Egypt's calm course

Despite international anxieties, or perhaps because of them, Egypt is demonstrating a praiseworthy maturity and dignity in the aftermath of the assasination of Anwar Sadat. Its political leaders are swiftly carrying out the constitutional provisions for an orderly transfer of power. The Egyptian people are going about their daily business with calmness and purpose. There is every indication that Egypt, for all the difficulties ahead, will continue to pursue its policies of peace abroad and stability and progress at home launched by its late president. This itself pays tribute to his leadership.

Equally encouraging is the support which Egypt's major partners in peace are giving to this effort to foster continuity. In the face of opposition within Israel to relinguishing the last remaining portion of Sinai, the Israeli governmnent says that it intends to abide by the peace treaty with Egypt, provided Egypt observes it provisions. The United States, too, publicly promises to play a vigorous role in the Egyptian-Israeli negotiations for Palestinian autonomy.

This officially stress on normalcy and stability is healthy. It should help counteract the dire forecast that often seem to dominate public attention after such a shattering blow. There is much speculation, for instance, about how capable and forceful a president Hosni Mubarak will prove to be, assuming public approval of his nomination in a referendum next week. Strange, or not so strange, this was the same kind of speculation that greeted Anwar Sadat's assumption to power after Nasser. By all accounts, Vice-President Mubarak is an intelligent, hard-working, poilitically shrewd man with every potential for growing ito his job. Like his predecessor, he will learn.

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This is not to put an unrealistic gloss on the challenges confronting the new Egyptian government. The rise of public discontent in Egypt is there for all to see. Egypt's friends no doubt will be somewhat relieved if the assassins of Sadat were indeed an isolated handful of people with ties to a small right-wing Muslim fundamentalist group and not participants in a widespread, foreign-backed plot against the government. But this is not to ignore the growth of Islamic fundamentalism in Egypt, undoubtedly given impetus by the revolution in Iran, and the dangers this might pose to political stability. At the moment the problem of religious extremism in Egypt appears manageable, but the Islamic fundamentalists could cause the Mubarak government considerable trouble.

Clearly there is popular unrest to exploit. The fact is, most Egyptians are profoundly concerned that the Camp David peace process has not translated into more gains at hoem and abroad. It has not given them the satisfaction of obtaining something concrete for the Palestinians. It has alienated them from the wider Arab world in which they, especially the intellectuals, need to function. Their status as pariahs is painfully reflected in the shouts of joy issuing from many Arab capitals over Sadat's departure from the scene. Further, Camp David has not brought the Egyptian man in the street a new era of economic prosperity -- on the contrary, the gulf between rich and poor grows wider.

Mr. Mubarak will be judged by his ability to address these issues. There is no denying the magnitude of the problems or the political and diplomatic undertainties facing the new leadership. But what nation does not face them? The important thing is that adversity be met with courage and with faith that a nation's resources of wisdom cannot be depleted. Such a spirit is evident in Egypt.

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