President Anwar Sadat is going to be asking President Carter for a Marshall Plan to build prosperity here in Egypt along with the peace with Israel which he feels is sure to come. The Egyptian president indicated that he had in mind aid of about $10 to $15 billion over a five-year period.
He said he wanted the money for a concerted attack on the manifold problems that now bedevil the Egyptian economy. He cited programs to increase food production, build satellite cities around Cairo and improve the telephone, water and electricity services that now make this city almost unlivable.
The president cited the Marshall Plan idea in an interview which he gave me at a villa he maintains outside Cairo a couple of hundred yards from the pyramids. As usual he was nattily dressed (pinstripe suit, white shirt, figured tie and Italian loafers) and seemed remarkably relaxed.
I began the interview by asking Mr. Sadat about the Arab summit meeting in Baghdad at which the radical regimes of the so-called "rejectionists" front had been joined by the leaders of such moderate countries as Saudi Arabia and Jordan. The president acknowledged that both the Saudis and Jordanians had edged toward the "rejectionist" camp. But he asserted that the slippage "doesn't worry me at all."
I then asked Sadat about the current state of Washington negotiations between Israel and Egypt for translating the Camp David accords into final diplomatic aggreement. He said the immediate difficulty had to do with linking the arrangements regarding the future role of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and on the west bank of the Jordan River with the arrangements for settlement between Egypt and Israel. He said that Egypt wanted a precise "timetable" for Gaza and the West Bank whereas the Israelis wanted only some "general language."
He said he did not know exactly how or when the issue would be settled. But he left no doubt that a compromise would be struck. "Sooner or later," he said, "we shall have peace."
He expressed a strong preference for asigning ceremony at St. Catherine's Monastery on Mt. Sinai and brushed aside the idea, advanced by Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel, for a signing in Stockholm, at the time of the Nobel Peace Prize awards. He did not rule out the possibility of an agreement as early as Nov. 19 - the first anniversary of his trip to Jerusalem.
I raised the issue of linkage between peace and prosperity pointingout that many Egyptians have said that the Camp David accords find no articulate opposition here because a settlement with Israel is identified with a dramatic improvement in economic conditions. Sadat acknowledge the linkage and added that democracy went hand in hand with peace and was more important than prosperity. I edged him back into the economic sphere by asking if he thought a settlement would bring new investments in Egypt. He replied: "Quote me on this. I shall be asking President Carter [for] a Carter Plan after the Marshall Plan."
As justification for the coming request, Sadat cited, in somewhat jumbled order, the multiplicity of interconnected economic problems which plague Egypt. He pointed to Cairo in the distance. He said: "Eight million population here in Cairo just like London. But they are living here on one-fifth of the area that they live on in London." As a result, the telephone, electricity and even the water system were always on the point of collapse.
The president declared the only way to solve the Cairo problem was by building satellite cities. But that involved a housing program and some industrialization. He mentioned factories for steel and cement.
He then went on to discuss the need for expanding food production. He said: "I must start a big program for food. I have the land. I have the water. I have the farmers. I have the climate. Everything except the new technology in agriculture and the irrigation."
The president expressed the view that there was "no other way" to deal simultaneously with these problems than "throughthe Carter Plan." "If it can be for 10 to 15 billion dollars for five years," he said, "it will make miracles here like it has done in Germany and Japan."
Grandioze as all that may sound, my impression is that Sadat is not just blowing smoke. Egypt does have what is required for a big step forward in agriculture. More food and the development of more arable land by irrigation would make possible more population centers with new industry. An abatement of the migratory flood to Cairo would open the way to renovation of the city's dilapidated services.
But if the basic idea is sound, several ingredients need to be added. Something has to be done to slow a population rise which eats up half this country's economic growth in its very best years. While the United States should lend a hand, so should the oil-exporting countries of the Persian Gulf, Japan and the advanced countries of Western Europe. For all of them will be the beneficiaries of what is at stake here in Egypt - peace in the Middle East.