Egypt staged its annual military parade today by displaying everything from frogmen in rubber boats to Mirage F-1 jets.
Amid the fanfare, jets trailed colored smoke across the cloudless desert sky, and Egyptian flags and portraits of President Anwar Sadat fluttered to earth on parachutes. Doubletiming commandos in green berets chanted as they marched, and tanks and missiles rumbled past the reviewing stand as bombers and interceptors flashed overhead.
But as expected, no major new weapons systems were displayed, and the Egyptians offered no surprises and little equipment that was not in last year's parade. Egypt's policy of diversifying its sources of weapons after years of near total dependence on the Soviet Union was reflected in the French and British helicopters on view, but there were none of the Chinese missiles and advanced American weapons that had been promised in tantalizing local press accounts.
Cairo's corps of foreign military attaches spent much of the past week checking these reports and were skeptical of them even before the parade. The United States has sold Egypt very little aside from six C-130 transport planes, which were displayed for the first time today, and military sources said China does not even have long range surface-to-surface missiles of the kind the Cairo press was claiming Egupt had obtained.
The parade has become an annual extravaganza marking the anniversary of the October war of 1973, in which Egyptian troops crossed the Suez Canal and regained part of the Sinai Peninsula captured by Israel in 1967.
With Sadat in the parade reviewing stand were Vice President Hosni Mubarak; the minister of war, Gen. Mohammed Gamassi, adn Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
With its estimated 300,000 members and its mostly Soviet tanks, missiles and aircraft, the Egyptian military machine is the biggest and most powerful in Africa and the most powerful in the Middle East except for Israel's.
Gamassi said in brief speech that tha army was ready to defend not only Egypt but its African neighbors as well, reminder that Egypt's military concerns today lie almost as much to the west and south as to the east.
Sadat has often complained that Egypt's weapons are deteriorating for lack of maintenance and spare parts since the Soviet Union stopped giving military aid to Egypt following a break between the countries after the October 1973 war. Western analysts believe that while Sadat has exaggerated the problems the Egyptians are having trouble keeping their tanks, missilies and aircraft combat ready.
All the equipment displayed today looked sharp, down to the fresh black paint on the tires, but as a Soviet officer observed scornfully, "things always look good for the parade."