President Carter is "my friend," says Egypt's President Anwar Sadat. But with Mr. Carter's re-election drive sputtering, top Cairo officials have taken the opportunity to begin discreetly wooing Republican candidate Ronald Reagan.
Indeed, some Egyptian officials, bitter over what they see as the Carter administration's failure to win concessions from Israel, argue privately that election of the avowedly pro-Israeli Mr. Reagan might not be so bad for Egypt as originally suspected here.
The Monitor has learned that Reagan foreign policy adviser Richard Allen paid a virtually unpublicized visit ot Cairo early in June during a fact-finding trip that also included Israel.
"We found him open-minded, and both eager and willing to hear our opinions," said one of the senior officials who met with the Reagan envoy.
Mr. Allen is understood to have abandoned hopes of also visiting Saudi Arabia , an influential foe of Egypt's separate peace with Israel, following a chilly Saudi response to the idea.
But some Western diplomats saw more recent visits by former Republican presidential candidate John Connally and by Joseph Sisco, assistant secretary of state during the Nixon administration, as part of a bid by Mr. Reagan to get hard facts for Middle East policymaking.
Between them, Messrs. Connally and Sisco visited Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Israel.
Egypt seems to be taking pains to remain publicly neutral in the US presidential race, perhaps in recollection of having expressed support for unsuccessful Republican incumbent Gerald Ford during the 1976 campaign.
President Sadat, significantly, did not receive Mr. Allen.
But the Egyptians clearly welcomed the Reagan representative's visit as an opportuv nity to put their case strongly to a man who could hold sway in the White House come January of next year.
"We wanted to help give him the clearest possible picture of our views and of the situation," said a Sadat foreign policy adviser who conferred at length with Mr. Allen.
"The initial impression of Mr. Reagan here and elsewhere in the Arab world was that the Republican team was a bunch of pro- Israeli right-wingers.
"That, I think, proved unfair. Perhaps because of this very image," said the Egyptian official, "Mr. Allen seemed careful to try to listen, to be open."
Some Cairo officials, rolling back on initial apprehension of a Reagan victory in November, now privately point to several potentially "positive" qualities in the Republican candidate.
* Mr. Reagan appears concerned, these officials say, for the well-being of US allies abroad.
* He is seen as taking a hard line against the Soviets. So does Egypt.
* And the Republican candidate, as one Egyptian official put it, "appears to have a good and qualified team of policy advisers."
All this does not mean Egypt has joined the "dump Carter" murmurings across the Atlantic.
Egyptian officials remain concerned over vehemently pro-Israeli statements from candidate Reagan. According to an informed Western diplomat, the officials were also disturbed by at least one idea which Mr. Allen brought with him to Cairo: possible direct US control over former Israeli air bases in Sinai desert territory returned to Egypt under the peace treaty.
Some Cairo officials also fear that a Reagan victory might, at least temporarily, impair whatever slight momentum remains in the Camp David peace process.
But the Egyptians are clearly disappointed in Mr. Carter.
"US policy is wandering," commented one Egyptian negotiator. "The Israelis build illegal settlements. They take unilateral actions over Jerusalem, an issue supposedly open to negotiation under the Camp David process.
"Momentum may no longer be the issue, so much as the need that this momentum point in the right direction."