Gamal Abdel Nasser ..The Story and Myth by Samy Sharaf


Egypt: Sadat in the Saddle

 Monday, May. 31, 1971
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EGYPT'S President Anwar Sadat paid a call last month on the family of the late Gamal Abdel Nasser, his political predecessor and mentor. Sadat had an urgent request: Could he have the $36,000 bulletproof Mercedes limousine that had been parked in the family garage ever since Nasser's death last September? No, replied the family; the car had belonged to the man, not the office. In the midst of a heated argument that followed, Nasser's impulsive son Khalid, 23, dashed to the garage, doused the Mercedes with gasoline, and set it afire. It was a total loss.

These days Sadat could use a bulletproof limousine. Last week, moving forcefully to consolidate his power, he continued the arrests, demotions and sackings that have now affected some 500 army officers and 300 bureaucrats. Police were rounding up for investigation 1,000 or so members of a "secret organization" loyal to ex-Interior Minister Shaarawi Gomaa. Thirteen of Egypt's 25 rovincial governors are reported on the way out, and a shake-up in the diplomatic service is rumored. In recognition of the numerous new enemies the President has made, however, the cops now keep the street in front of his home blockaded. To escort his limousine around town, Sadat has a score of motorcycle outriders and five carloads of armed guards.
People's Champion. "The past eight months have been an interregnum," reflected a top Western diplomat in Cairo. "That is over now, and Sadat is the real successor" to Nasser. The evidence is everywhere. For the first time since Nasser's death last September, his picture disappeared from some government offices last week, to be replaced by Sadat's. Already Cairo newspapers are describing Sadat's purge of his political foes as "the May 15 revolution, correcting the July 23 revolution"the date of Nasser's 1952 takeover.

Despite Sadat's concern about assassins, his Egypt so far is a more relaxed place than Nasser's ever was. Sadat has cast himself as the people's champion, promising more personal freedom, attention to domestic ills, and an easing of police-state repression. As an earnest of that intent, the government eased press censorship and announced it was disconnecting the taps on no fewer than 11,000 telephones.

Still, strong doubts are beginning to disturb the cognoscenti, who worry that Sadat will become a Nasser-like strongman. It is an unexpected role. Before Sadat assumed the top office, his chief accomplishment was surviving for 18 years in Nasser's coterie, though he was banished to his native Delta village for five weeks only last summer for using government powers to take over a luxurious villa that his wife coveted. Cairo skeptics suggest that his accession to power merely portends a different sort of police state. "Up till now, the leftist-controlled intelligence tapped the telephones of the conservatives. Now the leftists will be tapped," said a leading Cairo journalist.

Sadat's chief enemieswho happened to be Egypt's most prominent menwere all under house arrest or in jail last week. They included former Vice President Ali Sabry, whose dismissal by Sadat three weeks ago began the whole battle for control, as well as Gomaa and former War Minister General Mohammed Fawzi and ex-Minister for Presidential Affairs Sami Sharaf. Gomaa's intelligence chief, Major General Hassan Talaatwho is rumored to have taken notorious delight in watching suspects being torturedwas hospitalized after Sadat's Republican Guards gave him a measure of the same treatment. Most of the other government officials who were arrested are being held in a large underground basement of the Public Prosecutor's building, where they must sleep in blankets on the floor.

Only the narrowest of margins saved Sadat from being in jail instead of his enemiesor dead. TIME Correspondent Dan Coggin, piecing together details of the power struggle, reported from Cairo that Sadat survived only because of the loyalty of a few individuals. One was Alexandria's Governor Mamdouh Salem, who flew to Cairo two weeks ago and informed Sadat that Gomaa's secret organization planned to assassinate him during a scheduled visit to the University of Alexandria. Sadat abruptly postponed the trip. Salem, who was later rewarded with the post of Interior Minister, led a platoon of Republican Guardsa force assigned to protect the Presidentto Gomaa's office. They took into custody the chief of intelligence, Talaatwho tried to burn a number of incriminating tapesand placed Gomaa under house arrest.

Unlikely Survivor. The same afternoon, General Fawzi tried to enlist the tough commander of Egypt's Saiqa (Thunderbolt) Special Forces troops, Major General Mohammed Husseini Shazli, in a coup attempt. It was to have begun shortly after the joint resignations of Fawzi, Sharaf and three other ministers were to be announced on the radio news. Though Shazli was supposed to take over Cairo and arrest Sadat, in fact he did nothing. (Later, he too was rewarded, with an appointment as army chief of staff.) When the resignations were announced on the air, anti-Sadat demonstrators were expected to pour into the streets, but only a score or so appeared. Desperate, General Fawzi telephoned a unit commander at a nearby base, wholike Shazlisaid he would join in the coup, but informed Sadat instead. Within an hour, Fawzi, Sharaf and the others who resigned were under house arrest, along with Sabry.

One survivor of the whole affair was Nasser's son-in-law, Ashraf Marwan, who used to work for Sharaf. Marwan found Sharaf's secretary taking secret papers from the office, trailed him, flattened him in a fistfight, grabbed the papers, and took them to Sadat. Marwan is now the Presidential Secretary for Information.

Did Moscowwith a $3 billion investment in arms and 19,000 technicians, troops and advisers on Egyptian soil know about the plot? Sabry, Sharaf and Gomaa were the Russians' best friends in Cairo. Moreover, Soviet Ambassador Vladimir M. Vinogradov visited Sharaf for an hour the day before the attempted takeover. But there is no firm evidence of Soviet involvement.

Tough Terms. In essence, the power struggle was a personal one between Sadat and his enemieswho just happened to be Moscow's men. They also happened to be hawks opposed to any settlement with Israel. Sadat, now alone at the top, depends mainly on the backing of the armyand that dictates an all-out campaign for Israeli withdrawal from the east bank of the Suez Canal. Accordingly, Sadat last week announced tough terms for agreement on the canal. In a speech to the National Assembly, he declared that Egypt would insist upon sending troops across the canal ("I can hardly hold them back"), and would not agree to an indefinite cease-fire so long as "one foreign soldier remains on our land." Sadat added: "We are ready to open the canal, but not as a partial settlement, or as a settlement that we will accept at any price. In that case, we would prefer to fill it up again with sand." To achieve an agreement, the President suggested, Washington would have to "squeeze and wring Israel like an orange."

Israeli and U.S. diplomats were well aware that, with the army looking over his shoulder, Sadat was bound to lay down a tough line in public. But in a private message to the U.S. setting out Egypt's terms on the canal, Sadat was equally intransigent. That represented an apparent setback for Secretary of State William Rogers' search for an interim agreement on opening Suez. But the feeling in Washington is that Sadat was trying to determine how far the U.S. will push Israel, which has been pretty rigid itself. U.S. officials hope that once he learns what the limits are, Sadat will likely scale down his demands.




Graphic by Martin

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