Sadat frets crackdown may hurt his reputation in West
Mit Abul Kom, Egypt
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat is concerned about the negative impact that his tough new measures to counteract "sectarian sedition" are having in the West and particularly the United States.
In a special press conference for foreign journalists at his native village of Mit Abul Kom, Mr. Sadat strongly defended his decision to imprison over 1,500 political opponents and religious extremists, saying "sometimes we have to do surgery. We have to swallow bitter pills."
He defended his banishment of the Coptic patriarch who he accused of being a political leader saying "no one has harmed the cause of my Coptic citizens like this man."
As for the detention of Muhammad Hassanein Heikal, former editor of El Ahram and Nasser confidant, Mr. Sadat said of the man who has been published in many respected foreign publications, "he has always distorted the image of Egypt. In the US he has done it; in the articles in Europe he does it; in articles in the Arab world he has done it."
But it was clear that Mr. Sadat was stung by reports in the Western press that he is eliminating his political opponents. He defined those who questioned the stability of his regime and compared it with Iran, "the regime has nothing to fear," he declared. "Why should the image of Egypt be distorted in the most friendly country of the United States that gives most gallant assistance to Egypt until this moment?" He asked.
But to the minds of many of those present at the meeting, Mr. Sadat was not able to explain the role the Egyptian opposition can acceptably play in the Egyptian political arena. His gripe against domestic critics like Muhammad Hassanein Heikal who writes mainly for foreign publications, is that he has misrepresented Egypt abroad.
"What is to be aimed at is not to create an atmosphere for such acts like this and to end forever the distortion of Egypt to the outside world," Said Mr. Sadat.
Egypt's experiment with democracy began in 1976 when Mr. Sadat created different "tendencies" within the Arab Socialist Union, which eventually evolved into four different political parties with Sadat's own party holding an overwhelming majority in the Egyptain parliament. The leaders of the opposition parties were handpicked by Mr. Sadat, and in the beginning did not offer substantial criticism of his policies.
Mr. Sadat has indicated he will soon convene a meeting of the Egyptian parliament and professional syndicates to put together a national charter to "agree on certain wide open principles" for political performance which presumably will outline the role he expects an Egyptian opposition to play.
"I want a powerful opposition," maintains Mr. Sadat, "because my government is a powerful government."
But, he added later on, "We have no opposition in Egypt. We have what is called Heikals."
The problem is, an opposition that does not criticize is not an opposition, at least in the Western sense.