Cairo: 'business as usual'

Until early this week few vehicles maneuvered the normally congested streets of Cairo -- the result of post-assassination apprehension, a police curfew, and a four-day holiday.

By Oct. 12 streets were bustling again. Egyptian soldiers still line the sidewalks, shifting from foot to foot, yawning, only occasionally challenging a person about to enter a public building.

But the big step-up in security actually occured before the assassination when President Sadat sprang a series of political arrests and restrictive measures.

Only two hours after the Oct. 6 assassinaton, armored cars and sandbag bunkers were placed in front of government offices and the highly important radio-television building.

The vigorous military response to fundamentalist-Muslim disturbances in the southern Nile city of Asyut late last week seems to have quelled, for now at least, fears for the country's stability.

The Asyut incident -- while over in 36 hours and, as of this writing, not repeated elsewhere in Egypt -- has raised questions about the strength and motives of fundamentalists such as Takfir Wal Hijra (Repentance and Holy Flight) which has been associated with both the assassination and the Asyut disturbances. In all, the government admits at least 54 Egyptian policemen were killed, and another 64 militants and civilians are believed to have died. The city is now reportedly ringed with soldiers. Observers say if such problems crop up elsewhere, the most likely spots would be Minya, some of Cairo's poor neighborhoods, or Alexandria.

Attacks by Muslim militants on police in Egypt are a new phenomenon. Last summer's street violence in Cairo and southern Egypt was mostly Muslim vs. Coptic Christian, although in the past month the police have been cracking down on Muslim demonstrators after Friday prayer services. Egyptian observers believe it will be some time before the fundamentalist insurgency can be put down.

The rest of Egypt has remained quite normal. Tourism continues now in high season. The early apprehensiveness of Egyptians has not been borne out. Gasoline is readily available. So is bread. The borders are open. Merchants and businessmen in Cairo have expressed agreement with the emphasis on "order and security" of Sadat's successor, Vice-President Hosni Mubarak.

"Mubarak has an iron fist," said a flower shop owner in central Cairo. "He looks like a tough man. Let's be done with the extremists."

Other Cairenes do not see him in quite so dynamic a light. Most acknowledge Mubarak's disciplinarian temperament but qualify their statements with "let us wait and see."

High-level Western sources have expressed relief at the sense of continuity here. The story, in fact, of Egypt since Oct. 6 -- the so far orderly transition to Mubarak, who was expected to be confirmed in a referendum Oct. 13 -- seems to be summed up in the philosophical view that "another officer will take his place." The Egyptian Gazette said Oct. 11, "It will be a year until we come to appreciate the loss."

Mr. Mubarak's emphasis on domestic order and security will be matched by no dramatic foreign policy moves until at least next April when the rest of the Sinai is returned to Egypt under the Camp David agreements.

To that end, Egyptian sources, believe Mubarak will not radically change the upper echelons of government. It is likely he will keep Kamal Hassan Ali as foreign minister. Abdel Halim Abu Ghazzala as defense minister. Nawabi Ismail as interior minister, and possibly appoint former Prime Minister Mustafa Khalil, who is now deputy chairman of the National Democratic Party, as vice-president.

This conservative approach Mubarak has chosen means it probably will be months before he shows an ideology distinct from Sadat's. For Israel and the West, that appears to lessen complications in Mideast relationships, yet knowledgeable Egyptians say Mubarak's low-keyed manner and his known rapport with Arab moderates -- especially Saudi Prince fahd -- may open the way eventually for reconcilliation of Egypt with other Arab states.

"Mubarak does not have the personal animosity towards other leaders that Sadat did," says one Egyptian analyst.

Egyptian officials say they are generally pleased with the American response in the critical days after the assassination -- in particular with the "demonstration of American readiness and the offer of support in the event of domestic trouble," a well-informed official told the Monitor. But he added that "we don't want them [the US] to be overly protective." He said the US helped Egypt greatly by asking Israeli moderation in the wake of the assassination and by asking the Saudis not to "clash with Egypt's strategic interests."

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