Camelia Sadat carries on her father's independence, values
When your father is president of a politically dynamic country like Egypt, the moments you have to spend together are so few that you do your best to make the most of them.
For Camelia Sadat, daughter of the late Anwar Sadat, this meant giving up much of her own free time to study newspapers and newsmagazines. She not only kept pace with her father's latest policies and legislative victories, but also learned enough about the workings of government to be able to share inside political jokes with him.
''It's not common in Egypt for a girl to talk openly with her father and to discuss issues with him - but we did,'' she explains with characteristic frankness and an accent that hints of time spent in both London and New England. ''He was a liberal in some ways, but he was also a very traditional Muslim man, so it was not always easy for us.''
Her recollection ends with a resonant laugh, a reminder of the hearty sense of humor she says she inherited from her father, along with his preference for white chocolate and shoot-'em-up westerns.
''Whenever we'd get together with our family on the weekends to watch movies, '' she says, ''the grandchildren always wanted to see 007 films, and my father would say OK to one James Bond. But what he really liked were westerns. He said they were the only things that could take you away from your thinking.''
To hear Camelia Sadat describe the fundamental beliefs behind some of her father's decisions is to see an unexpected side of one of the Middle East's most controversial leaders. To the end, for example, he literally trusted others with his life.
''The night before the parade (at which Sadat was assassinated), the minister of interior went to my father to tell him about the Muslim group (in the Army) that was having shooting training in the desert, and to offer to add police troops to the Army parade for his protection.''
''But my father told the minister, 'No way.' He said, 'I trust my children,' which is what he always called the Army.''
As she leans forward on the conference table, fielding reporters' occasionally irritating questions with a good-natured ''Why do you ask me that?'' Ms. Sadat calls to mind the larger-than-life yet elegantly feminine carvings of ancient Egyptian goddesses and queens found in Nile River temples built more than 4,000 years ago. A tailored white linen suit provides a striking complement to her sculptured, dark bronze features, and from time to time she fingers a handsome gold scarab necklace bearing a medallion of President Sadat's pyramid-shaped tomb.
She saw her father for the last time in August of 1981, six weeks before he was assassinated and only days before she left Egypt with her teen-age daughter to study in the United States. Since then, she has earned a master's degree in communication from Boston University and settled comfortably in a nearby suburb. She won't be going home, she says, before her daughter has completed her own education.
Ms. Sadat has already finished five chapters of a book about her father which she hopes to have published within the year. Because she feels so little is known about the personal details of his life, she has set out to portray him in his various roles as son, brother, husband, and father - a ''man of two families ,'' she describes him.
Although it may come as a surprise to many Westerners, it was public knowledge in Egypt that President Sadat had fathered one family before his second, highly visible marriage to First Lady Jihan. As one of three daughters of his first wife, whom he divorced in 1949, Camelia Sadat seldom appeared in public with her father and at times found it difficult to maintain much of a father-daughter relationship with him. But she now speaks almost exclusively about the warm memories she has of her time with her father, and she says her relationship with her stepmother, Jihan, now is ''very good.''
Since she has begun to travel on the college lecture circuit this year, Ms. Sadat has been getting as many questions about her own experience as a Muslim woman as she has about her father.
She often explains that her early upbringing was typical of many Muslim women her age. Offered in marriage at age 12 by her father to an Egyptian Army officer 17 years her senior, she was expectedto abide by her husband's decisions without questioning them, including his prohibition against any additional education.
After smoldering for some 10 years, however, her fierce independence apparently caught fire at 20, and she went to her father to tell him she had to have a divorce.
''It's really not acceptable in our society for a woman to be too independent ,'' she explains in somewhat halting English. ''By tradition, a family prefers that a divorced woman take the advice of her family; whatever they decide for her, that should be her life. But I did the opposite. I did what I felt like doing, and I had a lot of encouragement from my father.
''Actually, he was the only one who was encouraging. The rest of the family really didn't like it or accept it.''
To avoid a sensationalized divorce, Ms. Sadat turned over to her husband all the property that her father had purchased for the couple, and also gave up all claims to alimony rights. ''I gave him everything so he would agree to leave my child with me,'' she says. ''In fact, there are many divorces in Egypt that you never hear about that are like this.''
Faced with the challenge of raising her daughter alone, Ms. Sadat got a job as a typist for a German pharmaceutical firm in Cairo. Within 10 years, she had become public relations director for the company, and also finished her high school and undergraduate education.
''My father could have helped us financially,'' she explains, ''but he preferred to encourage all of his six daughters to be independent. As a result, three of us are now working women, and Jihan, of course, continues to teach at the University of Cairo.''
A practicing Hanafi (Suniz) Muslim who prays five times daily and fasts one month a year, Camelia Sadat castigates recent stirrings of fundamentalist Islamic sects as extremists who ''not only reject women's changing roles, but also reject the development of society as a whole.''
The greatest lessons she can teach her daughter, she says, are the religious values her own father taught her.
'Muhammad the prophet had no sons, only daughters,'' Ms. Sadat adds. ''Some believe that God planned that so Muhammad would demonstrate the importance of women in Muslim society.''