President Anwar Sadat's crackdown on Egypt's increasingly strident political opposition has been made that much easier since the activists distrust each other as much they dislike Mr. Sadat's policies.
The arrests of more than 1,500 political dissidents in Egypt this week have been aimed, say Mideast analysts, at stemming the increasing political clout of Islamic fundamentalists, Nasserite Arab nationalists, and communists -- with a kind of preemptive balancing move against leaders of the Coptic Christian community. The first three of these groups oppose Mr. Sadat's peace treaty with Israel but are aslo wary of each other.
Recent sermons by Muslim leaders had been anti-Camp David as well as anti-Christian and Jewish, some Western observers report. Leffists interviewed by the Monitor have expressed much concern over the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. And communists in Egypt, as elsewhere in the Arab world, generally are odd-men-out between Arab nationalists and Islamic fundamentalists.
A plebiscite of some 12 million voters was held Sept. 10 in Egypt to endorse the eight presidential decrees that authorized the arrests and disbanding of groups and publications.
An American analyst who monitors Egyptian developments believes that "this is a very tricky move for Sadat. He is trying to keep the different opposition groups off balance."
The analyst believes that Sadat has calculated the risks and sees them as in his favor: Each group will be relatively less angry about the arrests and sanctions when they see rivals similarity affected. Mr. Sadat's strategy, says the analyst, is to keep the lid on the domestic scene until April 1982, when he can begin to move back to the Arab camp, thereby assuaging most opponents.
At that time, barring a hitch in the Egyptian -Israeli peace treaty, Egypt will have won back all of the Sinai lost in the 1967 war with Israel. Egyptian, Israeli, and American analysts see that as Mr. Sadat's trump card against critics who have accused him of selling out Arab interests. They also say that at that time Egypt probably will be less muted in its criticism of Israel. But only doomsayers in Israel predict he will threaten war with Israel or break off his close relations with the United States.
"It's a good argument for Sadat against his critics," says the American analyst of the return of the Sinai to Egypt. "In the long run, Egypt can really become leader of the Arab world again."
He believes Western economic and military aid, the Suez Canal, Egypt's growing oil exports, and its powerful military put the nation in a strong position in the Middle East.
But in order to get there, this and other Mideast experts say, Mr. Sadat has had to use both carrot and stick on a populace that is by turns patient and unruly.
Just after coming to power in October 1970 Mr. Sadat purged the pro-Soviet faction of the regime. But within a year he fired anti-Soviet Army officers -- then shortly thereafter expelled Soviet advisers from the country.
At the same time, massive student protests against his refusal to engage immediately in war with Israel were met by massive arrests. Militant trade unionists, Copts, Muslim brothers, members of the extremist Al Takfir Wal Hijra sect, and communists all have had their turns at insurgency and arrest.