Who is Egypt's "Hero of War and Peace"?: The Contest Over Representation

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The representation of Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat (1918-1981) as the "Hero of War and Peace" (Batal al-Harb wa-'l-Salam) combines the two most crucial decisions he made: the 1973 October War, and peace with Israel—which opened with Sadat's visit to Jerusalem in November 1977 and culminated in the signing of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty in March 1979. As a result of the dominant role of the Egyptian state and its agencies over the public sphere during the last three decades, the official narrative has overwhelmingly influenced the historical memory of prominent political and national figures. In addition, mainly as a result of political needs, both Sadat and his successor, Hosni Mubarak, sought to differentiate their own image from that of their predecessor. As elsewhere, historical representation in Egyptian official discourse and practices is not totally separate from the one prevailing in different sectors within Egyptian society. In fact, the various memories are mutually constitutive. However, it is all too easy for observers of contemporary Egypt to confine their investigation to official historical representations as expressed in official events and ceremonies, overlooking nonofficial and oppositional sources, statements and sites of memory, and thus failing to gain insight into the complexities of Egyptian representations of the past. Only the study of a wide variety of sources can enrich our understanding of the constitution of historical representations, as well as of the complexity of reception of these representations by different groups. Accordingly, this article examines Sadat's representation as the "Hero of War and Peace" as the product of varied practices initiated by diverse individuals and institutions in Egypt following the October War. In studying the continuous remaking of this representation, I examined a variety of written sources, memorial sites (Sadat's burial place, the October Panorama) and the National Museum of War. In addition, I collected data about the reactions of spectators to the film Ayyam al-Sadat (Days of Sadat), which played at cinemas in the summer of 2001 and provoked an intensive public discussion of Sadat and his policy. On the basis of these different sources I describe the changes this representation underwent, mainly after Sadat's death. I identify those who challenged the portrayal of Sadat as the "Hero of War and Peace" during his lifetime and after his death and examine the counter-narratives of the Nasserites, the Muslim Brotherhood movement, and the al-Jihad militant Islamic group, which made the fatal attempt on Sadat's life on 6 October 1981.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)150-183
Number of pages34
JournalHistory and Memory
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History


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