SADAT by David & Irene Beeson Hirst


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The case against Sadat, ""consummate opportunist""--variously discerning but overdrawn. At Sadat's death, British journalists Hirst and Beeson accurately note: ""In the west there was dismay, outrage and sorrow. In the Arab world there was unrestrained jubilation. In Egypt itself there was complete indifference."" They wish, however, not only to explain the reasons for this divergence but also to expose Sadat as a charlatan and to indict him as a traitor to the Arab cause. His one moment of glory, the 1973 crossing of the Suez Canal, is compromised in their view by Egypt's failure to advance further (which, accepting the controversial claims of exiled chief-of-staff Shazly, they blame on Sadat). Reviewing his life before his 1970 ascension to power, they draw caustic comparisons between his two autobiographies--which tellingly reveal ""his irresistible desire for self-dramatization"" without putting the facts of his largely inauspicious career plainly on record. Once he has succeeded Nasser, they combine a focus on his defects with a general disregard of other, extra-personal forces. (Their conclusion, indeed, argues for the impingement of ""personal psychology"" on ""objective political reality."") Even their very best section--the lengthy treatment of Sadat's ""new economic order,"" or Infitah--is marred by making much of his personal extravagance. (They are not wrong, though, in ascribing Egypt's economic woes to the revved-up ""acquisitive instincts of the private sector."") And: ""With his magic formula--'peace plus Infitah equals Prosperity'--manifestly failing, Sadat's impulse was to furnish more peace."" Hence, ultimately: Jerusalem and Camp David. Then, he could bask in Western glory, enjoy massive American aid--perhaps even make a military alliance with the US and Israel. Even in recounting these events from their particular, pan-Arab perspective, Hirst and Beeson get off shrewd, knowledgeable comments on individuals and separate incidents. And because they're both intelligent and funny, the book makes lively, even potent reading. It's just not very good history or biography.

Pub Date: March 31st, 1982
Publisher: Faber & Faber (39 Thompson St., Winchester, MA 01890)