Fourteen people were told beforehand of Nasser's decision to nationalize the Suez Canal in July 1956; only two knew in advance of the decision to expel the Soviet experts from Egypt in July 1972, and then only a few hours before the Soviet Ambassador was informed. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat himself admits that he told no one but his Foreign Minister of his dramatic decision to go to Jerusalem last November.

These were all momentous decisions - some affecting the issues of war and peace, others, like the Jerusalem visit, representing a radical departure from the political line consistently followed by Egypt ever since it began to play an active role in the Arab-Israeli conflict in 1948. While the above examples graphically illustrate how major policy decisions are made in Egypt, they could just as easily apply to most Third World countries, which, unlike developed societies, have not yet attained the stage where constitutional legitimacy imposes objective constraints on the decision-making process. Developing countries are usually at one of two stages in their social, economic and political development: the traditional or the transitional. In both, decision-making powers are usually held by one individual. This may be a hereditary monarch, a prince or a sheikh, who rules with the authority of tradition behind him. It may be a charismatic leader who enjoys popular support for freeing his people from colonial bondage and for placing the country on the path of development. Or he could simply be a dictator who, on the pretext that the road to development is inevitably a hazardous one involving occasional violent upheavals, imposes a repressive system of law and order.

Whoever he may be - traditional ruler, charismatic leader or dictator - this individual is the final arbiter on all major policy matters. While he may delegate some powers in certain internal domains, such as agricultural and industrial development, he will retain full decision-making powers in two areas: foreign policy and defense. Even if the machinery for consultation appears to be there, in the form of a Cabinet, a Revolutionary Council or a National Security Council, its role, if any, is usually confined to discussing a decision in one of these two areas after it has been made. In most cases these consultative bodies are not in possession of the facts leading up to the decision; their discussions are thus ineffectual, perfunctory affairs that affect the decision-making process not at all. Of course, the decision-maker may consult with others before making his decision, but the extent to which he is guided by their advice is a matter of personal choice. In other words, while the possibility that other opinions may affect his decision is there, it is at best a random one. The decision is ultimately his alone.


However, because policy decisions are taken by one man alone it does not follow that they are made haphazardly or in a vacuum. Any country's foreign policy is necessarily governed by a number of factors, some constant, some variable. The constants can be said to be the factors of geography and history. "Geography," as de Gaulle told me in 1967, "is the constant factor in the making of history." And the history of a nation is, of course, the accumulation of its collective experience. The variables, which must be taken into account by any nation in the making of its foreign policy decisions, are its internal conditions, the mood of its people and the degree of their participation in political life as well as the regional and global balance of power prevailing at a given moment. Such then are the objective factors that influence the decision-maker. There is, however, a subjective factor which, when one man decides alone, is bound to play an important role. This is the decision-maker's personal reading of the facts on which he will base his decision.

In the case of Egypt, the constants of geography and history have steered the main thrusts of its foreign policy toward two fronts: south and east.

Since Egypt's very existence depends on the waters of the Nile, the first consideration of any Egyptian government is to guarantee that these waters are not threatened. This means ensuring that no hostile power can control the headwaters of the Nile or interfere with its flow into Egypt. Fortunately, with the political conditions and technological limitations in Central and East Africa, this threat is unlikely to materialize. Politically friendly Sudan provides Egypt with an additional degree of security. Thus the southern prong of Egypt's foreign policy has tended to be passive and promises to remain so in the foreseeable future.

On Egypt's eastern front things are very different. To the northeast, its border region lies along the land bridge between Africa and Asia. Here the armies of great empires have marched and countermarched throughout history. It was through Syria and Palestine that Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Macedonians, Byzantines, Arabs and Turks marched toward the Nile Valley, and across the same land bridge that the armies of Thutmose III and Mohamed Aly moved to conquer or to defend.

