Wolf, Albert B. “Peacemaking and Political Survival in Sadat’s Egypt.” Middle East Policy 21.2 (2014): 127-39.
By May 1980, the peace process served as the opposition’s focal point for action against the regime. The Lawyers’ Syndicate joined the opposition and helped groups coordinate with one another. By summer 1981, these forces joined the other syndicates in the country to oppose the treaty with Israel. The opposition cited the Knesset’s passage of a law making Jerusalem the indivisible capital of Israel and the Begin government’s attacks on the PLO in Lebanon as evidence that Sadat had abandoned the Palestinians and was helping to promote Israeli aggression.
The regime’s continued support for normalizing relations with Israel contributed to the outbreak of the protests known as the Autumn of Fury. By September 1981, nearly 1,500 of Sadat’s critics, including the Coptic pope, the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the brother of the man who would murder Sadat, were arrested. Khalid al-Islambouli and three fellow Islamic fundamentalists assassinated Sadat on October 6, 1981, during a military parade commemorating the October War of 1973. Al-Islambouli later said that he was primarily motivated by the signing of the Camp David accords and the Egypt-Israel treaty of 1979.
This piece provides a first cut into the political consequences for non-democratic leaders pursuing cooperation with enduring rivals: they risk their political survival. Autocracies often use foreign antagonisms as a means to legitimate their rule. When longstanding conflicts are resolved, domestic challengers are provided with a focal point for organizing against the regime and presenting themselves as a patriotic alternative to the incumbent. Ensuing protests threaten to unseat the nominal leadership by unleashing a secondary bandwagon of opposition movements, or by promoting a coup or revolution. In Egypt, peacemaking with Israel led to the Autumn of Fury and the assassination of Anwar Sadat.
This piece indicates a few additional avenues for future research. To what extent are the paper’s results generalizable beyond the Middle East and the Arab-Israeli dispute? Do the domestic pressures examined here give dictators a bargaining advantage with their rivals (as arguments on hands-tying suggest), or do they make dictators seem unreliable and untrustworthy, especially when bargaining over objects that affect the future balance of power. A third direction to investigate is whether these domestic pressures increase the credibility of secret diplomacy. Dictators who are likely to be punished for pursuing cooperation send a costly signal of their benign intent when they “go private” or pursue secret diplomacy with an enemy. When they talk to an adversary behind closed doors, dictators are putting their domestic political survival in the enemy’s hands. If he chooses to make the content of the negotiations public, it could destroy the dictator’s hold on power.