Mubarak is his own man

Now that President Mubarak's hundred days are over and Israel has withdrawn from Sinai, concern grows as to where he will take Egypt. Clarity about his political legacy from both Nasser and Sadat is vital to addressing this question.

Leaders in Egypt epitomize an intersection of history, social structure, and personal biography. Both Nasser and Sadat had to deal with constants: an unacceptable military defeat and a revolutionary legacy.

It was not so much Nasser's charisma but his message of national dignity which conferred upon him an Arab leadership he perhaps did not consciously seek. His appeal had resonance. However, in his last days he was aware that his revolution did not effect the institutional and intellectual transformations necessary to modernize Egypt.

Sadat's vision of the future of Egypt took the following orientations: an open door policy, reincorporating Egypt into the world capitalist system, democratization, allowing a multiparty system, a rapprochement with the West premised on the perception that the turn from the USSR would be rewarded by the United States with a comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It was not so much his goals but his style which aroused so many misgivings about his policies by opposition parties.

President Mubarak has received a considerable inheritance of long-term policies and, with it, substantial opposition. However, he has proved to be a tough political fighter, establishing firm control over the extreme rightist groups led by the fundamentalists who challenged his rule. His bold moves stem from his knowledge that religious groups only emerge in particular social environments characterized by economic difficulties, moral and ideological confusion, and political instability.

Evidence suggests that Mr. Mubarak is not intent on exercising continuous pressure but rather, in an effort to preempt the opposition's ''fiery'' appeals, determined not to repeat Sadat's mistakes. His reconciliation with the opposition parties underlines his commitment to democratization and has created a platform for political dissent. He is quietly moving to lessen Egypt's isolation abroad, reasserting the country's role as a non-aligned, third-world Arab state yet without abandoning peace with Israel and association with Washington - and all the while keeping his cool.

Though committed to the conceptual framework of the peace process, he can look at the situation more pragmatically and seek to ''routinize'' it. He has repeatedly assured the US and Israel of Egypt's intention to continue with the peace process as an irreversible phenomenon.

Among the President's major concerns are the task of reviving a desperate economy and injecting a sluggish bureaucracy with mission, purpose, and skill. That was the purpose of the roundtable conference which he initiated and in which the country's top economists participated. He is determined to address himself to the issues of social equity and development, thus offering a credible vision for the future which will eventually enlist the commitment of the educated youth, offer them channels for political energies other than the radical religious groups, and overcome the existing ''economic apartheid.''

His call for social justice and condemnation of corruption reflect his extreme sensitivity to the drastic effect on public opinion of apparent corruption in high circles. The new mood reinforced by Mr. Mubarak's reputation for integrity has radiated from the presidency into the lives of ordinary Egyptians. One can already sense a change of Egyptian public opinion away from the hard-line fundamentalists: universities have resumed their previous aspect, with cafeterias and movie houses reopening.

For all their faults and achievements, the two men who have shaped events in Egypt's recent history have left legacies that will transcend their times: Nasser's Egypt lived a revolutionary movement but the defeat of 1967 ended that revolutionary wave. Sadat's diplomacy, although too extreme and too dramatic, forced the Arabs into an honest encounter with the problem of Israel.

Significantly, President Mubarak has stated that he is ''neither Sadat nor Nasser.'' While inevitably taking off from the legacy of his predecessors, it is evident that he will set his own imprint and priorities.

Egyptians have grown weary of governments experimenting with different ideologies and development.

Today they are receptive to moderate reform and do not aspire to radical changes. The revolution has aged. President Mubarak is the first president to take over who is not a member of the revolution. Younger and more in tune with Egypt's needs in the '80s, he will help it devise a new social contract, a new sense of what it is dedicated to.

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