Egypt's latest move, expelling the Soviet ambassador, six Soviet diplomats, and more than 1,000 Soviet technical advisers by the end of the week is directed against the ever-widening circle of instigators Egyptian authorities allege to be behind the sectarian strife between Muslims and Coptic Christians in Egypt.
On Sept. 5, following the arrest of more than 1,600 of his opponents, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat hit heavily at the rightwing Muslim Brotherhood in a televised speech before the Egyptian parliament. Since then the Egyptian papers have been full of alleged plots by Muslim and Christian fanatics.
Now the pendulum has swung to the left. This week the Egyptian press reported that Egyptian military intelligence had uncovered three plots involving Soviet and Hungarian diplomats aimed at toppling the regime.
According to a statement read after a Cabinet meeting chaired by Vice-President Hosni Mubarak that preceded the expulsion order, the Soviets had played an "outstanding role instigating and escalating Muslim-Christian strife" in Egypt.
Consequently, Egypt has ordered Soviet Ambassador Vladimir Polyakov, six Soviet diplomats, two Soviet journalists, and a Hungarian diplomat to leave Egypt within 48 hours. The contracts of more than 1,000 Soviet technical advisers who have helped set up and run Egypt's heavy industry have been canceled; these advisers are to leave by the end of a week.
The Soviet military office in Cairo and its Egyptian counterpart in Moscow are to be closed, and the Soviet Embassy has been ordered to reduce its staff from 41 to 10.
Staff correspondent John Yemma reports:
Western observers in the Mideast say the Soviets may serve as an easy scapegoat for Mr. Sadat and doubt there was actual manipulation of events in Egypt by the Soviet Embassy. But even if specific Soviet intrigues are difficult to produce, there is no lack of ill will between the two countries.
Actual Soviet intriguing, however, would not have been impossible in cosmopolitan, labyrihthine Cairo -- especially considering the wide range of ideologies espoused by the large Egyptian intelligentsia and the "eneny-of-my-enemy" expediency of Arab revolutionaries. But because of the closely watched status of the Soviet Embassy, it seems unlikely embassy staffers could have directed the religious strife.
A more likely route for the alleged Soviet instigation would have been through the thousands of Egyptians who travel to Libya, Syria, and other, more pro-Soviet, countries each year.
The Egyptian case against Moscow, political analysts believe, may be based less on hard evidence than on general circumstances such as:
* Radio Moscow's frequent denunciations of Mr. Sadat and of Egypt's peace treaty with Israel.
* Soviet support for Libya, Syria, South Yemmen, and Ethiopia, which Mr. Sadat sees as a Soviet plan to "encircle" Egypt and its pro-Western allies, Sudan and Israel.
* An assumed Soviet grudge over the 1972 expulsion of 20,000 Soviet military advisers from the country and Egyptian takeover of Soviet bases and equipment.
Cairo-Moscow relations have been distant the past nine years and turned especially cold from Egypt's point of view after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war when Soviet resupply for the Egyptian Army was not forthcoming.