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Mubarak follows Sadat's footsteps - in a new direction

Two months into his presidency, Egypt's Hosni Mubarak does not appear to be contemplating radical changes in the policies he inherited from the late Anwar Sadat.

Instead, he seems bent on making his predecessor's political and economic platform more credible and appealing to the Egyptian public.

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Three significant decisions taken by Mr. Mubarak over the past two weeks would appear to support this thesis:

* The freeing of 31 secular members of the opposition (including well-known journalist Muhammad Hassanein Heikal) arrested in September at the time of Mr. Sadat's sweeping crackdown on religious fundamentalists.

* The announcement of a visit to Israel by Mr. Mubarak in February.

* The simultaneous disclosure that sometime before his visit to Israel, Mr. Mubarak would be coming to the United States.

Each of these decisions is directly related to three of the four main planks in the Sadat platform that distinguished the latter most markedly from Gamal Abdel Nasser's policies.

The four planks are: democratization of political life in Egypt; reconciliation with Israel; alliance with the West, particularly the US; and an open door in the economic field to encourage investment by the private sector, domestic and foreign.

Admittedly hopes initially raised by Mr. Sadat's adoption of these policies in the early 1970s had been disappointed by the end of the decade. This fueled the opposition to them - particularly from the religious fundamentalists.

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But Egyptian sociologist Saad Ibrahim wrote this summer that as long as Mr. Sadat could show that at least two of the four planks were a success, he could ride out the wave of fundamentalist opposition.

Each element of Mr. Sadat's platform was showing erosion at the edges by the time Mr. Sadat was murdered.

His arrest of 1,600 people in September - most but not all of them religious fundamentalists - raised questions about democracy in Egypt.

The peace treaty with Israel had in no way softened the hard line of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin on the question of the West Bank and the Palestinians. In addition, Mr. Begin insisted that Israel's annexation of Arab (east) Jerusalem was nonnegotiable.

Close association with the US had failed to win from the Americans either hoped-for pressure on the Israelis for more ''give'' on the Palestinian issue or investments of the kind most needed to strengthen the Egyptian economy.

The ''open door'' policy had not been successful in inviting that kind of investment in Egypt on a broad scale. Instead, it had tended to encourage consumption rather than production, with the rich getting richer and the poor poorer, while the favored all to often yielded to the temptation of corruption. Mr. Mubarak is sensitive to the drastic effect on public opinion of apparent corruption in high circles. Consequently he can be expected to launch a drive against it.

And when he comes to the US, he will probably make as strong a bid for US investment in Egypt as for US help on the Palestinian issue.

Mr. Mubarak's most immediate need, however, is to retain Israeli confidence so that the scheduled withdrawal from Sinai can be completed in April 1982 - a withdrawal essential to whole policy of reconciliation with Israel.

This explains Mr. Mubarak's commitment to visit Israel in February. Until now , he has never visited Israel proper - which has left some Israelis uneasy about his fundamental attitude toward them. (He did accompany Mr. Sadat to Sharm el-Sheikh in occupied Sinai for a meeting with Mr. Begin last summer.)

Mr. Mubarak's release of the 31 politicians and others Nov. 25 - and even more the prompt, cordial reception he gave them in his office - was clearly intended to underline his commitment to democratization.

But 45 politicians - as distinct from religious fundamentalists - remain in jail or liable to be jailed if they return from exile. First Deputy Premier Fuad Mohieddin has said they will be freed if investigations showed there were no grounds for charges against them.

But there is no parallel softening of attitude toward the religious fundamentalists. Indeed, Mr. Mubarak has spread the net to arrest more of them since the Sadat assassination. Capital sentences are expected for those who have already appeared in court in connection with the Sadat murder.

Significantly, Mr. Mubarak appealed to the 31 freed politicians to contribute to a national consensus ''to face the danger of religious fanaticism,'' which remained a threat to Egypt if the country were not united.

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