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Begin Arrives in Alexandria

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On the way to Janeklis Airport in Alexandria, a colorful poster hangs on a tree showing Israel’s Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan pouring fire over the heads of the Egyptian people. An Israeli photographer who wanted to film the poster was cordially asked not to do so. The explanation, given by Egyptian officers guarding the airport was, “this is an old poster. Why bother?”

The incident, unimportant as it may seem, characterized the mood here, as Premier Menachem Begin landed at Alexandria’s Janeklis Airport for his fourth visit to Egypt: a mixture of cordiality and old suspicions.

Indeed, the reception for Begin was as modest as it could be. When Begin’s Westwind airplane landed at the airport–once the main civilian airport of the city, now a military airfield–he was received by Vice President Hosni Mubarak and Deputy Premier Fikri Makram Obeid.

There were only two flags hanging in front of the terminal and no speeches were made. The Presidential guard saluted, the national anthems of both countries were played by a military band and Begin was driven to the official guest house, Soapha Palace, in downtown Alexandria.

There was thick line of security along the roads leading from the airport to the official guest residence. Several pedestrians waved friendly greetings when they saw Begin’s motorcade escorted by a small number of aides. It was nothing like the reception Begin received when he first visited Cairo April I. No posters welcomed the Premier and no throngs lined the streets to cheer. The message is quite clear: in order to receive warmer treatment, Begin must give a lot.

The Egyptians make a point of saying that there is time. They asked Begin to extend his stay here from the original two days to three days. They have lined up events such as an afternoon prayer at the local synagogue (there are several dozen Jewish families in Alexandria) and a tour of points of interest in Alexandria. Presently, two meetings are scheduled between Begin and President Anwar Sadat. But the timetable was left flexible enough to make any last minute changes. Egyptian analysts believe the current visit is part of a long strategy to slowly extract concessions from the Israeli leader.

The first meeting between the two leaders was scheduled for tonight, after the visit to the synagogue. Sadat will host a dinner for Begin at his residence in the Maamura Palace in the eastern side of the city. A second meeting is scheduled for tomorrow morning to be followed by a press conference. Begin is due back in Israel Thursday morning.

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