President Hosni Mubarak called on Egyptians of all walks of life today to support economic reform that he said was needed to build an egalitarian society resistant to the threat of Moslem fundamentalist terrorists.
In his first comprehensive policy statement since taking office last month after the assassination of Anwar Sadat, Mubarak praised Sadat but warned that there would be no special benefits for a "privileged few" -- a practice that many opponents charged Sadat had used.
While endorsing Sadat's "open-door" foreign trade policies, Mubarak said they henceforth would be used for items that the "grass roots" need and not luxury goods.
He assured Egyptians that security had been restored in the nation but said that the economy must be restructured to benefit all equally, not just the privileged few, if the sort of Moslem extremism that led to Sadat's slaying Oct. 6 is to be eradicated.
In a 42-minute speech at a joint session of the National Assembly, the Egyptian president also restated his adherence to the Camp David peace process and the autonomy talks for the Israeli-occupied West Bank of the Jordan and Gaza Strip. At the same time he warned against those "trying to curb or impede" the already agreed-to final Israeli withdrawal next April from occupied parts of the Egyptian Sinai.
Although billed as his first major statement of policy, Mubarak's speech was more a general statement of intent than a specific program for action. He did not detail the precise economic reforms he wanted in order to build a "new Egypt."
On foreign policy, he refrained from naming those he thought were seeking to impede the Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai, nor did he directly address himself to the eight-point Middle East peace plan proposed by Saudi Prince Fahd as an alternative to the Camp David peace process. Saturday he was quoted in the Kuwaiti daily Al Siyassah as saying he wished Israel and Arab countries would accept the plan.
Praising Sadat and heaping insults on his killers, Mubarak said his predecessor's assassination should be taken as a divine signal for Egypt's reform.
"This is a message that came from God," Mubarak said as legislators periodically applauded. "That terrible crime was a red light that came to Egypt and told it to purge itself."
Making no reference to the government crackdown that followed Sadat's killing and so far has resulted in the arrest of at least 700 suspected Moslem fundamentalist terrorists, Mubarak nevertheless referred to the discovery that Egypt had "been infiltrated by bloody terrorists." He called this phenomenon a "form of hooliganism" led "by undeveloped minds" seeking to "destroy everything that had been built and to impose a rule of injustice, a rule of darkness."
Warning that these terrorists had "chosen fire and blood to destroy the aspirations of man and destroy each and every form of our life," Mubarak said it was everybody's responsibility -- parents, teachers, government officials, opposition politicians -- to ensure that the nation's increasingly religious youth not "deviate" into fundamentalist terrorism but "learn the truth about religion."
The real national responsibility was to support economic reform, he said.
"Egypt is a country for all. It is not a community of the privileged few who would monopolize and influence the country and remain aloof from the people and seek to impose their guardianship over the nation."
For all his earlier praise of his predecessor, the reference was a veiled criticism of Sadat's government, which in recent years had become more isolated from the country at large and was perceived as being dominated by an affluent, and sometimes corrupt, elite that had profited from Sadat's laissez-faire economic policies.
Mubarak said he was not proposing reversing Sadat's "open-door" policy toward foreign investment, but that it would have to be based on a "framework of what the grass roots need," since "they are the majority of the people in the country and they should be its main benefactors."
He said the importation of luxury goods under the "open door" should give way to new developments in housing, food, health and security. Mubarak suggested eight different "economic proposals for debate" that included the rationalization of consumption, a radical solution to the nation's housing crisis, a change in the nation's costly commodity subsidies program "so they go to those who really need them," an end to wasteful government expenditures and an imports policy.
His emphasis on the "collective work" of the nation to transform Egypt into a more just society reflected advice he has been receiving, since taking over the presidency, that views the rise of militant Islamic fundamentalism in Egypt in recent years as a direct expression of a deep socioeconomic malaise. In a society where social mobility is limited, the gap between rich and poor is glaring and growing, and corruption rampant, religion has been embraced by many of the nation's young people as a form of escape and an alternative for change.
Mubarak did not say how Egypt would pay for the reforms that he hopes will take the ground out from under the feet of the militant fundamentalists. With Egypt's population continuing to grow at the rate of about 100,000 a month, its revenues from tourism, oil and Suez Canal tolls peaking and U.S. aid of more than $1 billion a year not likely to increase, Mubarak is expected to find that reform is not easy.
Meanwhile, he also used his address to reassure Israel that his commitment to peace in the area, and the Camp David accords, remains unchanged, despite growing interest in the region in the Fahd plan.
Mubarak, in an effort to underline Egypt's independence from the United States, also reiterated that Egypt remained committed to a policy of "nonalignment and positive neutrality" in world affairs and that the country was "an Arab-African state" that was "neither East nor West."
He said, "Egypt will never be in the orbit of this or that country nor is it part of the strategy of this or that power," a statement that would seem to fly in the face of the regional anticommunist "strategic consensus" that Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. has been trying to forge in the area and that is to be underlined by joint Egyptian-U.S. military maneuvers starting here Monday.
[Reuter news service reported from Cairo that Defense Minister Abdel Halim Abu Ghazala said Egypt would consider buying arms from the Soviet Union if there were no conditions attached to the deal. The comment was carried by the official Middle East News Agency, quoting from an interview the minister gave the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Siyassa.]