
Lippman stated that at the time of Nasser’s death, Egypt was a defeated nation, crushed by the disastrous result of the 1967 war and poor economic planning. Upon assuming the presidency, Sadat quickly identified his priorities: to consolidate his power, and to end the state of war between Egypt and Israel. However, peace with Israel could not be achieved when Israel “still held all the cards.” Sadat wanted to reverse the 1967 loss of territory through a new offensive, but he had no intention of attacking Israel proper. The Egyptian military was not capable of carrying out such an operation, and as such the war was fought primarily in the Sinai. Lippman contended that despite sustaining heavy military losses, the war was a political victory for the Egyptians who were able to shatter Israel’s image of invincibility. It also forced the Israelis and Americans to take the Arab president seriously and invite him to the negotiating table, which resulted in the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
Lippman argued that the repercussions of the war extended well beyond the participating parties. The oil embargo that was started by Arab countries to stand in solidarity with Egypt and Syria prompted the U.S. to begin seriously considering the use of alternative energy sources. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, began to fear that the West would stop buying petroleum altogether, a concern that still shapes that country’s policies today.
Lippman concluded that while Sadat gained international prestige as a result of his peace treaty with Israel, he remained disliked at home. The peace treaty bought no immediate benefits to the Egyptian people, and Sadat’s liberal economic reforms caused massive discontent. His decision to make peace with Israel isolated Egypt from the other Arab countries, worsening his approval ratings throughout the region. By the time of his assassination, Sadat was viewed as a visionary abroad but reviled and alienated in Egypt.
Thomas Lippman is a MEI scholar and award-winning author and journalist. As a reporter, editor, and bureau chief for The Washington Post, he was personally acquainted with Sadat and countless other Middle Eastern leaders.
Summary by Hank Pin.
Thomas W. Lippman
Scholar, Middle East Institute and Former Middle East Bureau Chief, The Washington Post
Thomas W. Lippman is an award-winning author and journalist who has written about Middle Eastern affairs and American foreign policy for more than three decades, specializing in Saudi Arabian affairs, U.S.- Saudi relations, and relations between the West and the Middle East. He is a former Middle East bureau chief of The Washington Post, and also served as that newspaper's oil and energy reporter. Throughout the 1990s he covered foreign policy and national security for the Post, traveling frequently to Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East. In 2003 he was the principal writer on the war in Iraq for Washingtonpost.com. Prior to his work in the Middle East, he covered the Vietnam war as the Post's bureau chief in Saigon. Lippman is the author of numerous magazine articles and books including Egypt after Nasser: Sadat, Peace, and the Mirage of Prosperity (Paragon House, 1989), Inside the Mirage: America’s Fragile Partnership with Saudi Arabia (Basic Books, 2004), and Saudi Arabia on the Edge: The Uncertain Future of an American Ally (Potomac Books, 2012).
Paul Salem (Moderator)
Vice President for Policy and Research, Middle East Institute
Paul Salem is vice president for policy and research at the Middle East Institute. He focuses on issues of political change, democratic transition, and conflict, with a regional emphasis on the countries of the Levant and Egypt. Salem writes regularly in the Arab and Western press and has been published in numerous journals and newspapers. Salem is the author of a number of books and reports on the Middle East, including most recently Broken Orders: The Causes and Consequences of the Arab Uprisings (Beirut: Dar Annahar, in Arabic, 2013) and "Iraq's Tangled Foreign Relations” (Beirut: Carnegie Middle East Center Report, December 2013). Prior to joining MEI, Salem was the founding director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, Lebanon between 2006 and 2013. From 1999 to 2006, he was director of the Fares Foundation and in 1989 founded and directed the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, Lebanon's leading public policy think tank.