Indeed, during World War I Britain's General Allenby considered Egypt's first line of defense to be the Gaza-Beersheba line in Palestine. Other military experts believe this line should extend north to Damascus or even to Aleppo. However, the land bridge should not be regarded exclusively in terms of warfare. It is just as vital to Egypt in times of peace. It has always been a part of the world's great trade routes, whether in the age of camels, steamships or aviation. When Egypt became part of the great Muslim empire, the importance of the land bridge grew. Lying halfway along the road between Islamic North Africa and the Caliph's capitals of Damascus or Baghdad, it was the road by which pilgrims made their way to the holy cities of the Hejaz and Palestine. It was also the scene of the historical confrontation between the East and West, the Crusades. Later, under the Ottoman Empire, it was the road to the imperial capital of Istanbul. After its collapse, the accumulations of history, which had long been fermenting among the Ottoman Empire's Arab subjects, found concrete expression in the awakening of Arab nationalism. The common heritage of the Arab people of Asia and Africa had forged a strong bond between them, a bond cemented by language, religion, history and culture. For the emerging Arab nation, the land bridge that linked the Arabs of Africa with those of Asia was, in terms of community of interests and security, a vital focal point. And, more recently, the vast oil discoveries in the Arabian Peninsula and on the coast of the Arab Gulf have made this region a center of gravity in the global power struggle.

Egypt's geographical peculiarities, which to a large degree dictate its policies, were once compared by André Malraux to those of Britain. Both countries, he said, are in effect islands - Egypt cut off from its neighbors by deserts and by the swamps and forests of the southern Sudan, Britain cut off from the European mainland by sea. Both countries derive a sense of security from living behind these natural barriers, but are always alert to what goes on beyond them. For Britain, danger has come when one state or a combination of states across the channel has grown too strong. Repeatedly this has meant war. In the same way, alarm bells have rung in Cairo when too great a buildup of strength has been observed beyond the Sinai. This conversation with Malraux took place in Paris in 1970, at a time when the question of Britain's entry into the Common Market was under discussion. He explained that the time when seas and deserts could provide sufficient protection was over and that Britain had no choice but to join Europe. I agreed, but pointed out that Egypt regarded the Sinai not as the barrier he imagined it to be but as its vital link to the east. And the question was not simply one of joining the Arab states in the east. The shared perceptions of a common cultural, linguistic and religious heritage made Egypt an integral component of the Arab nation, of both that part lying beyond the African-Asian land bridge in the east and to the Atlantic in the west.

Unlike the southern prong of its foreign policy, Egypt has always pursued an active line toward its eastern flank. Its preoccupation with one or the other of these two fronts has always proved to be a reliable criterion of Egypt's vitality: the more outgoing and vigorous it is, the more active its policy toward the east; the more introspective and turned in on itself it becomes, the more it looks southward.


The close of World War II and the defeat of Nazism introduced three important new ingredients into the Middle East. The first was mounting Soviet strength in the geographical proximity of the Middle East, with its strategic importance, vital lines of communication and oil resources. The West countered this threat, in keeping with the cold war logic prevailing at the time, with the formation of military alliances. Second was the growth of the anti-colonial struggle in the region, which sought not only independence from traditional colonialism but also a form of Arab unity and overall economic, social and political development. The third was the creation of Israel in the aftermath of the Nazi Holocaust, not only as the fulfillment of an ancient dream but also in response to contemporary strategic interest. In the process, an entire people was displaced and untenable strains and stresses imposed on the region.

