Four decades have elapsed since the historic visit of late Egyptian president Anwar Al-Sadat to Jerusalem. Different, and in fact more often than not contradictory, points of view and interpretations have developed over time regarding this visit. However, there is no doubt that it was a turning point in the contemporary Middle East, including in the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Middle East peace process.
There has been a huge literature on the visit, whether in Egypt, the Arab world, the non-Arab Middle Eastern countries, the West or the rest of the world. This has covered many dimensions of the visit: its roots, motivation, planning, proceeding, outcomes, ramifications, both direct and indirect and its impact on Egypt, the Arab world, the Middle East and the wider world. However, there are still aspects of it that could be further debated and assessed.
This article examines only one aspect of Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem through a perspective put forward by several Egyptian voices at the time and later, most of them members of the leftist circles of the period.
These figures developed the argument that, despite the historical, ideological and political differences they had with the visit, as well as its declared and undeclared motivations, they would have been willing to support it, or at least not vehemently criticise it, had Sadat made use of the conditions created in the aftermath of a bilateral peace between Egypt and Israel to launch a new initiative in Egypt itself.
This would have been directed towards developing the productive sectors of the economy on new bases in order to realise the full potential inherent in the country’s economic resources and capacities in order to boost economic output and productivity and build a more equitable social order favouring the lower and lower middle social strata of society at that time.
Their argument was based on a number of assumptions. The first was that bringing an end to the state of war between Egypt and Israel could have saved Egypt substantial amounts of its economic resources that had been primarily directed towards military ends in order to prepare the armed forces for a war of liberation of the territories occupied in the June 1967 War. Expenditure on the armed forces during peacetime is by definition less than expenditure in times of war, and it was argued that whatever resources could have been released in such a context could have been redirected away from military purposes towards civilian ones, as had happened in the cases of other countries in the world. These cases had been looked at by international organisations, think tanks and national aid agencies in the main donor countries.
The second assumption was that Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem and its aftermath could have been expected to open the door to an unprecedented inflow of development assistance, preferential trade arrangements, technology transfers at concessional rates, and foreign direct investment from the Western countries, particularly the United States but also Canada and Japan. This assumption was founded on the promises made by political figures, the business community, and the media in the United States and the rest of the Western world to the Egyptian leadership at that time.
Even talk of something along the lines of the Marshal Plan that helped rebuild Western Europe after the Second World War was heard at the time. Yet, these promises never materialised on the scale expected by the Egyptian leadership in the years following Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem.
The third assumption was that already more than three years had passed since the adoption of the Open Door Economic Policy (ODEP) in Egypt and that by then the structural limitations of this as far as the realisation of substantial and long-term social and economic development objectives and priorities had become clear. Therefore, for the proponents of this perspective the visit and its aftermath provided an opportunity for revisiting the country’s economic policy and adopting an alternative path that aimed at maximising an independent development strategy at all levels.
It is worth noting that the leftist adherents of this perspective drew an analogy between what they hoped Sadat would opt for and the path pursued by the former Russian Bolshevik leader V I Lenin following the bilateral peace treaty he concluded with Germany in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in October 1917. That treaty brought Russia out of the First World War, but it also left the country open to criticisms from its former allies that it had sold out and betrayed their cause.
Lenin did not care much about these accusations and instead made use of the bilateral peace in order to launch his famous New Economic Policy that contributed to laying the foundations of a new economic order in Soviet Russia.
The three assumptions mentioned above do not constitute an exhaustive list of all the assumptions made by the proponents of Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in 1977, though they do capture the most prominent ones. The door is still open for different interpretations of the visit and its implications.