Mohammed Heikal, Egypt's internationally known newspaper editor and writer and the man the late president Anwar Sadat once called his "number one enemy," says he is enthusiastic about his country's new leader, Hosni Mubarak.
But he blames Americans for Sadat's death, saying they deceived the Egyptian leader into believing that friendship with the United States could solve his problems.
"I think Mubarak is doing fine," Heikal said in a recent interview in his Nile-side apartment. "At least he is giving hope. He is trying to open some new doors that were completely closed and locked during the last years of Sadat.
"He opened the door for national reconciliation. He opened a door for national dialogue. He opened the door to the rest of the Arab world, at least the possibility of it," he said, listing what he saw as Mubarak's accomplishments in his first months in office.
Heikal has few kind words for Sadat and accuses the American news media of having given him illusions about himself that his countrymen never shared.
"I don't mean to be rude, but you Americans killed him," he said matter-of-factly in discussing Sadat's assassination last Oct. 6 at the hands of four Moslem radicals.
"He was addressing himself to you, the Barbara Walters of this world, the Walter Cronkites of this world, of the United States."
"He was directing himself to one constituency under the illusion that it is the United States which can solve his problems," Heikal continued. "The friendship with the United States became a target in itself, not a means to achieve something . . . . You made a hero out of him. But the poor man, that did not save him."
Heikal, who savors a special bitterness toward Sadat after being jailed and repeatedly tongue-lashed by him, says he sees the slain Egyptian leader as an example of a fatal flaw of American foreign policy to count too heavily on an individual rather than on across-the-board relations with a nation's people.
"It's remarkable how you always want a very good friend of yours, without reservations, with a beautiful woman beside him," he said, listing Chiang Kai-shek of Taiwan, the shah of Iran, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and then Sadat and his wife Jehan. "What the United States should try to do is to have a dialogue with the people who want a friendship with the United States."
Heikal, who gained fame during the 1960s as editor of the Cairo daily Al Ahram and as virtually the alter ego of the late president Gamal Abdel Nasser, would like to see Mubarak restore Egypt's Arab identity.
With the final Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai near and talk here of a reconciliation between Egypt and its Arab brothers, Heikal urged that Mubarak break with the Sadat legacy of an isolated Egypt and restore Egypt's leadership role in the Arab world.
"The most important thing he can do is to assert Egypt's Arab identity. You cannot live individually or as a nation by hanging in the air, talking about Pharaonic glories," Heikal said. "One of the harms that was done in the last 10 years was that even the identity of Egypt became in doubt."
Does Heikal see Mubarak as another Nasser, as do many ordinary Egyptians?
He sees Mubarak confronted by conflicting role models, Sadat and Nasser, Heikal said.
While Heikal hopes that Mubarak "will be nearer to Nasser than to Sadat," he urged that the new president "be a Mubarak inspired of the needs of Egypt's Arab identity, security and prosperity."
Heikal is working on a book, "Sadat's Assassination: Egypt's Autumn of Fury." An earlier book, "The Road to Ramadan," recounted Egypt's decision to go to war with Israel in 1973, and another, "The Sphinx and the Commissar," chronicled this country's topsy-turvy relations with the Soviet Union. Both were written from the very special viewpoint of Nasser's closest confidant.
For the new book, the viewpoint is much different. Heikal spent 11 days in jail last September in a cell with 10 other political prisoners, some of them members of the Moslem extremist group, Takfir Wa Hijira, which was implicated in the rioting that followed the assassination. He had long talks with them and then persuaded a jailer to move him to another cell, where for seven hours he interviewed a leader of another extremist group, Jihad, to which Sadat's chief assassin, Khalid Islambouli, allegedly belonged.
These talks form the substance of his new book, but he will not say now what he was told.
Heikal blames the United States for helping indirectly to produce the kind of society in Egypt in which such extremists flourish--"the 'open door' society," which has brought supplies of "American canned food and cornflakes and Kleenex and colored television"--foreign consumer goods not available to ordinary Egyptians in the Nasser years.
As did Nasser, Heikal sees Egypt's salvation today in only one direction--its return to the Arab fold.
"Egypt's role is being the heart, the mind, the leader of the Arab world," he said.