Muslim Brotherhood
Egypt's Anwar Sadat Rescues the Ailing Shah

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project | January 16, 2019                          

“This is DISGRACEFUL, really! ... Putting the name ‘Islamic revolution’ is a crime—a crime against Islam, in the firsthand.”
— Anwar Sadat on events in Iran (Nov. 9, 1979)

The Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat

After his expulsion from Iran in January 1979, only one country granted permanent asylum to the ailing Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi — Egypt. They offered the two things he needed most: political refuge and urgent medical treatment.

On March 24th, 1980, the Shah was admitted to the Maadi Military Hospital in Cairo. The following day, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat addressed reporters after visiting with the cancer-stricken ex-king. Defiant and sanctimonious, Sadat shamed the revolutionary regime by invoking “true” Islamic principles.

“I am a Muslim, a true Muslim, that is why the Shah will be living here with his family among us as brothers”, declared Sadat. “This is the true spirit of Islam. Khomeini is preaching vengeance and hatred which is not true Islam.”

“We are not so much concerned with honoring the man in the person of the Shah”, he elaborated in a subsequent speech broadcast widely on the radio, “but with honoring the values of Islam.”

Protesting Sadat's aid to the Shah | Lafayette Park, Washington DC | March 26, 1980

The Shah later fled to Morocco, the Bahamas, Panama, Mexico, and finally back to Egypt. On July 27th, the Shah died at Maadi Military Hospital. Sadat ordered a lavish state funeral for his late friend. Richard Nixon, who flew in to pay his respects, praised Sadat for his loyalty to the monarch, in contrast with the Carter administration’s “shameful” neglect.

The following year, while attending a military parade commemorating the 1973 Yom Kippur War, President Sadat was ambushed by armed Muslim militants. He was rushed to the same hospital, where he died of his wounds.

During the revolution, Sadat had famously labeled Ayatollah Khomeini a “lunatic” and a “disgrace to Islam”. The new clerical regime returned the insult by naming a street in Tehran after Sadat’s assassin, Khalid Islambouli (executed in 1982), in addition to honoring the killer on a postage stamp and a public mural.

International Herald Tribune (Paris)
March 26, 1980 — lead editorial

The Meaning of Friendship

In receiving the shah, the pariah of the decade, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat has proved he knows the meaning of friendship. Back in 1973-74, when the shah was powerful as well as rich, he helped a desperately needy Sadat bring his country back from the brink of economic collapse. Now the Egyptian leader, who has nothing tangible to gain and perhaps some of his scant political capital to lose, has paid his debt. It may be that Sadat sees political advantage in demonstrating steadfastness and if so, who can blame him? But it would be hard to make a convincing case that he acted out of expediency.

Whether the shah deserves to be taken in, dying or not, is a fair question. Sadat may have grappled with it or simply rejected it as irrelevant. That line of inquiry goes to the moral consequences of his action and his memoirs may record the extent to which he took account of them. It seems more certain that he weighed the political consequences.

But did the shah? In deciding to accept Sadat’s hospitality he surely did nothing to help his Egyptian friend. The shah was angry at Panama for carrying out a charade over his extradition even though Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr and Foreign Minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh were the only ones who seemed to take it seriously. He was also angry at the Iranian authorities from the ayatollah on down for obvious reasons and at President Carter for having denied him permanent asylum in the United States. He was able to give them all temporary fits by flying off to Cairo, but his change of venue is not likely to have any lasting effect. It probably will not on Sadat either, but it will undoubtedly stir up the Islamic extremists in Egypt, home of the rabid Moslem Brotherhood, and it will give his opponents in the Arab world still another stick with which to beat him. Thus, instead of punishing his enemies, it looks like the shah will only succeed in punishing his friend.

As far as the hostages are concerned, the shah’s move is likely to complicate their situation briefly by weakening the position of Bani-Sadr, but it is unlikely to have any significant influence on the continuing internal political struggles that ultimately will determine the outcome of the crisis. Since the shah is not going to be sent back to Iran, his location is immaterial. In fact, almost everything is immaterial until Iran gets a real government that can take the hostages away from the embassy militants and negotiate a settlement with the United States.

The Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat

The Herald Statesman (Yonkers, New York)
March 27, 1980 editorial

Act of compassion

IN PROVIDING a permanent haven for the deposed shah, at considerable political and personal risk to himself, President Anwar Sadat of Egypt stands out as a man of principle, decency and loyalty — and as a practitioner of the religion that Iran’s leaders profess but don’t practice.

As for the screaming mobs in Tehran denouncing Sadat and demanding the shah’s return, Sadat had this spunky and eloquent retort: “Let them shout until the end of the world. Let me tell the people in Iran that their shouts will never bother us. We have received the shah in the true spirit of Islam, not the Islam they preach there.”

Politics aside — where it belongs in the case of a dying man — this was an act of compassion. Sadat stands tall, which cannot be said of everyone involved in the shah’s tangled odyssey.

LOST IN IRAQ: The Shah’s Baghdad Sojourn
LOST IN IRAQ: The Shah's Baghdad Sojourn | Aug. 16, 1953


Related links:

No Tears For The Shah | The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sept. 14, 1978


U.S. must make amends with Iran | Letter to the Editor (Jan. 7, 1980)

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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