The world is always shocked when the hand of violence strikes at a public figure. When the leader is a man of such demonstrated courage in his pursuit of peace, a man of such high purpose and principle, the violent deed is grievous beyond words. In the wake of the mindless assassination of President Sadat, the conscience of all must be aroused to a greater determination than ever to pursue the cause of justice and peace for which the Egyptian leader so fervently labored. He himself would wish no less than an invigorated moral and spiritual battle with those blinding forces that would twart humanity's forward march.
Twill the Camp David thrust for peace now be lost? It obviously will take time to sort out the situation in Washington and other capitals. Fundamental reassessments of policy will be underway everywhere as interim Egyptian leaders take charge and ensure the country's stability. But it is reassuring that Egypt has quickly reaffirmed its commitment to the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. There is reason to hope implementation of this historic agreement will not be interrupted, despite Israeli anxieties.
However, the second stage of Camp David now becomes even more problematic. A longrange lesson to be drawn from the assassination is that, the instabilities of the Middle East, it is short-sighted to delay coming to grips with the root causes of tensions and animosities there. This means dealing, among other things, with the question of Palestinian self-determination. The Camp David agreements, of which President Sadat was one of the bold architects, gave a dramatic nudge to the peace process. But the slaying of Mr. Sadat points to how fragile that process is when it is based on one or two personalities.
Yet the United States, postponing focusing on these fundamental questions, has become bogged down in a political squabble over a secondary issue -- the sale of AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia. It is abundantly clear that unless a renewed effort is made, not only to forestall any further Soviet effort to exploit turmoil and uncertainty in the region, but to resolve the Arab-Israeli dispute, the danger of instability grows.
It is especially worrisome that the attack on Mr. Sadat and his aides may have come from within the ranks of the Egyptian Army, long thought to be the bedrock support of the Sadat government. It there widespread disaffection within the military? In society at large? The Egyptian masses were ardently behind President Sadat. But there is no doubt Mr. Sadat antagonized many elements by the direction of both his domestic and his foreign policies. His recent crackdown on Muslim fundamentalists and other dissidents now seems the harbinger of a sharpening political opposition within.
Nothing has come to light suggesting that Egypt is on the brink of the kind of social upheaval seen in Iran, and the outside world should resist raising false alarms. At this writing, in fact, there is calm in Cairo and no sign of efforts to exploit the tragedy for political ends. But the world is sharply reminded again of how volatile the Middle East can be. The assassination is all the more shocking because Egypt, while it has had coups and coup attempts, does not have a historical tradition of assassinations of the head of state.
This, too, must add to the sadness the Egyptian people feel as they pay tribute to their extraordinary leader. In this burdened hour, they surely can be buoyed by their own aw well as the world's prayers that Egypt will find its way to a peaceful, democratic change of power and to continuing firm advocacy of reconciliation in the Middle East. Anwar al-Sadat's legacy must not be lost.