Menachem Begin made the first official visit to Cairo by an Israeli prime minister today amid extraordinary security and an indifferent reception by the Egyptian public.
Begin's welcome-at the official level and in the steets of Cairo-was stiffly respectful but almost somnolent, as if reflecting uneasiness over his presence so soon after egypt's chastisement by 18 of the 22 Arab League nations for signing a peace treaty with Israel.
He was accompanied to the sights of the Egyptian capital by relatively lowlevel officials, and only sparse crowds caught a glimpse of this motorcade as it moved in 107-degree heat ghrough streets cordoned off by thousands of police and soldiers.
Begin showed no evidence of being disappointed by the muted reception. He seemed at times deeply moved by the symbolism of his visit in terms of Israeli-Arab relations.
Today's visit was, for the most part, ceremonial and did not include a meeting with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat until a state dinner at Qubbeh Palace. The two leaders will meet, privately Tuesday for talks that presumably will focus on the pace of Israel's withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula and the beginning of negotiations for autonomy for West Bank and Gaza Palestinians.
In a prepared toast at the dinner, Begin predicted that as the two countries explore their common interests, a new era will then dawn upon the Middle East as sunrise brings light after a long, dark night."
In a reference to the other Arab nations, which oppose the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, he added: 'We appeal to those who, for the time being, took or were misled to take a negative attitude, to relinquish that futile negativism and join us in the peacemaking effort for their benefit as for yours. I am convinced that in God's good time they will do so."
Begin, saying he had seen a young Egyptian man in a wheelchair, remarked: "In our land too, many young men sit in wheelchairs...Now we decided that, as a result of our actions, there won't to on either side any more wheelchairs for any young men. Therein lies the deep humanity of the articles and paragraphs of the peace treaty we concluded and signed."
Sadat, in his remarks, said "the peace process in under way."
'We fought and we will go on fighting, but this time we fight for understanding and love, not for grudge...so that there may be no more wars, for the prosperity of our countries, for the peace of our peoples and peace of the whole world."
From the moment he arrived at Cairo International Airport, it was obvious that Begin's reception was going to be restrained, not only in contrast to the welcome given President Carter during his visit here last month, but also to that given most heads of government.
Egyptian Prime Minister Mustafa Khalil did not show up at the airport or any of the ceremonial events during the morning and afternoon, although Vice President Hosni Mubarak led the welcoming delegation at the airport and the arrival was televised live on Egyptian television.
Begin stepped out of an Israeli Air Force jetliner into a scorching khamsin , a hot desert wind that occasionally sweeps the Middle East with fine sand.
Security was tight even by Egyptian standards, with helmeted troops carrying bayoneted rifles lining every block of Begin's motorcade route and keeping spectators far removed from any of the stops.
Egyptian newspapers had given lowkey treatment to the visit and along the route there were none of the portraits or greeting signs that characterized Carter's visit.
Sweating profusely in a gray suit, Begin listened as an Egyptian band played Hatikva, the Israeli national anthem. The first time Begin visited Egypt-on Christmas Day 1977 for talks with Sadat at Ismailia on the Suez Canal-there had been no anthems or honor guards.
The prime minister was accompanied to Cairo by his wife, Aliza, close friends, a few representative officials and two disabled veterans and three former prisoners-of-war from Egyptian-Israeli conflicts.
Among those who greeted Begin was Felix Iscaki, an Egyptian Jew and Cairo wholesale trader representing the city's approximately 150 Jews. The prime minister told Iscaki, "I am very happy and honored to meet you under these circumstances."
After lunching at Tabra Palace, Begin visited Egypt's memorial to the unknown soldier and its approximately 9,000 dead from the 1973 Middle East war. H arrived in a limousine surrounded by motorcycle outriders and laid a wreath with almost no civilian onlookers, save for the 150 Israel-based reporters and cameramen who arrived here yesterday from Tel Aviv.
Accompanying Begin to the memorial wer Egyptian Justice Minister Ahmed Mussad, military police commander Yousef Shami and Said Ibrahim, an assistant defense minister.
Begin later said the wreath ceremony was among the most emotional aspects of his trip and it appeared so as he stood at the burial spot, his head bowed in prayer. When the military band again played Hatikva, he saluted smartly to his military escort and smiled warmly.
Begin was flown by helicopter to the suburb of Giza to see the pyramids and the Sphinx. Crowds there also were cordoned off and the prime minister was not visible to people in the street. The adjacent town of Nezletel-Siman was sealed off from the ceremony.
When asked by reporters if he was disappointed by the reception, Begin said, "No, no.Not at all. I don't want to complain whatsoever. On the contrary, I'm deeply moved by the friendliness."
He observed that the large public outpouring during Sadat's visit to Jerusalem in November 1977 was spontaneous and that Israel had made into special preparations for a public turn-out to greet the Egyptian president.
Begin's press secretary, Dan Pattir, later bristled at reporters' suggestions that the turnout was unusually thin, saying, "As far as we are concerned, we are satisfied with the visit as it has gone so far...The way we were received by the public and the officials."
Begin visited the Gate of Haven Synagogue, Cairo's only synagogue, where he was greeted warmly by the congregation. "This was a great congregation and now only a small remnant remains, but we can take solace in that most of those who left are in Eretz Israel," Begin said "We bring you the message of all messages-that of peace."
Eretz Israel, a Hebrew phrase often used by Begin, refers to the Biblical land of Israel.
Then he led the congregation in singing "Shalom, shalom," a lively Israeli folk song usually sung on festive occasions.
Everywhere Begin's entourage went, Egyptians stood respectfully, but without outward reaction, although some waved desultory greetings and smiled.
The only applause he received came during his visit to the synagogue, and that was from Egyptian Jews and members of the visiting Israeli delegation.
The only editorial on the visit in today's Egyptian press was in the English-language Gazette, and that was a preachy admonition against Begin for saying publicly that Israel will never give up East Jerusalem or return to its pre-1967 borders. A1 gomhouria, an Arabic-language paper, said in an open letter entitled "Honest Words for Mr. Begin" that the prime minister's reception would "convince him that he wasted much time on this erroneous concept" that the occupied territories ensure Israel's security. CAPTION: Picture 1, Israeli Prime Minister Begin walks behind Egyptian soldier reviewing honor guard yesterday in Cairo. AP; Picture 2, Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt exchange toasts at dinner last night marking Begin's visit to Cairo. AP