Cairo — A token staff of seven Soviet officials soon will be all that remains, diplomatically at least, of a once flourishing and fruitful relationship between Egypt and the Soviet Union.
Angered by Moscow's relentless condemnation of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty and by its involvement in Afghanistan, President Sadat has ordered all Soviet technical advisers to leave Egypt. He also stipulated that the Soviet Embassy here reduce its staff to seven, matching the number of Egyptian diplomats in Moscow.
In yet another anti-Soviet move, Egypt's Defense Minister Kamal Hassan Ali told a press conference Feb. 13 that Afghan guerrillas were being trained in this country. They would be equipped with arms, he said, and sent to Afghanistan to fight against Soviet forces there.
Although Mr. Sadat's directive ousting Soviet diplomats and technicians was issued early in February, Soviet officials say they have had no further word from Egyptian authorities. Nevertheless, more than 700 diplomats, advisers, and their families are poised to leave.
The President's move against the entire Soviet presence in Egypt was puzzling , as he already had made his point several weeks earlier.
Shortly after Soviet troops entered Afghanistan, the Egyptian government called for a reduction in the 50-member Soviet diplomatic mission in Cairo. About 30 Soviet diplomats subsequently left.
By demanding another and even more drastic Soviet reduction, Mr. Sadat was thought by analysts here to be trying to upstage the conference of Islamic countries, which was then meeting in Pakistan.
That gathering, from which Egypt had been pointedly excluded because of its treaty with Israel, merely condemned Soviet policy in Afghanistan but did not call for the expulsion of Soviet personnel from Islamic countries.
Besides the diplomats in Cairo, President Sadat's order affects Soviet engineers and technicians in four major industrial sites throughout the country: the Helwan iron and steel works just south of Cairo, the huge Nag Hammadi aluminum complex in Upper Egypt, the Alexandria shipyard, and the Aswan High Dam.
All of these are vital industrial installations that were either built or expanded with Soviet assistance in the 1960s and early 1970s when the economic cooperation between Moscow and Cairo was intense.
Egyptian officials are convinced the loss of Soviet personnel will make no difference in the operation of the facilities. In Helwan, they say, cooperation with West German and Japanese companies has gone on for some time.
What could prove to be a problem, however, is the continued supply of spare parts for Soviet-made machinery. A Soviet embargo on spare parts for Egyptian Army, tightened eight years ago after Mr. Sadat expelled more than 15,000 Soviet military advisers, severely hampered Egypt's armed forces. Since then, Mr. Sadat has had to turn to the United States, France, Britain, and China for weapons.
As dramatic as Mr. Sadat's recent steps against the Soviet Union are, they are not without precedent. Soviet-Egyptian relations began to sour shortly after 1970 when President Sadat who is said to harbor a deep personal antipathy toward the Soviet Union, assumed office on the passing of his predecessor, Gamal Abdul Nasser.
The conflict over the delivery of spare parts and arms, which in 1972 prompted the expulsion of the Soviet military advisers, grew sharper in the next four years.
In 1976 Mr. Sadat, then accusing the Russians of refusing the reschedule Egypt's military and civil debt, summarily abrogated the 15-year Soviet-Egyptian friendship treaty that he himself had signed in 1971.
In 1977, cotton exports to the Soviet Union were banned and a 10-year moratorium on repayment of Egypt's $4 billion military debt was imposed. And, in the past three years, President Sadat has lost no opportunity to revile his former helpers.
Nonetheless, the Soviet Union is credited with having come to Egypt's aid in 1955, three years after a corrupt, ineffectual monarch had been overthrown.
The Soviets' shining achievement in Egypt was initiated in 1958 when agreement was reached to finance the Aswan High Dam, Africa's largest engineering project.
With Soviet loans, Egypt later established its largest industrial complex, the iron and steel factory at Helwan, and the aluminum plant at Nag Hammadi. The latter employe more than 10,000 persons.
For some, Soviet aid, with its accent on tangible industrial plants that put thousands to work, is being favorably compared with the millions of dollars in American assistance that Egypt has received, which some economists say has not bolstered the country's productive capacities.
"When you oust the Soviets," says one Egyptian economist, "there will remain the Aswan dam, the Alexandria shipyard, the Nag Hammadi plant. But if ever we could oust the Americans, what would we have before our eyes that is tangible and material? Nothing."