|Human rights activist and former First Lady of Egypt
Human rights activist
29 August 1933, Cairo, Egypt
Jehan Sadat (Arabic: جيهان السادات, Jihān as-Sadāt; born 29 August 1933) is an Egyptian politician, researcher and feminist, and was First Lady of Egypt from 1970 until her husband’s assassination in 1981.
Jehan Safwat Raouf (Arabic: جيهان صفوت رؤوف Jīhān Ṣafwat Raʼūf) was born in Cairo, Egypt, as the first girl and third child of an upper-middle-class family of an Egyptian surgeon father, Safwat Raouf, and English music teacher mother, Gladys Cotterill. Her mother was the daughter of Charles Henry Cotterill, a Sheffield City police superintendent. She was raised as a Muslim according to her father’s wishes, but also attended a secondary Christian school for girls in Cairo.
As a teenage schoolgirl she was intrigued with Anwar Sadat as a local hero through following reports in the media about his heroic stories and his courage, loyalty, and determination in resisting the British occupation of Egypt. She heard many stories about him from her cousin, whose husband was his colleague in resistance and later in prison.
It was at her 15th birthday party that she first met her future husband Anwar Sadat, shortly after his release from prison, where he served two and a half years for his political activities. They married on May 29, 1949, after hesitation and objections from her parents to the idea of their daughter marrying a jobless revolutionary. He was 31, she was 15 years 9 months old. Anwar Sadat was subsequently part of the core members of the Free Officers Movement that led the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 which overthrew the monarchy of Egypt and Sudan.
As First Lady
Over the course of 32 years, Sadat was a supportive wife for her rising political husband who would go on to become President of Egypt. She is mother to their three daughters Noha, Jihan, Lobna and son Gamal. She later used her platform as the first lady of Egypt to touch the lives of millions inside her country, and served as a role model for women everywhere. She helped change the world’s image of Arab women during the 1970s, while undertaking volunteer work, and participating in non-governmental service to the less fortunate.
Sadat played a key role in reforming Egypt’s civil rights laws during the late 1970s. Often called “Jehan’s Laws” new statutes advanced by her granted women a variety of new rights, including those to alimony and custody of children in the event of divorce.
After visiting wounded soldiers at the Suez front during the Six-Day War in 1967, she founded al Wafa’ Wa Amal (Faith and Hope) Rehabilitation Center, which offers disabled war veterans medical and rehabilitation services and vocational training. The center is supported by donations from around the world and now serves visually impaired children and has a worldwide known music and choir band.
She has also played crucial roles in the formation of the Talla Society, a cooperative in the Nile Delta region that assists local women in becoming self-sufficient; the Egyptian Society for Cancer Patients and the Egyptian Blood Bank; and SOS Children’s Villages in Egypt, an organization that provides orphans new homes in a family environment.
She headed the Egyptian delegation to the UN International Women’s Conferences in Mexico City and Copenhagen. She is founder of the Arab-African Women’s League. As an activist she has hosted and participated in numerous conferences throughout the world concerning women’s issues, children’s welfare, and peace in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America.
- BA in Arabic Literature, Cairo University, 1977
- MA in Comparative Literature, Cairo University, 1980
- PhD in Comparative Literature, Cairo University, 1986
After completing her education, she became a teacher at the Cairo Artist and Performance Center.
Sadat is a Senior fellow at the University of Maryland, College Park (where The Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development has also been endowed).
She also published an autobiography, A Woman of Egypt (ISBN 0-7432-3708-0) in 1987, published by Simon & Schuster Inc., as well as poetry in Arabic, under a pseudonym, and has written a second book, My Hope for Peace, released in March 2009.
Awards and honors
- Sadat is the recipient of several national and international awards for public service and humanitarian efforts for women and children.
- She has also received more than 20 honorary doctorate degrees from national and international colleges and universities around the world.
- In 1993, she received the Community of Christ International Peace Award.
- In 2001 she was the winner of Pearl S. Buck Award
- Egypt’s first lady from 1970 to 1981
- First woman chair of the People’s Council of Munofeyya Provincial governorate
- Visiting professor at American University, University of South Carolina, and Radford University in the United States