Former Egyptian first lady Jehan Sadat dies aged 87

The wife of assassinated president Anwar Sadat was suffering from cancer

Jehan Sadat, widow of Egypt’s late President Anwar Sadat, died on Friday after a two-year battle against cancer, her family said. She was 87.

Sadat died at the Cairo hospital where she was admitted this summer after more than a year of treatment in the US. Relatives posted messages on social media urging Egyptians to pray for her when her condition took a turn for the worse last week.

She was the second wife of the late Egyptian leader, who was gunned down during a military parade in Cairo in 1981 by Islamic extremists opposed to his 1979 peace treaty with Israel. She disappeared from the public eye for a year after his death before she re-emerged to focus on her studies and later on lecturing in the US on peace studies and international relations.

Sadat was buried on Friday after she was accorded a military funeral - an honour rarely bestowed on women in Egypt - led by President Abdel Fattah El Sisi. Her coffin was wrapped in the black, red and white of the Egyptian flag.

The funeral procession led by Mr El Sisi, top government officials and members of her family ended at the unknown soldier mausoleum in an east Cairo suburb where her husband's tomb is located.

She was laid to rest in a grave close to her late husband’s by the mausoleum.

Earlier in the day, the president mourned Sadat's death in a statement that praised her as a role model for Egyptian women.

“She supported her husband in difficult and delicate circumstances until he led the country to achieve a historic victory in the glorious October war which was a milestone in Egypt's modern history that restored Egypt's dignity and pride”, Mr El Sisi said, alluding to the 1973 Arab-Israeli war when Egyptian troops crossed the Suez Canal to wrest back control of the Sinai Peninsula.

President El Sisi also posthumously awarded her the “Medal of Perfection” and renamed a thoroughfare in eastern Cairo after her.

Born Jehan Safwat Raouf in Cairo in August 1933 to an Egyptian father and a British mother, Sadat met her future husband for the first time at a relative’s house in 1948. She was only 15. The couple married in 1949 despite the opposition of her mother and father, a British-trained doctor.

Her new husband already had three daughters from his first marriage and was out of a job following his dismissal from the army because of his political activity. He was later reinstated and in 1952 was one of the “Free Officers” who seized power in a coup and later toppled the monarchy.

Sadat began to emerge as a public figure after her husband was named vice president in 1969. A year later, he became Egypt’s third president after Gamal Abdel Nasser died suddenly.

Unlike Abdel Nasser’s wife Tahiyah, who shunned the limelight and lived completely in the shadow of her husband, Sadat embraced the role of first lady, a title Egyptians were not accustomed to at the time.

She led several high-profile charities, including the Red Crescent Society, accompanied her husband on foreign trips, and ruffled the feathers of conservative Egyptians with her campaigns to empower and win more rights for women in Egypt’s patriarchal society.

She studied Arabic literature at Cairo University, graduating in 1978. She received a master’s degree in literary criticism two years later and a PhD in comparative literature in 1987, also from Cairo University.

She wrote two books, of which the better known is the semi-autobiographical A Lady From Egypt.

In recognition of her contribution to women’s rights in Egypt and her campaigns for peace, she was accorded honorary doctorates from scores of universities in the West and elsewhere.

She is survived by three daughters, Lobna, Noha and Jehan, and a son, Gamal.

Updated: July 9th 2021, 5:18 PM
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