CAIRO — The dour, wiry Egyptian who captivated the world with his historic visit to Jerusalem and his proposition that peace between Arabs and Israelis is possible wasn't so convincing at home. Anwar Sadat has always been, in the Egyptian mind, part visionary, part traitor.
The late Egyptian president's image is nowhere to be found in what is, thanks to Sadat's Camp David legacy, the only Arab capital at peace with Israel--save in the shop of an occasional merchant with a fond memory of Sadat's open-door economics.
His house in Giza, across the Nile from Cairo, stands fenced and neglected. A helicopter pad is one of the only reminders that it once housed a president.
Sadat died 10 years ago in a hail of assassins' bullets, reviled by the Islamic right, whose fanatics masterminded the killing, detested by the intellectual left, who derided his sellout of the Arabs, and relegated to speedy obscurity by the successor regime of President Hosni Mubarak, even as the new government doggedly trudged down the path toward peace that Sadat had forged.
Now, with the start of the first comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace talks in Madrid, a lot of Egyptians are calling up Sadat's memory as a way of saying they-told-us-so. The president whose rambling speeches once caused Egyptians to switch off their television sets has become a new media celebrity, and the message has been hard to miss: Sadat was right. Egypt was right. Peace \o7 is\f7 possible.
Declared Sadat's former press adviser, Saad Zaghloul Nassar, in the government-run daily Al Akhbar: "More than 10 years after his death, after it became clear to an Arab world which now chases after solutions which will not advance us further than Sadat brought us, after the tortures and pains this Arab nation has endured for the past 10 years, is it not our duty to pray for God's mercy? Is it not Sadat's right to hear us saying, 'May God lighten your burden. You were more far-sighted than we.' "
Even more surprising are tributes from the Persian Gulf emirates, whose cold shoulder to Sadat in the 1970s was one of the forces that drove him first into the arms of the United States, then Israel.
"To the Gardens of Paradise, O Anwar Sadat," read an unusual banner headline in the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Siyassah on the opening day of the Madrid conference. "Now we remember you, and remember your times," said the accompanying article, "and recall that you were the first among us to read the future and observe which way the wind was blowing."
Even Mubarak has been quoted recently breaking the usually observed Arab habit of not praising any predecessor more recent than the Crusader warrior Saladin. "President Sadat was ahead of his time," Mubarak told the Israeli newspaper Maariv. "He saw a clear picture of the future. He analyzed the problem and found a means to solve it."
"You wouldn't have heard this three years ago," said a Western diplomat with long experience in the Arab world. "Sadat had been allowed to fall out of favor, because he wasn't very popular when he died and his policy wasn't very popular. But all of what we're seeing now leads me to believe that the Egyptians see Madrid as legitimizing their policy and, hence, Sadat."
Most of the world assumed Sadat was killed by Islamic fundamentalists for his peacemaking overtures, which is true, as far as it goes. Sadat's was the apocryphal body on the drawing room floor in a game of Clue for which almost anyone might have had a motive.
The fundamentalists were unhappy about the Camp David peace talks in 1978, but they were also just as outraged about Sadat's roundup of Muslim extremists shortly before his death in October, 1981.
He also banished the Coptic pope to a monastery, stirring up resentment in the Christian community. Merchants loved his open-door \o7 infiteh\f7 economic policy, but leftist intellectuals blamed him not only for Camp David, which they regarded as a sellout, but for dismantling the elaborate public sector built by former President Gamal Abdel Nasser and spawning in its wake a new class of wealthy, Mercedes-Benz-driving businessmen.
Corruption flourished. After Sadat's death, his brother and three of his sons were imprisoned for amassing a fortune through influence peddling and black marketeering. Sadat himself had 12 luxurious houses and touched down by private jet in world capitals wearing expensive suits.
"Before he died, he had lost a sense of balance. His internal domestic policy was lousy," said Tahseen Bashir, a former Sadat spokesman.
Egypt weathered Sadat's foreign policy for years as an outcast in the Arab world, its reward $2 billion a year in aid from the United States and a chilly peace with Israel. But weather those years it did, and Mubarak, for all his downplaying of his predecessor's accomplishments, never renounced the peace.