CAIRO (Apr. 2)
Premier Menachem Begin descended from his Israeli Air Force Boeing jet at Cairo International Airport this morning to a welcome that was cordial, correct, precisely orchestrated but devoid of the excitement and jubilation that greeted President Anwar Sadat of Egypt when he landed at Ben Gurion Airport in November, 1977.
The first Israeli Prime Minister to visit Cairo — or any Arab capital — was greeted by Egypt’s Vice President Hosnt Moubarak and Hassan Ahmed Kamal, chief of President sadat’s Office. Begin’s Egyptian counterpart, Prime Minister Mustapha Khalil, was not on hand and, in fact, the receiving line of no more than 20-30 Egyptian notables seemed small for such an occasion. Begin’s entourage of aides, and guests was much larger and their progress along the red carpet was leisurely. (Related story P. 2.)
Cairo was in the grip of a heat wave unprecedented for this time of year. A broiling hams in, the desert winds out of the east, sent the airport temperature soaring to 108 degrees F. But the wind displayed the Israeli and Egyptian flags that bedecked the airport buildings to best advantage. The blue and white Star of David flying side-by-side with the red, white and black Egyptian flag at the top of the terminal, symbolized more than anything else, the nature of the occasion the culmination of peace between the two neighbors after 30 years in a state of war.
Neither Begin nor his hosts mode any statements for the hundreds of journalists gathered on the tarmac. He and Moubarak shared a few moments of relaxed conversation — the heat being the main topic. Then all stood at attention as an Egyptian Army band played Hatikva Israel’s national anthem. They did it well, not too slow or at the overly fast tempo of the U.S. Marine Band in Washington.
There was no 21 gun salute, an honor that protocol reserves only for heads of state. But there was a guard of honor with glistening fixed bayonets, dark German-style helmets and brilliantly colored uniforms worthy of a Victor Herbert operetto.
Begin, accompanied by Moubarak and Acting Foreign Minister Boutros Ghali who is speaker of the Egyptian Parliament, inspected the troops. The Premier shook hands with the commanders of Egypt’s land, sea and air forces, with senior police officers, with the leaders of the various religious denominations, the head of EI Azhar University who is regarded as the highest Moslem authority, and the chief Coptic priest. Small boys and girls in white presented the Premier and his wife Aliza with bouquets of flowers and were duly kissed.
Then the party entered the air conditioned comfort of the air terminal’s VIP room where toasts were offered in honor of peace — a red liquid prepared by Egypt’s leading soft drink company as the Moslem faith forbids alcoholic beverages.
MORE DEMONSTRATIVE THAN EXPECTED
The motorcade, escorted by a convoy of helmeted motorcycle police, drove swiftly to Cairo Begin rode in a large black limousine with Israeli and Egyptian flags on its front fenders, to the Tahara Palace where the Israeli leader will stay. during his two-day visit. Crowds on the street were sparse, due possibly to the intense heat There were no flags or bunting along the route but a huge Israeli flag flew from the palace roof.
If the welcome for Begin was low key for obvious political reasons, it was more demonstrative than originally expected. The Egyptian authorities apparently decided within the last 24 hours to play up the event despite the fury of the Arab rejectionist states. Media coverage was suddenly expanded and Egyptian television that ordinarily does not operate in the morning hours, broadcast Begin’s arrival live. The commentator observed that he came as “a partner to a peace process” that will engulf the entire area.
Begin began his heavy schedule of ceremonial visits and sightseeing shortly before I p. m. He was flown to the pyramids at Giza by helicopter and took a close look at the Sphinx. He and his party were treated to a desert spectacle as hundreds of horsemen and camel riders suddenly appeared from behind the dunes to display their skill amid clouds of dust.
Begin did not return to Cairo by helicopter as originally planned. Instead the Egyptians decided to drive him through the main streets of the sprawling capital. The ride took 45 minutes from the pyramids to the Shaar Shamayim Synagogue where the Israeli party attended afternoon services. For the first time since his arrival, Egyptians lined the streets and shouts of “Begin, salaam, Salaam” were heard. The Prime Minister placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and returned to the Tahard Palace to rest before a gala dinner in his honor hosted by Sadat at the Abdin Palace tonight.
That probably will be his only opportunity to address the Egyptian nation. Begin has not been invited to address Parliament. He may hold a press conference before returning to Israel tomorrow afternoon but there has been no official announcement of such plans.