Courtesy Reuters

A generation after that day of October 6, 1981, when Anwar al-Sadat was struck down, a strange bond has been forged between Sadat and his assassin, Khalid Istanbuli. A place has been made in the country's narrative for both men. The history of Egypt, her very identity, is fluid enough to claim the wily ruler who swallowed his pride to deal with Israel and the United States, and also the assassin appalled by the cultural price paid in the bargain. In a sense, Sadat and Istanbuli are twins, their lives and deeds one great tale of the country's enduring dilemmas and her resilience amid great troubles, about the kind of political men Egypt's history brought forth when her revolutionary experiment of the 1950s and 1960s ran aground.

It is not hard for Egyptians to recognize much of themselves and their recent history in Istanbuli, the young lieutenant who proclaimed with pride that he had shot the pharaoh. He was in every way a son of the Free Officer Revolution of Gamal Abdel Nasser, of July 23, 1952, when Egypt cast aside her kings and set out on a new, nonaligned path. Istanbuli was born in 1957, a year after the Suez Crisis, during what seemed

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  • Fouad Ajami is Majid Khadduri Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University.
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