And so the stage was set for an increasingly complex and volatile situation in the region. The West's pattern of armed containment of communism had taken shape with the creation of NATO in the West and the SEATO pact in Southeast Asia. Only in the Middle East was there a gap in this pattern, and the West lost no time in attempting to fill it. For the Arab countries, jealous of their independence, joining such an alliance represented a new form of Western domination. If they were going to form an alliance with anybody, it was more logical that they form it with other Arabs. Indeed the Arab League, which came into being in 1944, was conceived in part as a defense organization. For the majority of Arabs, this concept was both comprehensible and attractive, all the more so since in 1948 they found themselves facing an enemy far closer and more immediate than the Soviet Union - Israel. Its creation in the very heart of the African-Asian land bridge dealt a severe blow to Arab hopes of unity by cutting off the Arabs of Asia from those of Africa. Certainly, too, the fact that Israel's creation entailed the dismantling of a Palestinian home and the denial of the Palestinians' rights did nothing to endear this new entity to the Arabs. Their hostility was further confirmed by Israel's relations with countries like Britain and the United States, the one identified with traditional colonialism, the other accused of neocolonialism.


After the 1952 revolution, Egypt's new and vigorous leadership was quick to adapt to these postwar developments and shifted its attention to the challenges on the country's eastern flank. Previous to that, in the words of the Egyptian Foreign Minister to his British counterpart, Ernest Bevin, in 1950: "Our foreign policy is a very limited one, and can almost be resolved in these two questions now under discussion, the question of evacuation and that of the unity of Egypt and the Sudan under the Egyptian crown."

However, before the new regime could shift Egypt's foreign policy priorities, it had to ensure that its southern flank was safe. Thus it acknowledged the Sudan's right of self-determination; though the Sudan opted for independence, Egyptian-Sudanese relations remained cordial. Similarly, it continued to maintain friendly relations with Ethiopia. For Nasser the revolutionary as for Farouk the monarch, Haile Selassie was the strong man on Lake Tana, source of the Nile floodwater. And, when the winds of change blew through Kenya, as they did over the whole of Africa, Egypt was quick to help Kenyatta and other African national leaders, especially those whose countries were connected with the headwaters of the Nile in Central and East Africa.

Having ensured that its southern flank was safe, Egypt could now come to grips with the problems in the east, which even the enfeebled royalist government had been unable to ignore. Egypt had already fought a war against Israel over the African-Asian land bridge and, fearful of the potentially formidable military threat Israel represented, had entered into a mutual defense pact with a number of Arab countries, notably Syria. It was at this time too that Cairo and Damascus rejected proposals for a Middle East Defense Organization (MEDO) put forward by Britain, France, the United States and Turkey.


This marked the beginning of a long and bitter feud in the area between two rival systems, whose struggle for predominance continues to this day. The advocates of the two systems have spared no effort, using all the means at their disposal, both overt and covert, to advance their cause.

1. The Middle Eastern System. First advocated by Britain, France, the United States and Turkey, the real architect of the system was, in fact, the United States, backed by Great Britain. This system saw the Middle East in geographical terms, as a vulnerable land mass lying close to the Soviet Union. Wholly preoccupied with the Soviet threat, the architects of the system held that the countries of the area must organize themselves against this threat by joining in an alliance with others who were concerned for the region's security. This alliance would have to coordinate its defense with other countries exposed to the "Red Peril" in Europe and Asia. A Middle Eastern alliance would be the final link in a chain of alliances (including NATO and SEATO) encircling the southern frontiers of the Soviet Union. In the logic of this system, the Arab countries were expected to join in an alliance with Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, even Israel - that is, the Middle Eastern countries directly concerned with the region - as well as with the United States, Britain and France, the international parties concerned with the region's security as well as being the major participants in NATO and SEATO.

2. The Arab System. Based on a different outlook toward the region, this system saw the Middle East not as a hinterland lying between Europe and Asia - a simple geographical expansion - but as one nation having common interests and security priorities distinct from those of the West. According to this logic, the countries of the area, which enjoyed unity of language, religion, history and culture should - indeed could - create their own system to counter any threat from whatever source. And the main threat, as the advocates of this system saw it, came from Israel, not only because it cut across the African-Asian land bridge but also because, with its seizure of the Auja area demilitarized under the Rhodes armistice agreement, it was clear that it harbored expansionist aims. At the same time, while admittedly the Soviet Union did represent a threat, it was felt that there was no immediate or direct danger from that source. Many people in the area, including Nasser, held that the lack of common borders between the Arab nation and the Soviet Union would deter the Soviets from undertaking any military act against it. And in any case, Nasser felt that the answer to communist infiltration did not lie in joining Western-sponsored alliances with their imperialist overtones but rather in promoting internal economic and social development and in affirming the spirit of nationalism and independence.

