|Jehan Sadat did not know that when she became the wife of Egypt’s hero that she was beginning a journey that would last for more than thirty-two years with a man who would become the President of Egypt, a President who would change the course of history not just for the Middle East, but also for the world. She did not know that this unpretentious man of principles who was her husband would become one of the 20th Century’s greatest statesmen. Nor did she ever imagine that her marriage to Anwar Sadat would open the doors of opportunity for her to make a contribution to her society, touching the lives of millions, changing the world’s image of Arab women, and fulfilling her own life-long “yearning for participation” and service.
As Egypt’s First Lady she challenged the popularly held world-view of the Middle Eastern woman. Through her activities in Egypt and her participation in international events, she presented the face of the modern Arab woman to the Western World. In 1975, she was head of the Egyptian delegation to the UN’s International Women’s Conference in Mexico City and later, she headed the Egyptian delegations to the UN Women’s Conferences in Copenhagen and the UN’s Decade of Women in New York. The founder of the African-Arab Women’s League, she hosted and participated in, and is still participating in, countless conferences and seminars concerning women’s issues, children’s welfare, and peace in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America.
Having always been especially concerned with the eradication of illiteracy, family planning, and the rights of women; Mrs. Sadat became socially active long before her husband became the President of Egypt. Mrs. Sadat often states, “The most precious capital any country can have is an educated citizenry.” She, therefore, promotes education, learning, in all aspects and stages of life, particularly for women, as the major way for any nation to achieve lasting economic, social, and political equality. Acting on this belief, Mrs. Sadat set out to gain the legal reforms that would give women the rights they deserved and were entitled to. Despite the harsh personal criticisms that ensued, Mrs. Sadat was instrumental in the reform of the Personal Status Laws by the Egyptian Parliament in 1979. These laws, Egypt’s civil rights laws, had for decades inhibited women from reaching their political and social potential and from gaining their right to participate fully in public life. Throughout her years of advocacy for women, Mrs. Sadat has taken a path unique to the one followed by Western feminists. She has always molded and shaped her ideology within the context of the national character and needs of Egyptian society. Education, women’s rights, children’s welfare, and peace are the issues that have occupied, and continue to occupy, her life’s work. Though very proud of what she has accomplished, Mrs. Sadat unequivocally considers her family to be her greatest achievement and being a mother, her most important role.
Following the assassination of President Sadat on October 6, 1981, the deeply aggrieved Jehan Sadat retreated from public life, her beloved projects, and her teaching position at Cairo University. After a period of unparalleled grief and uncertainty, she resumed her role as an educator, lecturer, and social activist for women’s rights and the cause of international peace. Although she divides her time between the United States and her beloved Egypt and travels the world in fulfillment of her speaking engagements, Mrs. Sadat has written A Woman of Egypt, her best-selling autobiography, which was published in 1987. She has completed the writing of her second book, My Hope of Peace due for release in March 2009 to mark the 30th anniversary of the Camp David Accords. Today, Mrs. Sadat’s mission is to maintain her husband’s legacy, keeping alive his memory so that future generations will know that Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat was a “man of peace.” She continues to communicate her own views concerning the rights of women, the importance of the family, and world peace to national and international audiences.