Mubarak's swift actions gain time to plan Egypt's future

Egypt's new President has moved swiftly toward addressing the internal political problems that beset his predecessor. And by so doing he seems to have gained valuable time to consider his country's longer-term future.

President Hosni Mubarak's security forces have already rounded up some 400 religious fundamentalists suspected of links with President Sadat's Oct. 6 assassination.

But at the same time, the President has made astute new overtures to some sections of the secular opposition - presumably hoping to enlist their support in the fight against the fundamentalists.

In a key gesture Oct. 22, President Mubarak called in the leaders of the two parliamentary opposition parties for discussions.

The larger of these parties is the center-leftist Socialist Labor Party (SLP) , headed by veteran nationalist politician Ibrahim Shukri.

For Mr. Shukri, his consultations with the new President stood in marked contrast to the increasingly firm opposition he had mounted to President Sadat. In the months since June, Socialist Labor Party personalities had joined other Egyptian nationalist, leftist, and moderate Muslim activists in a loose grouping called the ''National Coalition.''

Mr. Sadat's clampdown in early September sent many coalition activists, including SLP deputy-leader Hilmi Murad, to jail.

They are still there. But Shukri says, ''Even if we have some colleagues in jail, it doesn't mean we should stop political work.''

He said he hoped the investigations could be speeded up now, to show that there was no relationship between party members and any conspiracy against Sadat.

Mr. Shukri's invitation to meet with Mr. Mubarak came in the wake of the SLP's decision to support Mubarak's accession to the presidency - a decision not shared by some colleagues in the National Coalition.

''We supported Mr. Mubarak's candidature in the interest of stability in the country,'' Shukri told the Monitor. ''But that does not mean we necessarily support everything he and his party say.''

But Shukri does see important signs that - even if Mubarak's stated policy is the same as his predecessor's - the new President appears to be pursuing it with a new nationalist toughness.

The SLP leader recalled that his party had at first supported Camp David - ''provided both sides of the accords were implemented.'' But the SLP withdrew its support from Camp David, ''after it became clear Israel hadn't implemented anything in respect to the Palestinians.''

Now, he welcomes statements made by Egyptian ministers under the Mubarak regime, indicating that they, too, look for strict Israeli compliance with the historic accords.

''We are not saying Camp David failed,'' Shukri said, ''or that it is the only way. But we say it has achieved some things, and hope a way can be found to achieve the rest.''

If the SLP leadership is encouraged by first signals from the Mubarak presidency, influential regime supporters also appear confident he is coping well internally.

Sayed Yassin, director of the influential al-Ahram Strategic Studies Center here in Cairo, considers that Mubarak ''has succeeded tremendously from the first moment.''

By addressing important problems such as corruption, flagging production, and the all-important issue of stability, Mubarak had sent ''new optimism spreading all over the country'' Yassin said.

This view might be slightly exaggerated: The dominant expression on faces in the streets is still one of slight apprehension. But most Egyptians do seem ready to credit Mubarak with securing a relatively easy succession. And now, most of them appear willing to allow him time to chart Egypt's future policies.

''We will not know his true colors until next April,'' said one seasoned left-wing journalist here, referring to the date for Israel's final withdrawal from Sinai. ''Then we will know if he is an Arab or a Western stooge. We should reserve judgment on him till then.''

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