If the advocates of the Arab system required any proof of the validity of their theory, this was amply provided by the 1956 Suez War, an operation launched by two discredited colonial powers, Britain and France, in retaliation for Egypt's nationalization of the Suez Canal. Although it is hard to see how this particular settling of accounts could have concerned it in any way, Israel nonetheless joined the ill-fated attack, in a spirit compared by Moshe Dayan in his book on the 1956 campaign to that of a cyclist peddling uphill who grabs the back of a passing truck that happens to be going in the same direction.


Following the Suez War and lasting until the 1967 War, competition between the two systems was at its most intense. In the struggle, each of the two systems tried to marshal its forces, both regional and extra-regional.

The Middle Eastern system depended mainly on the political and economic might of the United States and its NATO allies. On the regional level it could count on the support of the local parties not included within the Arab system - Iran, Turkey, Pakistan and Israel. And it had at the very least neutralized some local parties whose natural place was within the Arab system but which were frightened off by the pan-Arab and progressive views to which the main trends within that system subscribed. These were for the most part the conservative, oil-producing countries, torn between their natural affinity on the one hand and their interests on the other.

As for the Arab system, this depended basically on Nasser's Egypt and on a number of other Arab countries pursuing a similar line, especially Syria, followed by Algeria and Iraq. A main rallying point of this group was the Palestinian issue. It also had a mass appeal throughout the Arab world, even within those countries whose conservative regimes were hostile to the social content of the Arab system. On the international level, it could count on the support of a number of parties, notably the Soviet Union, if only because the Middle Eastern system was initially directed against it. This support was manifested in concrete form in the 1955 Soviet arms deal with Egypt, in its stand with Egypt during the 1956 war, and in its massive economic aid, the most prominent expression of which was the Aswan High Dam. In addition to the Soviet Union, the Arab system sponsored by Egypt coordinated its policies with other groupings which had their origins outside the two blocs built up around the superpowers, nations such as India in Asia and Yugoslavia in Europe. Cooperation between Cairo, Delhi and Belgrade was the driving force behind the idea of nonalignment. Other areas of international relations in which Egypt was active were in the movements for Afro-Asian solidarity, for national liberation and for African unity. This policy was to pay dividends in the 1960s, when newly emerging groups of nations acquired an influential role in the United Nations.

But the balance of power between the two systems was a precarious one, subject to fluctuations and sometimes even to overlapping. For example, 1959 saw a conflict of interests between the Arab system and the Soviet Union when the latter tried to exploit the system to its own advantage. Fortunately, however, tensions abated, and the Soviet Union continued to be a main pillar of support for the Arab system.

During that period, the most critical and violent confrontations between the two systems erupted in the contested area itself, that area which should have belonged to the Arab system but which, alienated by its progressive social character, saw its interests as lying more within the Middle Eastern system. The advocates of the Arab system were apprehensive that the countries of the area could be used by the Middle Eastern system as bridgeheads in the heart of the Arab world. For the Middle Eastern system these countries were regarded as outposts in the drive to undermine the Arab system. Not surprisingly, the Arab system felt that it could not maintain its cohesion unless it could protect its own borders. And so competition between the two systems continued, with now one side and now the other gaining a tactical advantage.

