Egypt’s Ruling Circles Differ on Solution to Conflict with Israel

Major differences within Egypt’s ruling circles over a solution to the conflict with Israel emerged over the week-end. Mohammed Hassanein Heikal, editor-in-chief of the influential Cairo daily, Al Ahram, hinted in his signed column Friday that Egypt would do well to abandon its insistence on a prior Israeli commitment to withdrawal from the occupied territories as the price of peace negotiations.

But the official government newspaper, Al Gumhuriya, today criticized Heikal, but without mentioning him by name, for suggesting to the Egyptian people that they have any alternative but force in dealing with Israel. Heikal, nevertheless, is considered a close confidant of President Anwar Sadat, a relationship that he also enjoyed with the late President Nasser, and his column in Al Ahram has frequently reflected government views. Observers here said it was unlikely that his latest article was published without the prior approval of Sadat or someone acting on Sadat’s behalf.

In the column, which was promptly blasted by Arab news media in Amman, Beirut and Algiers, Heikal dismissed as “childish” a political solution “which is based on insisting on the last step even before the first step has begun.” The phraseology was seen as a hint that Egypt may be willing to drop its demand for an Israeli withdrawal commitment as a prerequisite for either an overall settlement under the aegis of United Nations mediator Dr. Gunnar V. Jarring or an American-sponsored interim accord to reopen the Suez Canal.

SEEN AS TRIAL BALLOON

Some observers believe Heikal’s suggestion represented a trial balloon and Al Gumhuriya’s criticism of it a way out for the government should public reaction be unfavorable, Al Gumhuriya referred obliquely to “persons who might spread confusing ideas among the Egyptian people” and warned that such persons who are obviously not sufficiently familiar with events should refrain from leading the Egyptian people into believing that there are several alternatives.

According to the government newspaper, there is only one solution to the Middle East conflict which has already been laid down: “What has been taken by force can only be retrieved by force. There is no difference of opinion about this.” the paper said.

Heikal, on the other hand, discarded military solutions or diplomatic efforts through international law and UN resolutions. He wrote that a “revolutionary scientific solution is the only acceptable solution.” He defined a “revolutionary scientific solution” as one which employs “all available means–diplomatic, economic, armed forces in accordance with modern calculations, and enlightened propaganda which gains the maximum amount of support for this conflict, and stands based on principles which guarantee the broadest front of friends and allies to prevent the enemy from imposing his will.”

NO SURRENDER TO ‘ZIONIST ENEMY’

Heikal claimed that such methods were being utilized by China to regain sovereignty over Taiwan and by the Vietnamese revolution to achieve the complete withdrawal of US troops from the whole of Indochina. According to Heikal, achievement of a political solution has failed in the Middle East conflict “because we have forgotten–I will not say have

His remarks appeared at a time when the Egyptian government appeared to be resting high hopes on the reactivation of the Jarring peace mission while at the same time intensifying its preparations for war. The Amman newspaper, A Destour, denounced the Egyptian editor for advocating an Arab surrender to a political solution not based on the Security Council’s Resolution 242.

The Daily Star, Beirut’s English-language newspaper, urged Egypt to dissociate itself officially from Heikal’s views. The pro-Iraqi Lebanese newspaper, Beirut, said a close examination of Heikal’s article would lead to popular support of the Cairo students’ recent demands that the Al Ahram editor stand trial. The paper accused Heikal of hostility towards the Arab masses and “advocation of surrender to the US and the Zionist enemy.” The official Algerian news agency criticized Heikal for “defeatism.”

Meanwhile, it was reported that Sadat is scheduled to tour several Arab countries this week to discuss means of strengthening the Arab position against Israel in the wake of Israel’s actions against Lebanon and Syria.

NEXT STORY