Cairo executions: fighting fundamentalism selectively

The execution of five men found guilty of assassinating President Sadat is in keeping with President Mubarak's selective approach to the challenge of Muslim fundamentalism in Egypt.

That Mr. Mubarak did not commute the capital sentences given them last month confirms that he is willing to go the limit against the hard core of younger fundamentalist extremists. But the fact that only five of the 24 charged with complicity in Mr. Sadat's murder got capital sentences indicates Mr. Mubarak's preference for carefully targeted rather than blanket measures against the fundamentalists.

Mr. Sadat, in his initial crackdown last September against the fundamentalists who were eventually to kill him, chose the blanket approach.

Of the five executed April 15, two were military men and three civilians. (The two military men were Lt. Khaled Istanbouli and Army sharpshooter Hussein Abbas, both of whom were in the group that fired on Mr. Sadat.) There were other military men among the 24 accused.

But the fact that they were not given capital sentences -- although they were found guilty as charged -- points to Mr. Mubarak's need not to alienate the Army. He depends on it in the last resort just as much as his two predecessors, Presidents Nasser and Sadat, did.

Simultaneously, Mr. Mubarak is trying to be as conciliatory as he can toward the more moderate or traditional fundamentalists. Those benefiting from this are usually older men associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. They include the latter's supreme guide, the veteran Omar Tilmessani, and the fiery preacher, Sheikh Kishk. Both have been freed from jail, where President Sadat had put them.

The fundamentalist extremists have always been the most strident critics of the policy of peace with Israel. Mr. Mubarak probably hopes Israel will interpret the April 15 executions as an earnest of his commitment to that policy , especially since the Israelis are at this very moment impugning Egyptian good faith.

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