The most violent clash in the confrontation between the two systems was expressed in the downfall of the Hashemite Dynasty in Baghdad, the most important Arab capital which the Middle Eastern system had succeeded in recruiting, the capital of the Baghdad Pact, which had succeeded the stillborn MEDO. This was widely hailed as a decisive blow delivered by the Arab system to the Middle Eastern system. But the latter was quick to retaliate: in 1958, Marines of the U.S. Sixth Fleet landed in Beirut to keep President Chamoun in power at the same time that two brigades of British paratroopers landed in Jordan. The Arab system also suffered a major setback in 1961 with the breakup of the United Arab Republic, a point scored by the Middle Eastern system against the two main pillars of the Arab system, Egypt and Syria. The Yemen War in 1962 was a protracted and brutal conflict between the two systems, with Saudi Arabia fighting to reinstate the Imam and Egypt fighting on the side of the revolutionary officers who had overthrown him. The war was a particularly sensitive one because of its proximity to the huge oil reserves on the Persian Gulf.

And with a final flare-up - the 1967 war - the Middle Eastern system dealt a severe blow to the already debilitated Arab system. The blow was dealt by Israel, true, but its political repercussions went far beyond a victory on the battlefield, and the whole Arab system was jeopardized.


The next six years - until 1973-were particularly critical ones for the Arab system. The most pressing task before it was the liberation of territories occupied in 1967, a task necessary not only in terms of defending its borders but in terms of defending its raison d'être. To paraphrase de Gaulle, a regime that is incapable of defending its borders is bound to lose its raison d'être sooner or later. . . .

In the new post-1967 situation, the United States - the leading power in the Middle Eastern system - assured Israel on two counts: that it would maintain Israel's supremacy over the Arab confrontation powers and that it would not let Israel be pressured, by the United Nations or otherwise, into withdrawing from occupied territories unless and until a permanent peace on American or Israeli terms was first obtained.

In the face of this, Egypt operated in the domain of foreign policy on several levels at the same time:

- to get the Soviet Union to strengthen Egypt's defense capabilities despite Moscow's fear that this could lead to a confrontation with the United States;

- to stress and strengthen the role of the Palestinian people and their armed revolution as expressed by the PLO and to strengthen the confrontation lines with Israel by building up an eastern front composed of Syria, Iraq and Jordan that could coordinate with the southern front, i.e., Egypt;

- to extend Egypt's strategic depth. This was assured by the revolutions in the Sudan and Libya in 1969;

- to deter the defection of conservative Arab states to the Middle Eastern system by emphasizing the danger Israel represented to the integrity of the Arab nation as a whole. For the conservative Arab states, this consideration took precedence over their mistrust of pan-Arab nationalism with its progressive social connotations, and they provided the confrontation states with the necessary economic backing;

- to consolidate political alliances that supported the idea and logic of an Arab system, especially with the Soviet Union. This was necessary to counterbalance the United States, which backed Israel and sponsored the Middle Eastern system.

These efforts were to bear fruit in October 1973. The war was a triumphant expression of the vitality of the Arab system, which proved capable of mobilizing all its forces and reinforcing its positions through the wide-ranging alliances it had steadily built up. It also proved it could successfully challenge Israel's security doctrine. Indeed, the strategic aim of the war as defined in President Sadat's directive to the Commander in Chief of the Egyptian armed forces at the time, Marshal Ahmed Ismail, was to destroy the "secure borders" myth put out by Israel; in other words, to challenge the fait accompli it had tried to impose with its continued occupation of Arab territory from 1967 to 1973. In spite of fluctuations during the October War its outcome was, in strategic terms, a victory for the Arab system. This was confirmed to me by Henry Kissinger on the first of his shuttles to Cairo in November 1973. Kissinger recounted how he had told Israel's Prime Minister Golda Meir that, notwithstanding Israel's military advantage in the last days of the war, the Arabs had certainly won the war strategically. In fact, the alliance that the October War had forged was an opportunity to rebuild the Arab system on a firm basis. Unfortunately, this was not to be.


After 1973, Egypt's foreign policy appears to have been formulated largely on the basis of assumptions that the Egyptian decision-maker drew from his reading of certain variables he saw on the internal, regional and global fronts.

