No that was no April Fool's editorial many of you read yesterday, the one (Baghdad II) expressing relief that Saudi Arabi had not gone along with the militant Arabs wishing to punish Egypt for making an allegedly separate peace with Israel. It was, alas, a piece that failed to take into account the possibility that at the last minute the Saudis would finally bow to pressure or allow their heart to triumph over their head, whichever it was, and agree to join the militants in severing political and economic tiew with Egypt. The pattern of a surprise decision's being made literally after bag-packing time followed closely the pattern of the Camp David negotiation itself. Obviously, Arab regimes are capable of a degree of flexibility rarely seen in the West. In the matter of the Palestinians as in the matter of oil, we might add, the Saudis are coming to seem the most flexible of all.Unfortunately, their flexibility appears to work only one way: against the West.
The decision at Baghdad is a heavy one. The remittances from Egyptian workers abroad evidently will continue, as will the Suez fees paid by Arab shipping; given the limited commercial ties between Egypt and other Arab states, boycott may not take a great toll. But the economic aid from the Saudis, Kuwaitis and others is important, and Saudi promises have been central to Cairo's plans to rebuild its armed forces. The loss of political ties with their fellow Arabs may pique the nationalism of some Egyptians; it will make others sigh for a return to the Arab family. Even if the decisions taken at Baghdad are put into effect raggedly, their net effect will almost surely be a measure of extra isolation that increases the strain on the Egyptian nervous system.
What the Arab militants have in mind, they say, is not merely to isolate Egypt but to topple Anwar Sadat, to have Camp David fall of its own weight, and to return to the collective Arab diplomacy summed up in the word "Geneva." We find this a formula for chaos, inaction and possibly worse, and we genuinely regret that the Baghdad Arabs have prejudged what was set in motion at Camp David. They are trifling with what they profess to treasure, the Palestinian cause. Their opposition, however, provides no reason for the United Sates, Egypt and Israel to quit the road they have taken. If others do not wish to see what it might bring them, no one can make them do so.