Egypt's Hosni Mubarak picks up Sadat's reins: profile

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Emerging from the shadows of Anwar Sadat, Egypt's president-designate, Hosni Mubarak, says he admired the courage, widsom, straightforwardness, even boldness , that earned the late President the epitaph: "hero of war and peace."

But so far, after only six years in politics, the burly square-faced Mubarak remains only the hero of war.

"I wish I will be able to reach what President Sadat has reached," says Mr. Mubarak. "I will do all I can to rise to the standards of President Sadat's imagination."

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Sole candidate for the presidency after Mr. Sadat's assassination Oct. 6, Mr. Mubarak was expected to overwhelmingly win the Oct. 13 presidential referendum.

Handpicked by Sadat in the aftermath of the last war Egypt fought with Israel in 1973, Mr. Mubarak was offered a reward he did not expect. His appointment as vice-president in April 1975 was a gesture of appreciation to the Army whose crossing of the Suez Canal erased once and for all bitter memories of the crushing defeat of 1967 and the occupation of the Sinai Peninsula.

Mr. Mubarak's succession to the presidency Oct. 14 will represent one of the late President's dreams come true. Sadat often said he thought it was time the leadership of the July 1952 revolution that overthrew the monarchy be handed over to the "October generation."

It will be months before Mr. Mubarak develops a distinct style of leadership. But observers note that when his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, took over from President Nasser, there was little promise of the international star Sadat later became.

Mr. Mubarak boasts of the close relation he established with Sadat over the years, and admits "I have learned a great deal from him . . . a man with more than 40 years of experience in politics." For months after he shifted careers, the former general was seen taking down notes while listening attentively as Sadat delivered speeches or spoke at meetings.

But Mr. Mubarak's low-key style and sobriety suggest his path to popularity could be different. His dignified manner and calmness impressed millions of Egyptians watching television the day of the assassination. He unquestionably won their respect and confidence and eased the nervousness and shock that was sensed all over Egypt.

A former official and critic of Mr. Mubarak says the new Egyptian leader is not an eloquent orator who can improvise a three- or four-hour speech the way Sadat or President Gamal Abdel Nasser did. "He likes everything to be prepared beforehand, and will only address the people through prepared statements," he adds.

Adequate preparation, precision, and planning seem to mark the Mubarak style. Before making decisions on an issue, Mubarak digs into its details. He refuses to be rushed to adopt a stand or finalize a deal, a close aide says. Cautious and restrained, he resists making promises or commitments.

The consensus among the new President's inner circle is that he often consults with his aides and considers their suggestions and recommendations. But "the last word is always his, and once the decision is made there is no going back on it," says one Mubarak assistant.

Eclipsed by Sadat, whose favorite game was foreign policy, Mubarak's training is basically confined to domestic politics. As deputy chairman of the ruling National Democratic Party, he often filled in for Sadat, and in that capacity also presided over Cabinet meetings. Whenever he was dispatched by Sadat on missions abroad, it was "rarely as an envoy, mostly as a message carrier," points out a veteran diplomat.

Unlike Sadat, who demonstrated a rare capability of risk-taking on decisions, such as the expulsion of 16,000 Soviet advisers in 1972 or visiting Jerusalem when Egypt and Israel were still officially at war, Mr. Mubarak "only takes calculated risks," says an aide. He can be expected to adopt a conformist foreign-policy line, breaking with the "electric shock diplomacy" Sadat took pride in practicing.

Of the friendly ties Mr. Mubarak established during his missions abroad, one seems particularly promising for the future of Egypt's Arab relations: that of his friendship with Saudi Crown Prince Fahd. The fact that Mr. Mubarak's predecessor would not meet or contact the Saudi strong man simply meant "there could be no breakthrough in Egyptian-Saudi relations during Sadat's lifetime," as an Egyptian strategist put it.

Other Arab influential figures with whom Mr. Mubarak is known to have established a personal rapport include: Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud, Oman's Sultan Qaboos, Morocco's King Hassan II, and Sudan's President Jaafar Nimeiry.

Egypt's new leader is convinced Egypt has an important role to play in the Arab world and should always maintain links with it. In a closed meeting Mr. Mubarak reportedly criticized Sadat's reluctance to take any move that could save relations with the Arab moderates from deteriorating rapidly after he made peace with Israel three years ago.

Though Mubarak seems to regret the repercussions of peace with Israel, he sees the restoration of Egyptian sovereignty over Sinai as Sadat's greatest achievement. He has repeatedly assured Egyptians that the last withdrawal of Israeli troops from Sinai will take place, as scheduled in the peace treaty, next April.

He is one of a few top Egyptians officials who has not visited Israel, and has not hesitated to indicate he will be less keen on accelerating normalization than the former president. But he was quick to deny this meant difficulties for Egyptian-Israeli dealings in the future. "Nothing strains my relations with [ Israeli Prime Minister Menachem] Begin," he said.

Following in Sadat's footsteps, one of the new leader's first moves was to agree with US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. on stepping up joint military exercises, for the first time involving B-52 bombers.

"The US should not give up its interests in the area," he said, regarding coordination between the US and its allies in the region as the means to safeguard those interests. And advocate of strenthening Egypt's strategic position, he regards military facilities made available to the US here as an asset to that status.

He does not appear to have fond memories of time spent at Frunze Air Force Academy in the Soviet Union, and has expressed no sympathy for the Soviet diplomats and technicians recently ordered to leave Egypt on short notice, bringing Cairo's already cool relations with Moscow closer to a freezing point.

He has promised to be tough and uncompromising with religious fanatics who provoked Sadat's wrath, leading to the massive crackdown last month. "I will be very strict with anyone thinking of raising problems in this country, those who disrupt order and disrespect the law," he said firmly, adding that he would not hesitate to carry out more arrests if the need arises.

This is the top concern Egypt's new President has prepared himself for. He admits that "it is difficult to combine order and democracy."

Emphasizing dicipline and self-restraint in his daily life, Mr Mubarak works an average of 16 hours every day. He keeps fit by playing squash regularly. His wife, Susan, a graduate of the American University in Cairo, is proud their two sons, Gamal, 21, and Alaa, 19, are following their father's example. She married Hosni Mubarak, then a colonel, when she was 17.

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