The deeper tragedy
When the shooting starts a trained soldier "hits the dirt." Anwar al-Sadat was a trained soldier. But when the shooting started he did not hit the dirt. He was standing upright when the bullets struck.
We can never know what were his last motives. Was he unaware of what was happening? Did his courage or his religious conviction prompt him to face up to his attackers? Did he feel instinctively that he had outlived his usefulness to his people?
We can never know those last thoughts. But it is already clear that as a martyr he has revived a cause which he had no longer been able to advance while living.
For him the last important events before his martyrdom were his own visit to Washington followed by Israel Prime Minister Menachem Begin's visit to Washington. His own visit to Washington was a failure, from his point of view. He asked for much, and was given nothing. The Begin visit was a triumph for Mr. Begin and a measure of almost total failure for Mr. Sadat.
Mr. Sadat had gone to Washington in the hope of reviving the Camp David process and the prospect that through that process there might someday be liberation for the Arab peoples of the occupied territories from Israeli military occupation.
The Camp David process originated during the presidency of Jimmy Carter. It was based on the promise by Mr. Carter to carry it along to the time when the Arabs of the occupied territories could live under an Arab government, be judged by Arab law, and be policed by their own people.
Mr. Sadat could never justify himself to his own people or to the Arab community at large his making of peace with Israel and his recognition of Israel unless those dramatic and widely applauded measures of peacemaking were to be crowned by peace between Israel and Israel's other Arab neighbors.
By Arab standards it would be intolerable and unconscionable for Mr. Sadat to make only a peace between Egypt and Israel. To any Arab that would be betrayal.
For Mr. Sadat the great question this year was whether the new American President, Ronald Reagan, would see the Middle East problems in the same context in which Mr. Carter had seen them. The early months of the Reagan administration showed the opposite.
Mr. Sadat wanted President Reagan to bring the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) into the peace-seeking process. He wanted the President to restrain the Israelis from planting more Israeli settlers in the occupied Arab territories. He wanted Mr. Reagan to push ahead for regional autonomy for Palestine Arabs.
Mr. Sadat could have held his head high among his compatriots and among other Arabs had he been able to obtain those things he wanted from Mr. Reagan. He could have gone on living a useful life in his own community. He could have made a unique contribution to the peacemaking process in the Middle East.
But without the prospect of those things he had already begun to be seen among many Arabs, among many Egyptians, and even among some of his colleagues in the higher levels of government in Cairo as a man who had outlived his mandate; indeed as a man who had become an embarrassment to his country.
Up to the moment of the assassination there was no such prospect. The Reagan administration would not give substance to his dream of peace. From the moment of the assassination the prospect has revived.
United States Secretary of State Alexander Haig has urged the Israelis to speed up their withdrawal from the Sanai peninsula by a month. He has asked the Israelis to cease expanding their settlements in occupied territory.
Former Republican President Gerald Ford and former Democratic President Jimmy Carter have aired the prospect of eventual US negotiations with the PLO. Their proposal was issued by the White House in an official and authorized version of an interview reporters had with the two on the plane coming back from Cairo. The Reagan White House, in effect, used Mr. Reagan's two predecessors to clear the raod toward the possibility of bringing the PLO into the peace-seeking process.
These changes mean that Camp David is once more active.
It has been revived, but by what? Mr. Sadat alive was unable to do it. Anwar al-Sadat the Martyr has done it. His assassination has shocked Washington into appreciating the danger of allowing the Palestine issue to lie untended any longer.
The idea of talking to the Palestines is hotly debated in Washington, which means that it is a lively possibility.
The merits of restraining further Israeli settlements in occupied territory is once more recognized in official Washington.
The vital importance of keeping Egypt inside the peacemaking process and friendly to the US is newly appreciated -- because the assassination has thrown a lurid light on how easily Muslim fanaticism could wrest Egypt out of the American association.
Mr. Sadat regained his lost influence as a peacemaker, by losing his human life.