Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981 at the hands of extreme Islamists who wanted to turn Egypt into a theocracy. Conventional wisdom by beltway cognoscenti was that we had just lost a great alley and that threats in the region (Libya) were the most likely perpetrators. What further complicated diplomatic efforts in ’81 was the fact that the arms race was beginning to heat up between us and the Soviets and it was believed (rightfully so) that the USSR was in fact aiding those regimes who were anti-Israel. It was a game of chess between the two great puppet masters.
As I watch the way our media covered the events of that early October tragedy I am struck by how similar the tone was than as it is now about how Egypt would transition to power. Our government was clearly concerned about the power vacuum that was created by Sadat’s murder. What forces would coalesce and form a new government? Was Mubarak loyal to the U.S. and could he be a trusted to provide sufficient protection to Israel? Thirty years later as we watch Mubarek slowly relinquish his power those questions have been answered. Still, it is interesting to see how history moves in cycles. Whereas before you had a revolutionary group take out a pro-Israeli leader (Sadat) now you have demonstrations by the people of Egypt themselves who have forged ahead (with the help of a non-antagonistic military) to demand the removal of a stoic and out-of-touch autocrat. Still the anxieties of our nation still exist about implementation, execution and philosophy.
Still the Washington Press Corp was honest in their critique of the situation. They expressed U.S. ties to Egypt in very transparent and open terms. They acknowledged that we had a robust economic pact with the Egyptians and in order to help the transition to power we must sell them weapons to keep them on our side. Pols both Democratic and Republican alike were effusive in their praise of Sadat’s government and steadfast in their believe that the weapons pact that had been on the table should be pushed through immediately. In todays media blitz I am not sure if our elected officials would be so direct and blunt in their assessment of the situation. They would be concerned that their words would be mis-construed or taken out of context causing them long-term political peril.