Why Sadat was prepared to welcome Shah of Iran
Ignominiously expelled from his own country and unwelcome in any other, the deposed Shah of Iran may have found a permanent home at last. He now is safely on the second floor of the Maadi Military Hospital, five miles south of Cairo on the banks of the Nile River.
And as far as Egypt's President Sadat is concerned, the controversial and ailing Iranian monarch is here for good. He alone among world leaders has been active in offering the Shah an asylum.
"Yes," declared Mr. Sadat in a loud and clear voice when the Shah, looking wasted and dazed, was asked by reporters at the hospital if he intended to stay permanently.
The Shah, however, would say only that there would be plenty of time to talk to reporters once his operation is completed. According to some reports, a number of Egypt's most prominent surgeons have been summoned to assist in an operation that could take place as early as March 25.
The Egyptian government has taken no pains to conceal or obscure the fact that it has opened its doors to a man no one else will have. Although correspondents were barred from covering the Shah's airport arrival March 24, they were nonetheless summoned by Egyptian authorities and advised to be at the hospital around noon.
Mr. Sadat and his wife met the Shah and his family and staff at the airport and then accompanied them by helicopter to the hospital, entering by the main first floor lobby where journalists had assembled.
Reports that the Shah was en route to Egypt to take up President Sadat's oft-repeated invitation appeared prominently in all Monday editions of Cairo's daily newspapers.
"Egypt receives the Shah today," said one paper, El Gomhoria, in its front-page article, "in compliance with Egyptian traditions of hospitality and in recognition of his support for Egypt before, during, and after the October war."
Iranian assistance to Egypt, principally in the form of oil, at critical moments in the 1973 war with Israel is often cited here when Egyptian officials want to show that the country is indeed indebted to the Shah.
But just as frequently, President Sadat invokes Islamic principles of compassion and brotherhood. Although a secular leader, Mr. Sadat often claims that Islam is what motivates him in thought and action.
As a standard-bearer of his religion in Western circles, he appears to be bitterly embarrassed by the excesses of Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and the Iranian revolution. On several occasions, he has publicly reviled the Ayatollah as a lunatic and a disgrace to their shared religion.
He also has asked Western correspondents not to be deceived into thinking that what is going on in Iran has anything to do with Islam.
Mr. Sadat, according to some political observers here, is likewise eager to prove that his regime is solid enough not only to defy the Arabs by making peace with Israel but also to welcome openly a man who is a pariah throughout the Arabic and Islamic world.
In this view, receiving the Shah is yet another chance to prove that Egypt can readily withstand the isolation and rejection it has suffered from its former Arab allies in the wake of the peace treaty with Israel.
The Egyptian President also is confronting head-on his religious fundamentalist critics at home who lately have grown more strident in attacking his decision to normalize relations with Israel. Militant Islamic groups, many of whom revere Ayatollah Khomeini, have denounced the President's invitation whenever he has issued it in the past.
Many Egyptians, though, tend to be ambiguous about the Shah, aware of the allegations against him, but at the same time repulsed by Ayatollah Khomeini. There is, too, a fear that the presence of the Shah in Egypt will simply aggravate the country's already acute international and domestic problems.
"The Shah," said one Cairo grocer Monday morning, "is one more problem we just don't need."