Taken from the Guardian
-Cairo - September 2010
The daughter of the former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat is going to court to defend her late father against allegations that he murdered Gamal Abdel Nasser, founding father of the modern Egyptian republic.
Sadat, most famous for his controversial peace deal with Israel at Camp David, took over the presidency after Nasser's unexpected death in 1970 from a heart attack that some doctors attributed to poisoning.
Last week, Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, a veteran Egyptian journalist and former Sadat aide, used his show on al-Jazeera television to give an account of Nasser's final days, which included several hints that the second president's death might not have been natural.
In what the Egyptian press have dubbed a "40-year bombshell", Heikal recalled an incident at a Cairo hotel where Nasser was meeting the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. According to Heikal the two leaders had a heated argument, after which Nasser looked so nervous that Sadat, who was vice-president at the time, offered to fetch him a cup of coffee.
Heikal alleges that Sadat ordered the president's private cook out of the kitchen and made the coffee himself, which Nasser drank. Three days later Nasser collapsed and died, bringing several million mourners out on to the streets of Cairo and leading one best-selling Arab newspaper to declare that "one hundred million people – the Arabs – are now orphans."
Sadat's family have responded angrily to what they see as an attempt to link Sadat, who was later assassinated by radical Islamists, to his predecessor's death.
One daughter took to the airwaves to dismiss the claim as false, while another has filed an official complaint with the Egyptian prosecutor-general, accusing Heikal of libel and slander.
"What Heikal said has inflicted tremendous damage on me and my family and hurt our feelings deeply," wrote Ruqaya Sadat in her submission to the courts.
Offering an intriguing insight into the detachment of political leaders from their people, Sadat’s family have argued that Heikal’s account cannot be true – because Sadat was incapable of making a cup of coffee on his own.
On the same TV show Heikal, one of the oldest and most high-profile public commentators in the Middle East, went on to say that he thought it "unlikely" Sadat had poisoned Nasser's coffee, but that qualification has failed to quell the storm. Many observers believe that the commentator's on-air statements, which included the line, "there's no proof [that Nasser was murdered], but a lot of speculations," were deliberately designed to cast suspicion on Sadat.
"This is a brawl between celebrity and senility," said Hisham Kassem, a prominent Egyptian publisher. "Heikal has had nothing to say over the past four decades and his TV show has become increasingly insignificant, so he's trying to drum up some publicity.
"Ruqaya Sadat wants to sue practically anyone who mentions her father outside the context of a god. The fact that so much has been made of this story is a sad reflection on the state of the Egyptian press."
The controversy has erupted just as extra attention is being heaped on the legacy of Nasser, a towering historical figure who styled himself not only as a revolutionary leader of the Arab World but also as a global champion of developing and post-colonial nations throughout the 1950s and 60s.
The Egyptian government recently announced that Nasser’s former Cairo home would be turned into a national museum; in an ironic twist of fate that reflects the transition Egypt has undergone since the demise of its socialist talisman, the construction of the museum will be contracted out to a private company.