Saturday, August 27, 2011

An Incident At Sadat's Funeral

Dunsmore: Ambiguous Ending

Ccommentator Barrie Dunsmore recalled a dramatic and potentially dangerous moment - that ultimately ended in ambiguity.

(DUNSMORE) I'm Barrie Dunsmore, and this is about "The Anwar Sadat Funeral Mystery."

On October 7th, 1981, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated by a group of Islamic fundamentalists serving in the Egyptian Armed forces. I greatly respected Sadat and was personally touched by his murder. Many times over the years I had met with him - sometimes for formal interviews, often just for casual chats.

I was covering the State Department at the time he was murdered. Because of security concerns it was decided President Reagan would not attend the funeral but a unique American delegation was formed - and I was chosen to be one of three pool reporters that would accompany that delegation to Cairo.

On October 10th, former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford walked slowly a few feet behind the casket of Anwar Sadat. I was about twenty, twenty-five paces behind the three presidents, in a line that included former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and then Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

Suddenly members of the Egyptian Presidential Guard stepped in front of the Kissinger/Begin line, forcing us all to stop. The guards un-slung their rifles and assumed the high ready position - that's barrels pointed slightly upwards and directly toward us. Immediately, American and Israeli security agents tensed up and began barking into their radios.

Picture this: Less than seventy two hours before, another Egyptian military unit had killed Sadat because he had dared to make peace with Israel . Now the Prime Minister of Israel and the famous American diplomat who had helped bring about that peace were virtually in their gun sights - not to mention numerous other notables and yours truly. For a few moments, probably no more than thirty seconds, I truly thought that my fifteen years of reporting on the Middle East was about to come to a very dramatic end.

But just as suddenly as they had blocked our passage, the guards re-slung their rifles to their shoulders, moved to the side and allowed us to continue. None of the officials or the security people I spoke to then or since knew what had happened. There were theories but no explanations. Now, it could be that the guards were simply trying to control the speed of the procession. Perhaps. But it's hard to escape the suspicion that the real story might have had a much more ominous ending.

And you can listen, too.

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