An Egyptian journalist was trembling with anticipation and anxiety as he drove off to Cairo Airport today to board a special plane that was taking the press to Israel.
"It's beyond excitement," he said, twisting his worry beads. "There are so many developments my mind is a blank. This is the event of them all. I can't believe it."
"It could be a very good thing, but he has to bring something back," said another. "He must get the Israelis to show some flexibility."
This mixture of amazement, hope and apprehension seemed to reflect the mood of Egypt today as its people contemplated developments that they never dreamed possible two weeks ago.
A [WORD ILLEGIBLE] of Egyptian officials jubilantly received in Israel; Arab journalists bearing Egyptian, Lebanese and Jordanian passports joining their Western colleagues on a flight to Tel Aviv; and on Saturday the visit to Israel of President Anwar Sadat, the first by any Arab leader in almost 30 years of Israeli independence - minds here are truly boggled.
Islamic preachers, businessmen in their clubs, retired policemen on an outing, a parking lot attendant and dozens of other Egyptians interviewed today said they approved of the history trip and prayed for its success, but feared the consequences of a possible failure.
Sadat himself spent the day in Ismailia, on the banks of the Suez Canal, within artillery range of the Israeli troops that his armies drove back from the canal in the 1973 war. He said Friday prayers in a mosque there, took a telephone call from President Carter, and was said by reporters who saw him to be relaxed and confident.
Much of the Arab world, however, was in a state of turmoil today as anxiety over Sadat's trip continued to mount.
Three rockets slammed into the Egyptian embassy in Beirut, killing a security guard, and a group of 30 Arabs shot their way into the courtyard of the Egyptian embassy in Athens and remained there for 90 minutes before surrendering to police. A Greek security guard and seven of the Arab demonstrators were wounded.
Syria called for a day of "popular anger and national mourning" Saturday to protest Sadat's visit.
The most painful blow for the Egyptian leader, however, came when Saudi Arabia broke its silence today to declare that it had been "surprised" by Sadat's decision.
The Saudi criticism, however, took the mildest possible form, declaring simply that Saudi Arabia still believed that "any Arab initiative (toward a Middle East peace) must stem from a united Arab stem."
The more shrill denunciations of Sadat came from predictable sources - Iraq, Libya, the Lebanese left, and several Palestinian guerrilla organizations.
It was said by observers here to be no more intense than the barrage of accusations and denunciations leveled at Sadat after he signed the second Sinai disengagement agreement with Israel in 1975, and was unlikely to deter Sadat from his course.
Tonight, the Egyptian government closed the Voice of Palestine Radio, a powerful station here controlled by the Palestine Liberation Organization, which was broadcasting criticism of Sadat's mission.
The Egyptians took similar action to silence Palestinian criticism of the second Sinai disengagement agreement, allowing the station to reopen when ties between Egypt and the PLO improved during the Lebanese war.
The Iraqis who oppose any negotiations with Israel and must be aghast at the spectacle of an Arab had of state going there to give the Jewish state de facto recognition by addressing its Parliament, called Sadat's move "treason."
Libya said it would seek Egypt's expulsion from the Arab League and the transfer of the League's headquarters out of Cairo. In Jordan, the state radio reportedly cut off the sermon of a Moselm iman who was attacking Sadat. The Jordianian press however, was generally disapproving, hardly surprising attitude in a country with a heavily Palestinian population.
In Beirut, caricature posters depicted Sadat in an Uncle Sam hat and wearing an eyepatch like that of Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan. Small scale anti-Egyptian demonstrations were reported there and in Baghdad.
At some airports, passengers boarding Cairo-bound planes were subjected to unusual security checks, including additional body and hand-luggage searches after boarding.
By and large, however, life in the Arab world was by all accounts amazingly normal, considering the momentous events that are unfolding so quickly.
Only a few years ago, Western diplomats observed, the very announcement that an Egyptian president was going to Israel would have brought mobs into the streets of virtually every Arab capital. Major anti-Sadat demonstrations may yet occur, but it appeared that most Arabs intend to wait to see whether the Egyptian leader comes some in triumph or empty-handed.
The four-day festival of sacrifice that marks the end of the Haj - an annual pilgrimage to Mecca - begins on Sunday, the day Sadat is to pray in the Islamic shrine of Al Aqsa in Jerusalem, and millions of Arabs are preoccupied with preparing for it. Cairo airport was a madhouse today as planeloads of Saudis, Iraqis, Kuwaitis, Gulf Arabs and others poured into this easygoing city for the holiday, a sure sign that they felt no tension in the air.
King Hussein of Jordan went off on a state visit to the Sultanate of Oman. In Beirut, always a flashpoint, the atmosphere was relaxed and there were no signs that the multinational Arab force keeping order there had been beefed up, despite minor demonstrations by some students.
The Syrian press blasted Sadat as treasonous and a coward, but that was hardly surprise in view of President Hafez Assad's public statement disapproving of Sadat's policy the day before.
A Beirut newspaper headlined that there was "an avalanche of resignations" from Sadat government, but in fact the opposite is true. Sadat's two closest foreign policy advisers, Foreign Minister Ismail Fahmi and Minister of State Mohammed Riad, resigned yesterday over the Israel trip, but otherwise there was no sign of discontent in the government.
Outsiders never have much information about opinion among the Egyptian military leadership, but diplomatic observers here believe that the military will support any move that brings an acceptable peace without bloodshed.
Whether or not Sadat's trip produces anything in the way of movement toward a comprehensive peace settlement, it has symbolic implications that are only beginning to be understood.
For example, diplomats pointed out that in the past Sadat has said that it would take five years after the signing of a peace treaty for this country to give full recognition to Israel, and that normal relations such as open borders would have to wait for the next generation.
Those reservations seem to have been swept aside.In fact, Sadat is giving the Israelis even more by implicitly recognizing that Jerusalem is their capital. Even the United States still maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv.
There was immediate apprehension among observers in Syria that Sadat's move would be seen by Arab radicals as some kind of American-inspired plot, but the man in the Egyptian government who had the closest ties to American policy makers was Ismail Fahmi.
Among those being named as possible successors to Fahmi are Ashraf Ghorbal, the Egyptian ambassador in Washington, and Esmat Abdel Maguid, Cairo's ambassador to the United Nations.