Behind the Headlines Egypt Trying to Cope with Its Internal and External Problems

On the day the Geneva conference opened Egyptian Deputy Premier for Economic Affairs, Dr. Abdel-Azziz Mohammed Hegazi presented to the Peoples Assembly in Cairo a new budget. The most striking feature of this budget was a 50 percent increase in the allocation for military expenses over the previous budget. Cairo Radio acting on instructions from the top echelon, chose to relay Hegazi’s full speech instead of following Israel’s example of broadcasting live the open session of the peace conference. This was not only a move of political significance but also the first step in a deliberate policy to play up Hegazi’s stature.

Now he is up for promotion. The 51-year-old British-trained professor of economy is going to be Egypt’s next Premier heading a Cabinet of “reconstruction and development.” Clearly President Anwar Sadat is attempting to accompany this appointment with hints of an imminent switch from the external to the internal front. There is a lot of talk in Cairo these days of plans to rebuild the economy, establish new cities on the outskirts of the capital and a fresh push for industrialization based primarily on attracting foreign investments and know-how. No doubt Sadat tries to prove his good intentions.

However, in spite of the wide coverage given to this scene in the Western press, Israeli observers tend to minimize the importance of the Hegazi Cabinet. They point to the already approved record military budget which curtails from the outset his ability to divert more resources to economic developments. These observers feel that Hegazi has not gained membership of Sadat’s inner circle. He will not be allowed into the small group of decision makers. Rather the opposite is true.

There seems to be a sharp decline in the status of the Cabinet as a whole. And Hegazi’s assumption of the Premiership will in fact mean that Egypt will have from now on a special government to take care of internal problems only. Questions of war and peace will be decided out side the Cabinet by people who do not even bother anymore to hold formal ministerial rank such as Sadat’s numerous “political advisors.” These devaluations in the standing of the Cabinet are also reflected by Foreign Minister Ismail Fahmy who is regarded as no more an executioner of policies drawn up by others.

EFFORTS TO SHIELD LEADER FROM BLAME

Instead of indicating greater emphasis on the solution of Internal problems Hegazi’s appointment signifies that Sadat is delegating authority on these issues to second rank politicians. Why should he do this at the present critical moment?

Some observers here give the following explanation: Sadat they say, promised in March 1973, when he took upon himself the Premiership, that he would hold on to the job only for the period of preparation for the “total confrontation.” He also declared several time that internal economic development as well as improvement of the deteriorating public services should not be hampered by the costly war. Now he feels that the first promise, that of giving up the Premiership, must be honored simply because the second one is too complicated to accomplish.

Hegazi will be publicly entrusted with the solution of unsoluble internal problems while Sadat himself maintains his own image as a successful war leader without being tarnished by those difficulties at home which are bound to be come more and more acute. This sort of political maneuvering is very typical of Egypt since Nasser’s early days. An “unknown” is picked up to shoulder the impossible so that the leader him self will not be blamed for an inevitable failure.

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