On the internal front, the adverse psychological effects produced by the Six-Day War had continued for six years and the mood of the people was not improved by staggering economic difficulties, breakdowns in infrastructure and services, inflation caused by the war economy and further aggravated by worldwide inflation following the rise in oil prices and in the price of a number of basic food commodities that Egypt had to import. The desire to alleviate the hardships of the people was translated into an economic "open-door" policy, on the assumption that Egypt's sick economy could be cured by a dose of foreign capital and local private enterprise. However, the catch was that both local and foreign capital gravitated to those areas in which quick profits could be realized, such as land speculation, trade in nonessential consumer goods, and finally tourism, rather than into areas of development and production. This process has bred new parasitical groups that have amassed great personal fortunes without adding to the national wealth or the productive capacity of the country in any way. Moreover, they now represent pressure groups whose allegiance is dubious, first because they are not committed in any way to the production process - whether industrial or agricultural - and, second, because they prefer to retain their wealth outside the country.

The social situation was further complicated by the euphoria raised by the 1973 October War, which was portrayed as having realized a sweeping military victory for the Arabs - as though the Middle East problem were over, and there were to be no more hardships for the people who now had only to reap the fruits of victory. The people's hopes, coupled with the vast wealth they saw being accumulated by other Arab states (thanks to Egyptian sacrifices), made an explosive mixture that had to be defused.

On the regional level, both the economic and political power of the traditional oil-producing states had increased enormously, in large measure as a result of the oil price hike following the October War. It was widely believed that the hopes raised by the war could only be met with the help of these countries, which had for so long vacillated between their natural affinity to the Arab system and their identity of interests with the Middle Eastern system. Among non-Arab states in the region, Iran had become a regional power to be reckoned with; its close collaboration in OPEC with the Arab oil producers led to the emergence of a new axis in the region.

Meanwhile, the cohesion of the Arab system, which had proved so strong during the war, began to disintegrate. Relations between Cairo and Damascus in particular became strained after the first disengagement agreement on the Egyptian front, which was followed a few months later by a similar agreement on the Syrian front. There were differences, too, between Egypt and Iraq, Egypt and Libya, Egypt and Algeria. With the main parties in the Arab system divided among themselves, the pillars on which the system was built were toppling.

On the global level, the United States appeared to be the only party capable of bringing peace to the region - an argument the Americans themselves were advancing. For instance, I remember Kissinger telling me that "the Soviets can give you arms and this means war, but only the United States can give you back your occupied territories and this means peace." At the same time that this conviction was growing, relations with the Soviets were deteriorating rapidly. There were several reasons for this, some old, some new. An old source of friction was Egypt's accusation that the Soviets were keeping it short of arms, while the Americans were showering arms on Israel. Another important reason was that personal animosity had developed between President Sadat and the Soviet leadership. And, last but not least, there was the Soviet resentment at being left out in the cold: now that the war option was discarded, they were being asked to step aside and let the Americans take over the peace process. Certainly the fact that the conservative Arab states, which now had the upper hand in the region, regarded the Soviet Union in terms of the "Red Peril" may have had something to do with the deterioration in Soviet-Egyptian relations. The alliances, which the Arab system had built up with such forces as the nonaligned group of nations and national liberation movements, had become superfluous.


On the basis of these assumptions, the Egyptian decision-maker reached a number of important conclusions that were to have far-reaching effects:

1. That the United States was the only power that could make Israel withdraw completely from the Arab territories occupied since 1967. I remember a conversation I had with President Sadat immediately after the October War during which he told me, "that man [Kissinger] is the only person who can order that woman [Golda Meir] to get out - and be obeyed." My view, which I expressed to him at the time, was that, however great America's influence on Israel might be, there was still a degree of independent Israeli will.

2. That on this basis the United States must be reassured, i.e., that the Soviet presence and influence must be removed from the region. The conservative Arab states fully supported this decision.

