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Bringing Peace to Middle East Possible, Says Former Egyptian First Lady


My Hope for Peace is a new book by Egypt's former first lady, Jehan Sadat. It is being published simultaneously in the United States and the Middle East to mark the 30th anniversary of the signing of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. The peace Sadat's title refers to is three-fold: the on-going struggle for peace in the Middle East, the inherent peace in Islam, and the search for inner peace. Sadat wants to encourage leaders and people in the Middle East to work harder in order to live in peace.

When Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed a peace treaty in 1979, Jehan Sadat says hopes were high that other Arab countries would follow suit and peace would finally find a home in the Middle East. That did not happen.

"I feel very sorry, because we wasted 30 years, doing nothing except losing our sons from both sides," she told VOA's Faiza Elmasry. "And what's the result at the end? Never, never [would] Israel destroy the Arab world or the Palestinians, and never [would] the Palestinians destroy Israel. Then why are they wasting their time? Let them sit and reach a solution. I believe there is no other alternative except to make peace with Israel and to live side by side amicably, securely and productively."

Leaders must respond to demands for peace

To make that vision a reality, though, Sadat says people and governments in the Middle East must be willing to work together. She adds that Egypt's experience, as well as recent opinion polls, show that the people are ready to do that.

"People in the Middle East, everywhere, even in Israel, they want peace," she says. "Nobody wants war. Everyone wants to live in peace and security. But the problem is with the leaders, not with the people."

The leaders, she says, must take serious steps and give peace a chance.

"[What leaders should do is] to do like Sadat, to put their people above themselves. This is number one," she says. "Second, [they have] to be sincere in making peace, because it is their duty towards their people to bring them peace. And they have to do it. It is a must, really, because it is a tragedy when we see innocent people are killed because their leader doesn't want to sit and negotiate."

President Obama should make peace priority

The international community, Sadat explains, must also play a role, facilitating peace efforts and helping the parties find a middle ground. That's what President Jimmy Carter did when the Egyptian and Israeli leaders were sincerely committed to peace 30 years ago. Sadat says she sees a similar set of circumstances today, as President Barack Obama seems to be serious about making the Middle East a peaceful region.

"I'm proud of President Obama, really, because he wanted to change," she says. "He is sincere to help bringing peace to the Middle East. You can see from his speeches, from his talks, even from going to the Middle East. He was not just talking. He sent an envoy to the Middle East, and he is coming also to the Middle East to give a speech to the Muslim countries all over the world.

"He is ready. President Obama is ready to make peace, even with Iran. He said, 'I don't mind negotiating with them.' But it's the other side who should be ready for what Obama wants to do. They have to stand and help him also."

Explaining Islam to the West

Building confidence between the United States and Muslims around the world, Sadat says, is key to making the world a more peaceful place. As a moderate Muslim, she says the West needs to better understand Islam. That's what she tries to explain in her book as she talks about peace as a central value of her faith.

"Islam doesn't tell you to kill. In Islam, killing an innocent person is anthema [abomination]," she says. "Our Quran plainly states that killing an innocent person is tantamount to killing the whole world, all mankind, which is very terrible. Muslims must come out and explain our religion, explain our way of life. We are not that people who want to kill or [take] revenge or want to do things like that."

Finding her own peace

In her book, Sadat also talks about inner peace. She explains how she found that peace after her husband was assassinated by Islamic radicals opposed to his treaty with Israel.

"My family has part in this, and much more is my faith. And I, instead of staying at home, doing nothing, I went out," she says. "I was teaching in Cairo University at that time. I came here, to the United States. I taught in four universities. Now I'm settled with the University of Maryland. There is a chair [faculty position] named after my husband for development and peace, to keep his legacy alive. I want people not to forget the man who paid his life to bring peace in his country and in the Middle East."

At the university, Jehan Sadat helped bring together a class of Palestinian and Israeli students to learn from each other. She says working with young people makes her even more convinced that peace in the Middle East is possible. That's the message, she says, behind her Hope for Peace.

View report and full interview with Sadat (in three parts)

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