Comparing Nasser and Sadat

Egypt has seen various regimes throughout its history, with each having its own attitude toward the Muslim Brotherhood and stance on foreign policy. Specifically, between 1956 and 1981, Egypt was ruled by two differing mindsets in these areas. Gamal Abdel Nasser came to power as the president of Egypt in 1956 after serving as prime minister to Muhammad Naguib since 1952. Following Nasser’s death in 1970, Muhammad Anwar El-Sadat rose to the presidency, and served till his assassination in 1981. These different attitudes towards the Brotherhood and foreign policy lead to different levels of societal acceptance from Egyptian citizens.

Both Nasser and Sadat were senior members of the Free Officers Club, who arranged the overthrow of King Farouk in the Egyptian Revolution of 1952. This revolution was a military coup, which consisted of the military asserting their dominance over Egypt’s government and instating themselves as the head. While acting as prime minister, Nasser pushed through major land reforms, which entailed taking land from the super large landowners, and distributing it amongst the government and lower-class.

Nasser’s influence in the government shifted quickly during 1954. The Muslim Brotherhood was outlawed in January of that year, and by late February Naguib was ousted as a tyrant. In October, following an accord providing for removal of British troops from Egypt, an attempt was made on Nasser’s life be a member of the Muslim Brotherhood at a political rally. There are theories that the assassination attempt was staged, but regardless the attempt gave Nasser a huge boost in popularity, and allowed him to make moves to smother the Muslim Brotherhood. Many members, and suspected members, of the brotherhood were put on trial or just immediately jailed, and the leaders were put into exile. Nasser had no desire for a strong Islamist movement within his Egypt. By defining his people as ‘Arabs’ versus ‘Muslims’, Nasser was able to incorporate more people into his nationalist project, including the Copts.

In regards to foreign affairs, Nasser made crucial decisions regarding Egypt’s stance in the Cold War and the relations with individual world powers. The choice to stay neutral during the Cold War, and recognizing Communist China, along with the arms deal with the Eastern bloc caused the United States to pull their financial support, specifically for the Aswan Dam. The Soviet Union began providing funding for the dam to replace the funding from the U.S. Nasser also nationalized the Suez Canal, which garnered much favor among his people, but was not well received by France and the United Kingdom, who were the primary shareholders. After some military struggle, Nasser was able to solidify his, and Egypt’s, claim to the canal. By securing this perceived victory, the average Arab citizen claimed Nasser as the undisputed leader of pan-Arabism. This caused the citizens of the other Arab countries to look up to Nasser, and caused the leader of some of those countries to fear his power and influence.

When Sadat ascended to the presidency, he took great measures to make sure he left a mark on Egyptian history. Sadat had been viewed as a puppet of Nasser, and Nasser’s supporters in government assumed he would be someone they could easily manipulate. What they weren’t anticipating was Sadat’s Corrective Revolution, which involved the purging of government and security forces of Nasserist supporters, many of whom were regarded as pro-Soviet. This decisive step cleared the way for Sadat to set up his own regime. To continue setting up opposition to Nasserists, Sadat released the imprisoned members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists, and allowed the Brotherhood to participate in the political dialogue yet again. Sadat felt conservative Islam was good for Egypt, and with his backing the Brotherhood had a greater voice in society and was able to grow again. Sadat used the Muslim Brotherhood to push Nasserist supporters out of the spectrum of influence, and firmly establish himself as a leader.

Sadat’s foreign policy acted primarily on the war with Israel. In October 1973, Sadat, in conjunction with Syria, launched a war against Israeli forces occupying the Sinai Peninsula. Both Egypt and Syria demonstrated strong military prowess, leading Israel to consider them more seriously and diplomatically reach an agreement regarding the Suez Canal. This was the beginning of peace conversations between Israel and Egypt, which culminated in a peace treaty signed by Sadat, on behalf of Egypt, and by Menachem Begin, the Prime Minister of Israel. This treaty was unpopular with the rest of the Arab and Muslim world, who felt that by signing the treaty Sadat was putting Egypt’s interests ahead of the united Arab front, and destroyed Arab unity. Sadat put heavy emphasis on interactions with the West, and their perception of Egypt.

Nasser outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood and imprisoned its members, and set up a strong Egypt that was independent of Western powers and united closely with its Arab neighbors. Sadat undid some of this, by supporting Islamism over Arabism, and by catering to the Western powers in his political stance. The combination of supporting conservative Islam while seeking approval of Western powers led to Sadat’s assassination in 1981, at the hands of a lieutenant, Islambouli, during an annual parade celebrating Egypt’s crossing of the Suez Canal.

Nasser had massive popular support from the citizens of Egypt, partially through imprisoning his opposition and outlawing contesting political parties. With Sadat’s rise to power, he formed his political stance in opposition to Nasserist ideals. Sadat’s backing of the Brotherhood, then subsequent peace with Israel, led to people turning against him. While both men took Egypt in different directions, they both did what they thought was best for Egypt.