Cairo — President Anwar Sadat -- agreeing in principle to restart Palestinian autonomy talks while launching a heralded war on poverty at home -- seems to have opted for the mere illusion of motion on two dangerous and intractable crises.
In the short run, the Egyptian President's marathon address to Parliament here May 14 would seem good news for the Carter administration in Washington. The American President has more than a few problems of his own. Thus, Mr. Sadat's May 8 decision to call a "suspension" of the stalled, US- mediated negotiations was the last thing Mr. Carter needed.
And in the short run, Mr. Sadat's four-hour speech also seems good news for Egyptians. Minimum wages are to go up, prices on essential commodities are decreed downward. All this is effective "tomorrow," said Mr. Sadat, or on May 15.
But in the longer run, things look a lot less bright for everyone concerned -- including President Sadat, Washington's chief Arab ally.
Mr. Sadat's speech, which followed a Cabinet reshuffle in effect making him prime minister as well as President, was clearly prompted by concern over lack of visible progress in calming Egypt's two main crisis fronts: autonomy and the economy.
Such concern is justified. The Egyptian food riots of three years ago are ample proof that empty stomachs can be dangerous, potentially more so amid the rising economic expectations fed by peace with Israel.
And if the autonomy talks are of less immediate interest to most of Mr. Sadat's 42 million compatriots, the stalemate could provide ammunition for increasingly visible opposition to the regime by Muslim fundamentalists.
The autonomy impasse also has served to fuel attacks on Mr. Sadat by hard-line neighbors and cement his isolation within the Arab world.
The Egyptian President, in his speech, went on the offensive against both the Muslim extremists and his Arab opponents. He said "activity of all societies and groups that propagate religious fanaticism" must stop -- particularly on university campuses, the Islamic activists' main center of support.
He served notice that even if those Arab states that joined in an almost unanimous regional break with Egypt wanted to change their minds, they would not be permitted to reopen full Cairo embassies.
But the twin crises -- autonomy and economy -- remained.* Neither seemed any closer to resolution after Mr. Sadat had wrapped up his longest address in a presidency rife with long addresses.
Reuters reported from Cairo:
President Sadat said he will decide on May 15 on a date for the resumption of the Palestine talks. He added that the decision to resume the stalled talks was agreed on in a telephone conversation with President Carter.
In the course of his speech to the Egyptian People's Assembly (parliament), Mr. Sadat said he was convinced the negotiations would not be completed by the May 26 target date established in the Camp David accords that led to the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.
Mr. Sadat rejected the Israeli policy of building Jewish settlements, old or new, in occupied Arab territories, and he insisted that Arab Jerusalem was part of the West Bank of the Jordan River.
President Sadat, who spoke for four hours, also announced the abolition of martial law.
"I have abolished martial law as of midnight tomorrow," he said. "These laws have been imposed on Egypt for the past 70 years, except for six or seven years."
President Sadat said the purpose of his action was to complete the democratic process in Egypt that started with his decision four years ago to introduce a multiparty system.