Peace fever swept over Egypt yesterday as President Anwar Sadat returned home to a joyous welcome.
Hundreds of thousands of clapping, chanting Egyptians from all parts of the country lined the roads between Cairo airport and Sadat's residence on the Nile 15 miles west, cheering as he rode by in an open Cadillac limousine.
Doves of peace and colored balloons floated skyward amid the banners saluting the "hero of peace." Farmers, factory hands, students, policemen, even the camel drovers who give rides to tourists at the pyramids were on hand to greet the president and sing to peace and prosperity.
In many ways it was a rerun of the scene last November when Sadat returned from his historic trip to Jerusalem. The crowds may have been somewhat smaller and the pitch of excitement not so great, but Egyptians say that Sadat has again read the mood of his people correctly: They want peace, and they think the Camp David accords will bring it.
Government officials worked hard to organize the big turnout yesterday, but there is no doubt the jubilant welcome does reflect popular sentiment. Every test of public opinion, Egyptians say, shows the other Arabs will wait a long time if they expect the Egyptians to turn against Sadat or reject his commitment to peace.
After the disappointment and anxiety that Egyptians felt when the Jerusalem initiative failed to bring immediate peace, hopes have soared once again - so much so that Egyptian commentators are again warning of the political dangers of letting the masses believe that peace will be followed by quick prosperity.
The overwhelming majority of Egyptians interviewed by journalists this past week has said that this country has fought hard and suffered for 30 years in the Arab cause, and that's enough. Sadat is seen to have obtained all that was possible for the Palestinians, and to have made it possible for them to get more by negotiating on their own. Few Egyptians are saying he could or should have done more than that.
Sadat flew home from Morocco, where he had stopped for talks with King Hassan II after the Camp David summit. Hassan, who was an early backer of Sadat's peace gamble last November, so far has given no specific backing for the Camp David accords.
Sadat's presidential plane took a roundabout route to Cairo from Rabat to avoid passing over Libya, whose leader, Col. Muammar Qaddafi, bitterly opposes Sadat and his peacemaking efforts. The aircraft flew north over Spain, then across Italy, and finally into Egyptian air space near Alexandria on the Mediterraean from where it was escorted into Cairo by eight Egyptian air force fighters.
Sadat was met at the airport by Vice President Hosni Mobarak, Prime Minister Mamdouh Salem, a host of other government officials and representatives of the parliament, who burst into applause when the president stepped out of the plane waving.
There was a conspicuously large military contingent. Two dozen of the country's highest-ranking officers, led by the minister of war, Gen. Mohammed Gamassy, and the chief of staff Lt. Gen. Mohammed Ali Fahmi, turned out to show their support.
Sadat said nothing and is not expected to make further public comment on the Camp David agreements until he addresses the People's Assembly next week. In the meantime, he is sending message explaining the agreements to other Arab leaders and dispatching his deputy premier for Cabinet affairs, Hassan Tuhaimi, to seek King Khalid of Saudi Arabia.
More immediate for the returned Sadat is the marriage of his son Gamal, scheduled today at the president's Giza residence.
Journalists who traveled with the Sadat party said some of the Egyptian delegates appeared gloomy and depressed over what appeared to be last-minute Egyptian concessions that they did not favor. But none has followed the example of Foreign Minister Mohammed Ibrahim Kamel by resigning, and if they have criticisms they are not making them in public.
In any case Sadat is plunging ahead whether his negotiators are fully comfortable with the terms or not. The president is said to be hoping to pray on Mount Sanai on the occasion of a Moslem feast that falls in mid-November, and to be hoping to have the peace treaty with Israel signed by that time.
Officially, progress toward the peace treaty is a "package deal" linked to progress in the much more difficult talks over the West Bank of the Jordan River. Sadat has used that term himself.
But Egyptian officials say they recognize that it may not be possible to achieve anything in the West Bank talks for some time, especially if Jordan and the Palestine Liberation Organization refuse to cooperate, and they do not expect Sadat to wait. Once the Israeli parliament approves removal of Jewish settlements in the Sinai, Egyptian officials are expecting rapid progress on the Egyptian-Israeli treaty.
Egypt is simply not taking seriously the remonstrations of the hardline Arab leaders meeting in Damascus or their accusations of treachery and sellout against Sadat. Those leaders have not been able to organize into effective opponents of Sadat's program, and they have failed to galvanize the Arab masses into even mild public protest.
As a result, Egyptians are again convinced that the other Arabs will eventually follow Sadat's lead and that he can press ahead to a successful conclusion of his peace initiative without having to look over his shoulder.