Egypt's new leader moves swiftly, decisively; Mubarak named to replace Sadat -- expected to pursue same line
The swift and decisive way in which Vice-President Hosni Mubarak has taken command is expected here to help allay international anxieties about the future of Egypt and the role it will play in the world.
Diplomats and veteran observers in Egypt generally agree that in the coming months Mr. Mubarak will work to consolidate his hold on power in the wake of President Sadat's assassination. They assume he will continue to implement the policies set out by his predecessor -- even as he has done for the past six years.
Mr. Mubarak's most immediate task will be to reassure the Egyptian people and the outside world that there will be an orderly transfer of power and continuity of policy in the new government. When he broke the news of Mr. Sadat's death to his fellow countrymen on television Oct. 6 he indicated his determination to follow the path his tutor, Anwar Sadat, had so carefully prepared.
"Although we have lost our leader," said Mr. Mubarak, "our consolation is that all the Egyptian people in the cities and the countryside stand today despite their deep sorrow, and proclaim we will proceed along his course, without any deviation, the course of peace."
While the national assembly nominated Mr. Mubarak to succeed Mr. Sadat Oct. 7 with a unanimous 330-to-0 vote, Cairo was calm and quiet. Housewives busily shopped for the Eid Al-Adha, the four-day greater Baram feast that marks the beginning of the pilgrimage season to Mecca.
Few signs of mourning were visible in the city, and only the black bunting that fluttered forlornly on the front of one shop and flags at half-mast indicted the start of the 40-day period of mourning declared by Mr. Mubarak.
Many Egyptians have been shocked by the violent and brutal way in which Mr. Sadat died. "We are angry," said a sidewalk peddler selling costume jewelry. "These are not Egyptians who did this. They are filth."
But the hysterical grieving that greeted President Nasser's death in 1970 is absent. The average Egyptian appears to assume with a measure of apathy that the new government will be more of the same.
"We will have a referendum," said a taxi driver, "and Hosni Mubarak will get 99 percent and we will have a new president.
"Will he be a good president?" someone asks. "Nobody knows," is the reply.
The emergency Cabinet meeting immediately following the death of President Sadat produced four presidential decrees: Sofi Abu Taleb, speaker of the national assembly, was named as interim president for two months; Vice-President Hosni Mubarak was appointed supreme commander of the armed forces and given the right to issue presidential decrees; all ministers were authorized to continue in their posts; and a state of emergency was declared in Egypt for the coming year.
The decrees and his parliamentary nomination leave effective control of the government in the hands of Mr. Mubarak, until his nomination for president is confirmed in a public referendum scheduled for early next week.
Importantly, few observers here predict a power struggle for the presidency. "It seems over the past couple of years that Mubarak's favorites have been appointed, and he hasn't lost a battle," says one resident foreign analyst.
Current evidence also suggests that the four assassins who fired their machine guns at President Sadat were acting as members of a small fanatical right-wing Islamic group, possibly the Al Takfir Wal Hijra, who in 1977 killed a former minister of religious affairs rather than as part of a larger insurrection within the military.
Egyptian Defense Minister Muhammad Abdul Halim Abu Ghazzala, who was slightly wounded in the attack, called the assassination "an insane crime committed by a number of servicemen that does not exceed the fingers of one hand."
As for the amorphous but important threat of right-wing religious groups that were the target of Mr. Sadat's stiff crackdown last month, it is likely that any threat of subversion from within the armed forces or anywhere else will be dealt with severely.
While diplomats here see preparations for the final withdrawal from Sinai in April 1982 continuing smoothly, the Palestinian autonomy talks may suffer yet another delay as the Israelis worry about the stability of their only friendly Arab neighbor and respond to the now fluid situation in Egypt.
"The most important thing is that there not only be a continuation of policy but that it be perceived by others in the region, and that there will be no breakdown of law and order, or instability in Egypt," said one diplomat.
"A lot depends on how well the Egyptians persuade the Israelis to continue on course," the diplomat said.
Informed observers here do not see the close and growing US military and strategic relationship with Egypt changing for the time being. Egypt is still waiting for the delivery of the bulk of their arms purchases, including 40 F-16 aircraft and 231 M-60 tanks from the US.
It appears that Egypt's Arab neighbors are waiting with interest to see what course Mr. Mubarak will take, and may tone down their criticism for the time being. Sudan, however, which depends heavily on its strategic alliance with Egypt to counter Libyan-backed subversion, is very worried by Mr. Sadat's departure.