3. Signing a Peace Treaty With Israel Cost an Egyptian President His Life
Ever since 1973, October 6th has been a day of national commemoration in Egypt, to celebrate the successful crossing of the Suez Canal at the start of the Yom Kippur War. Although the war ended in an Egyptian defeat, it had been a tough fight that cost their Israeli opponents dearly, and marked the first time that the Egyptian military had put up a credible effort, so it was worth celebrating.
By the time the eighth anniversary rolled around in 1981, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, who had been in office in 1973 and enjoyed a huge bump in popularity and prestige as a result, was becoming quite unpopular. In addition to an economic downturn, Sadat had entered what was viewed by many Egyptians as a controversial rapprochement with Israel.
The thaw culminated in a 1979 peace treaty, the Camp David Accords. It won him a Nobel Prize and applause in the West, but many of his fellow countrymen and Arab neighbors saw it as a sellout. Their numbers included Omar Abdel Rahman, the “Blind Sheik” later convicted for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, who issued a fatwa against Sadat.
On October 6th, 1981, Sadat, surrounded by high ranking officials and dignitaries, took his place at a reviewing stand to watch what by then had become an annual military parade. Things started well, and as TV cameras transmitted the event live, an overflight of jets zoomed overhead, while army trucks towing artillery paraded by. One of them contained a lieutenant Khalid Islambouli, who had arrived that morning with some substitute soldiers for ones whom he claimed had fallen ill.
Islambouli was a secret member of Islamic Jihad, radicals whose ranks included Ayman al Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s future second in command. Islambouli and his men had live ammunition for their weapons, and when their truck passed by Sadat, he disembarked and approached the review stand. Sadat thought it was part of the parade, and saluted Islambouli, who responded by quickly lobbing three grenades at the president. Only one grenade exploded, but as it went off, Islambouli’s accomplices rushed the review stand and opened fire, killing Sadat and several others nearby.