3. That the October War would be the last military confrontation in the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is often supposed that President Sadat's official declarations to this effect after his meeting with Menachem Begin in Jerusalem represented a new departure, but that is not so. I recall his saying in November 1973, only a few weeks after the ceasefire: "This will be the last war while I'm President." This further reinforced the logic that there was no place for the Russians in the region. After all, arms were the lever which had brought them there in the first place and arms would be a lever no longer.

4. That Egypt needed a new "Marshall Plan" to rescue its economy. Funds for such a project were available from two sources only: U.S. government aid and investment by private American capital in Egypt was one; Arab oil money from the oil-producing states in the region was the other.

5. In the light of these conclusions, Egypt had to rearrange its alliances both in the region, where a Tehran-Riyadh-Cairo axis replaced the previous Cairo-Damascus-PLO axis and, on the global level, where the United States and Western Europe have replaced the Soviet Union and the Third World as Egypt's new allies.

Thus the scales are, for the moment, tipped in favor of the Middle Eastern system. In acting on certain assumptions, Egypt, for so long the mainstay of the Arab system, has in effect come closer to the system with which it was locked in such deadly conflict from the end of World War II until the end of the October War. With this in mind, certain important decisions in Egypt's foreign policy, like President Sadat's visit to Jerusalem in November 1977, can be understood more clearly. It was by no means a sudden whim but the logical outcome of new and sweeping changes in the region before which the Arab system has been forced to retreat in disarray, leaving the field open to the Middle Eastern system. These changes have also led to the formation of new regional axes outside the Arab system, indeed directly opposed to it, such as the Tehran-Riyadh-Cairo axis.

Attempts are now underway to create new contradictions in the region in place of the main contradiction with Israel, an important partner in the Middle Eastern system. The problem is that the new situation can isolate Egypt from the Arab world and push it into making a separate peace agreement with Israel. Such an agreement would not realize a real peace but, at best, a temporary truce. However, it is doubtful whether even this is possible. The interaction within the Arab world, the powerful pull exerted by the Palestinian cause and the inconclusive assumptions on which Egypt has based its political and social options after the October War all combine to impose constraints on Egypt's foreign policy. These constraints are more pervasive than all the attempts to destroy the Arab system, whether by dividing it - the rift between Egypt and Syria; by dispersing its energies - Egypt's unsuccessful intervention in the Horn of Africa; or by blurring its Arab character - the Islamic Pact.

The strong interaction within the Arab world is what attests to its vitality. This vitality makes the real constituency of any Arab leader the Arab world as a whole. Before making a decision, the decision-maker must assess how it will be received not only in his own country, where he is vested with official authority, but by the rest of the Arab world where, like it or not, he is expected to live up to a kind of moral authority that he automatically represents. Together with his ability to attune his decisions to the mood of the whole region, this moral authority is what gives any Arab ruler, especially in Egypt with its central role in the Arab system, stature and importance. But, in counterpart, there are restrictions and limitations no Arab ruler can afford to ignore unless he is prepared to risk losing his real constituency and with it his regional and international standing.

Thus, in spite of the temporary advantages chalked up by the Middle Eastern system, the Arab system has important assets that can well turn the tide in its favor once again. But not, I suspect, before a great many vicissitudes and convulsions afflict the region. I recall a question I put to Chou En-lai in Peking in 1973 on how he saw future developments in the Third World. He thought for a moment, then said: "The Third World has not adapted to the realities and demands of our times and is consequently lost between the two superpowers which are seeking to divide the world up into zones of influence. I see many upheavals coming, old alliances breaking down and new alliances taking their place. I see chaos everywhere."

It would seem that Chou En-lai's prediction has come to pass in the Middle East with frightening accuracy.

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  • Mohamed Hassanein Heikal is the former Editor in Chief of the Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram, 1957-74, and has been a member of the Central Committee of the Arab Socialist Union. He is the author of Nasser: The Cairo Documents and The Road to Ramadan.
  • More By Mohamed Hassanein Heikal