Muhammad Anwar el-Sadat was the third President of Egypt, serving from October 15, 1970, until his assassination by fundamentalist army officers on October 6, 1981. In his eleven years as president, he re-instituted the multi-party system, launched the Infitah economic system which allowed private investment in Egypt, broke partnership with their benefactor, the USSR, created relationships with the United States, and began a peace process with Israel. Sadat’s negotiations with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin won both men the Nobel Peace Prize, making Sadat the first Muslim Nobel laureate.
The Egyptian reaction to Sadat’s treaty, the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, which returned Saini to Egypt, was generally favorable among the citizens, but it was rejected by the Muslim Brotherhood, which felt Sadat had abandoned efforts to ensure a Palestinian state. The Arab world and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) opposed Sadat’s efforts to make peace with Israel without consulting the Arab states first. The peace treaty was one of the primary factors that led to his assassination.
PLO leader Yasser Arafat said of the treaty, “Let them sign what they like. False peace will not last.” Egypt’s position in the Arab League was suspended. The Egyptian Islamists felt betrayed by Sadat and publicly called for his removal and to replace him with an Islamic theocratic government.
The last few months of Sadat’s presidency were plagued by internal uprisings. Sadat believed that the revolts were caused by the Soviet Union recruiting regional allies in Libya and Syria incite a coup. In February 1981, Sadat learned of a plan to depose him. He responded by arresting 1,500 of his political opposition, Jihad members, the Coptic Pope and other Coptic clergy, intellectuals, and activists. He banned all non-government press. The widespread arrests missed a Jihad cell in the military led by Lieutenant Khalid Islambouli, who would succeed in assassinating Sadat.
On October 6, 1981, Anwar Sadat was assassinated during the annual victory parade held in Cairo, celebrating Operation Badr, during which the Egyptian Army had crossed the Suez Canal and taken back a small part of the Saini Peninsula from Israel at the beginning of the Yom Kippur War. A fatwa, an authoritative legal interpretation that a qualified mufti gives on issues pertaining to Islamic law, approving the assassination had been obtained from Omar Abdel-Rahman, a cleric convicted in the US for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Sadat was protected by four layers of security, eight bodyguards, and the parade should have been safe because of ammunition seizure rules. As the parade went on, one truck, containing the assassination squad, led by Lieutenant Khalid Islambouli, forced the driver to stop at gunpoint. The assassins dismounted and approached Sadat with three hand grenades. Sadat, thinking the men were going to salute, stood, at which point Islambouli threw the grenades. Additional assassins rose from the truck firing AK-47 assault rifles into the stands until they had run out of ammunition.
The attack lasted about two minutes. Sadat and ten others were killed or suffered fatal wounds, including the Cuban ambassador to Egypt, and a Coptic Orthodox Bishop. 28 were wounded, including Vice President Hosni Mubarak, Irish Defence Minister James Tully, and four US military liaison officers.
In conjunction with the assassination, an insurrection was organized in Asyut. Rebels took control of the city for a few days and 68 soldiers and policemen were killed in the fighting. Government control was not restored until paratroopers from Cairo arrived.
Islambouli and the others were tried, sentenced to death, and executed in April 1982.