Egypt's new leader moves swiftly, decisively; How Sadat's opponents would remodel Egypt

Egypt and the whole Mideast will se massive changes over coming months in the wake of the Sadat assassination, exiled opposition leaders here say. Many of these exiles clearly hope to be part of those changes, either by being invited back to broaden the Egyptian political consensus, or in other, more dramatic ways.

But on one point they all appear agreed: They say no single Egyptian politician can hope to take over smoothly just where Mr. Sadat left off. And that includes his likely successor, Vice-President Hosni Mubarak -- whom Mr. Sadat himself groomed to follow him in office.

The very fact of the President's assassination, by members of the Army, hitherto considered loyal, also radically reduces the options available to any successor, in the opposition view.

Egypt's next president, will not be able to take the Army's loyalty for granted, they say. He will have to make a quick start on addressing its grievances, at all levels of command.

With Egypt's conscript Army drawn from all sectors of the country's 45 million population, that means trying to reform the national political consensus Anwar Sadat had chipped away over the past few years, the opposition says.

"Even without the new evidence of disaffection inside the Army, this would have been necessary," one ranking member of the Egyptian moderate left considered. "But Sadat's assassination has now underlined the point: Without some degree of consensus, a huge country like Egypt is ungovernable."

"The next president must try to bring Egypt back together," he summed up.

To do so, in the view of all the exiles, would mean rescinding the whole series of measures Mr. Sadat took against his critics over the years -- culminating in September's sweeping crackdown.

Speaking to the Monitor in London recently, the secretary-general of the left-liberal Progressive Nationalist Unionist Party, Khaled Mohieddin, said the clampdown "effectively meant the disbanding of political parties in Egypt, and an attempt to turn Egypt into a one-party state."

Mr. Mohieddin, a close political ally of Gamal Abdel Nasser, linked the clampdown with the fact that "1981 witnessed the greatest development yet of the cooperation between the parties of the opposition."

What remains to be seen now is whether parties of widely differing views that were driven together in opposition will continue to act together if some of them are offered a taste of power.

The major elements of the Egyptian opposition today come from the left -- mainly of the liberal and Nasserist varieties with relatively few communists -- from old-fashioned democrats, and from fundamentalist Islam.

What drove them together in the early months of this year was a two-pronged criticism of Mr. Sadat's policy -- on Israel and on economic issues. These then are the key criteria by which the opposition will judge Mr. Sadat's successor.

And of the two, given the pressure of events leading up to Israel's scheduled withdrawal from the rest of Sinai in April 1982, relations with Israel will be paramount.

A debate has raged in opposition circles in recent months over "What would we do about Israel if we came to power?" (Until Mr. Sadat was killed, such a possibility still appeared remote.)

Now, when Mr. Sadat's successor must at least consider redrawing his domestic political alliances, this debate gains relevance.

Some voices in the opposition argued that, on attaining power, they would have little alternative but to "freeze" the whole Camp David process where it stood and consult with other Arab leaders.

In conjunction with them the Egyptian regime could then decide whether and how to continue the peace process with Israel.

Israel and the United States, they implied, would never permit any Egyptian government to forego the peace process completely.

Others in the opposition rejected this argument. They said that Egypt, with the help of Arab and other friends, could withstand any Israel and American pressures to stick by Camp David. A radicalized Egypt could then join with the other Arabs in seeking a comprehensive settlement of the dispute with Israel, they argued.

The question of Israeli intentions hangs over every opposition discussion of the Camp David issue. "How can the Israelis now feel able to hand over Sinai on schedule?" wondered one Egyptian political exile. "And on the other hand, how can they not do so?"

With Israeli intentions still agonizingly unknown for them, the opposition is also unsure what the Egyptian Army will now be doing.There is some feeling that a complete Army takeover might help open the way for their own reintegration in Egyptian public life; but equally, some fear that a military junta could seek to impose a harshly pro-American, pro-Israeli policy on the country.

"In general, though, the traditions inside the Egyptian Army are nationalist, " one civilian opposition member surmised. "It would be difficult to see a pro-Israeli coup working in the long term."

The thousands of Egyptian political exiles now living in Arab, European, or even American capitals received the news of Sadat's assassination with unconcealed joy and relief. If there were worries about the reintroduction into Egypt of such violent methods of political dialogue, these were stifled by the thought that, "Sadat had brought it on himself."

Their relief was even greater as they noted reports that news of the killing had been received mainly in silence by the Egyptian people -- in marked contrast to the vast outpouring of spontaneous emotion which greeted news of Nasser's death 11 years ago.

Sadat has had his moments of popular acclaim in Egypt, most notably after the October 1973 war with Israel and after his historic visit to Jerusalem.

But his Egyptian critics abroad had been arguing for some months that his popularity was on the decline: now they appear to have been vindicated.

"The Egyptian people are like the Nile which feeds them," Egyptian journalist Muhammed Hasanain Haikal (who was jailed in September) told this reporter some years ago. "They are slow to move, but when they do so, they rise in a huge flood of decisive action."

The opposition groups who now make up the bulk of the large Egyptian political community are now hoping this flood will sweep them into power.

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