Our visit to Anwar Sadat’s tomb in Cairo brought to the forefront many pivotal political events in Egypt that I was only dimly aware of. First, there was the rise of Gamal Abdel Nasser who led a group of Egyptian military officers to overthrow King Farouk in 1952 leading to the establishment of the Egyptian Republic in 1953. After a series of complex maneuvers he became president in 1956.
Secondly, there was the nationalization by Nasser of the Suez Canal. One of his strategies to develop the country’s economy was to replace the Aswan Low Dam completed in 1902 by the British during their colonial occupation of the country. To do that, he nationalized the Suez Canal in order to use the canal’s revenue to help finance the new dam. The canal was originally built in the 19th Century by a French consortium and later controlled by the Brits. And thirdly, there was the cold war maneuvering between the West and the Soviet Union over who would actually build the dam.
Hassan is not a fan of Nasser whom he regards as the leader of a coup d’état. (Hassan is a bit of a royalist.) The 1956 nationalization of the Suez Canal led Britain and France, major shareholders in the canal, to the brink of declaring war on Egypt which Hassan says they would have won. However, President Dwight Eisenhower intervened and they backed off. Score one for Ike. Nasser still needed additional funding for the dam. The US was apparently willing to finance it if Nasser would be its anti-communist ally in the region. But Eisenhower withdrew the offer of US funding when the neutralist Nasser established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, a pariah state at the time. Egypt turned to the Soviet Union for funding which it agreed to in 1958. The Aswan High Dam was completed in July 1970 and Nasser died of a heart attack that September. He was succeeded by his vice president Anwar Sadat.
Unlike Nasser, Anwar Sadat is highly regarded by our friend Hassan. According to him, Sadat was clever enough to thank the Soviets with a monumental pylon on the dam commemorating the friendship between the two counties while maintaining Egypt’s neutrality. He then told the Soviet engineers and advisors that they could go home because their project was finished. In 1973 Sadat was able to regain most of the Sinai Peninsula that Nasser had lost to Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.
He entered into a peace treaty with Israel isolating him from the most of the Arab world and was a strong opponent of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood. In October 1981 Anwar Sadat was assassinated by a member of the brotherhood. He was succeeded by Hosni Mubarak. The 2012 election of Mohamed Morsi, a leader of the brotherhood, to replace Hosni Mubarak came as a complete shock to Hassan and probably to most of the urban dwellers in Egypt in much the same way Trump’s election in the US shocked us. Hassan made no comment on Egypt’s current president General Sisi.