Monday, July 7, 2010
Our guide, Adel, was there that fateful afternoon when the parade passed by the covered stands filled with dignitaries. Adel marched past about twenty minutes earlier, saluting the President of Egypt on October 6, 1981, seated front and center.
By the time the jet squadron flew over at low altitude, he and his comrades headed home. Back at parade central, the roar of the engines would cover the sound of automatic weapons. An admiral, who represented an angry, militant faction in the military, gave the order. Shoot to kill. Take the President out.
As Sadat looked to the heavens watching as those state of the art weapons of war scream past (the same planes that led Egypt to victory in the Israeli war just a few years earlier winning back the Sinai Peninsula back to Egypt) a pack of assassins jumped from their flat bed trucks and opened fire in a synchronized attack. They struck their target. The President who shook hands with Manachem Begin on the White House lawn just a short time before, the Egyptian who would be the first Muslim to enter and address the Kinneset in Jerusalem, would die instantly.
Why do the peacemakers seem to die so violently? And in their prime? This was the question I posed to our Egyptian guide (who is also a Muslim) as a hypothetical. But he answered me anyway. “So many of the good ones,” he said straightway, reflectively. Then he mentioned a few. Like Julius Caesar. And Ghandi. And Martin Luther King. And Jesus Christ, he added.
Alexandria was a repository of books. It was a center of learning. Aristotle. Plato. Socrates. Ptolemy. Augustine. All studied here. The Greek Emperors who controlled the strategic city built a library where all the old books were housed and copied and translated right here on the waterfront. It would be the finest collection in the known world from the time of Jesus until Egypt became a Christian (Coptic) nation. A fire destroyed the Biblioteca of Alexandria and all of those incredible books. Lost to the flames. Historians debate who is to blame. Some hold Julius Caesar responsible. Others blame the Christian Theophilus, who ordered the destruction of all pagan temples, especially those housing the history of pagan ritual. Still others hold the Muslim occupiers responsible when they invaded Alexandria in the sixth century. Whoever perpetrated the crime (and the theories often match the agenda of the theorist), it was an enormous loss.
We visited the new Library of Alexandria. Ptolemy would be proud. It rivals the Library of Congress. State of the art. Radical Islamists have had their say. They killed Saddat. They massacred sixty tourists in 1997 at Deir el-Bahri which we also visited. But their attempts only backfired. The Egyptian people disavowed their extremism. The determination to make Alexandria a world class educational center is alive and well.
And on the lower level of the massive library, just off the reception area, there is a small museum dedicated to the memory of President Anwar Saddat. I read a handwritten two-page musing, written with a fountain pen in English, one of several languages he spoke. It was a simple text which reflected his simple human values. He had enormous strength, character, charisma and charm. He won a major military victory. He reached out to make peace, even at the risk of his life.
And his people remember. Including our guide. And now, me.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp, 2010
Posted in Cairo, Egypt