Egypt as nobody's puppet

Egypt's peacemaking role in the Middle East would only be hampered if President Mubarak were seen as the puppet of the United States or any other country. Thus, on the brink of his forthcoming visit to Washington, he is prudently reminding his neighbors and the rest of the world that Egypt's horizons are not all Western. His commitments to reconciliation with Israel and association with the West remain firm. But he stresses that his nation's strategic interests are primarily linked with those of Arab, Islamic, and African lands. And he forecasts a resumption of the diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union that were virtually broken by President Sadat.

It is natural for Egypt to seek a return to improved relations with the Arab states alienated by its lonely and courageous steps toward peace with Israel. It is unnatural to stay totally estranged from the Soviet Union - a superpower fact of life on the Middle East scene - especially considering Moscow's past history of aid to Egypt on the massive Aswan HIgh Dam.

The dam remains controversial. It provides irrigation permitting an increased number of crops per year. But it cuts off the flow of the Nile's silt that formerly enriched the soil. More chemical fertilizers have to be used. Water tables are affected. Plans are being discussed to dredge and transport silt from behind the dam, or divert a flow of water and silt to serve farms and run hydroelectric stations downstream.

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Still, as it is, the dam constitutes Egypt's main source of electrical power, capable of supplying more than half the country's needs. Its Soviet turbines need repairs. There seems practical reason for Egypt's recent request for the return of some Soviet technicians to assist on this and other large industrial projects.

As for diplomatic relations, Mr. Sadat seemed on the way to repairing these as early as 1979, when they were set back again by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. So there is nothing extraordinary about Mr. Mubarak's talk of the inevitability of an exchange of ambassadors sometime in the future.

Indeed, through all the ups and downs of relations with the two superpowers, Egypt has maintained an official posture of nonalignment as a member of the nonaligned movement. It did so when it had 17,000 Soviet advisers. And it does so now when it is close to America, with teams of US consultants in Egypt trying to see how continuing high levels of aid can be used most efficiently to help the Egyptian economy.

This is as it should be. The interests of the West and of Mideast peace would be served no more than Egypt's by an image of Mubarak in anybody's pocket.

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