A few months after the assassination of Anwar Sadat in October 1981, a well known Egyptian professor at Cairo's American University gave a public lecture detailing the intense struggle then underway among various political factions to influence the course of Egypt's new leader, Hosni Mubarak.
There were six discernible groups, said Saad Eddin Ibrahim, involved in "the fight over Mubarak's soul." Chief among the contenders were "the Sadatists," those who had gained power and influence under the former president and were fighting tooth and nail to keep it.
Arrayed against them he saw a spectrum of disparate forces, including "Nasserites," an "Old Left" divided between Marxists and non-Marxists, pre-1952 revolution "liberals," and a new group of middle-class intellectuals and professionals like himself, a group he called "the Social Democrats."
Watching the struggle from the outside and biding their time were the "Moslem militants," like those who had assassinated Sadat and remained as alienated from the Mubarak regime as they had been from its predecessor's.
The issues at stake, Ibrahim claimed, involved the degree of democracy Mubarak would allow and whether he intended to follow Sadat's strong tilt toward the West, particularly the United States, keep intact the peace treaty with Israel and maintain his mentor's opening to free enterprise and foreign private investment known as the infitah, or "open door" policy.
Today, all factions seem to agree that the struggle for "Mubarak's soul" is largely over and that the "Sadatists" have prevailed after a series of setbacks dealt to their opponents in the past six months.
These have included a government refusal to allow the "Social Democrats" to set up a kind of British-style Fabian Society, a possible nucleus of a new center-left party; the state's virtual takeover of the independent lawyers' union; the quashing of debate over a controversial new book about the Sadat regime; a severe warning to the opposition from Mubarak; and the almost certain blocking of another attempt by the "old liberals" to reestablish their Wafd Party.
"In the last six months, the rounds have been won by the Sadatist establishment," Ibrahim remarked regretfully in an interview. "They seem to be succeeding in appropriating his soul."
Mustapha Khalil, deputy secretary general of the ruling National Democratic Party and a leading "Sadatist," said, "The debate over policy is definitely over. I think the 'anti-Sadatists' have come to the conclusion it is useless to push Mubarak."
Khalil said he believes the issue was not just policies but the kind of political system Egypt was to have under Mubarak. He accused the "anti-Sadatists" of wanting to "go back to Nasser and totalitarianism," a reference to the socialist and pro-Soviet policies of Gamal Abdel Nasser, leader of the 1952 revolution ending the monarchy here.
"They were talking about change in policy, but they really wanted a change in system," Khalil said.
Some western analysts dispute the use of tags like "Sadatists" as simplistic and say that even if the status quo has remained unchanged, "that doesn't mean a group has captured him," as one put it.
But even these skeptics concur that there has been little change since Mubarak took over--so little, in fact, that it constitutes a potential source of trouble for him.
"It's drift, not policy," one western diplomat remarked. "He led people to expect reform and change. If that doesn't happen, people with vested interests against change will prevail."
Everyone seems to agree, too, that Mubarak has made stability and security the main determinants of his policy-making process.
"He wants stability, and because of that he is making changes very slowly, too slowly," Ibrahim Shukri, leader of the official opposition Socialist Labor Party in parliament, said in an interview.
"We are saying the way to stability is more democracy. Without democracy there will not be any real stability . . . That is the difference between us," he continued. "People are losing hope. We must give some hope to the people."
This now widely held perception that Mubarak has sacrificed real change for short-term stability has recently begun to provoke angry outbursts from the once hopeful leftist opposition and from independent intellectuals like Ibrahim.
For example, Ibrahim wrote an article in early May in the economic weekly Al Ahram Iqtisadi, the "Social Democrats' " main outlet, titled "Spring of Fury." The title was an allusion to "Autumn of Fury," a recent book by Mohammed Heikal, Nasser's old chief spokesman, that deals with the causes of Sadat's assassination and is a blistering indictment of the "open door" policy and Egypt's newly rich.
"The air of national reconciliation" that prevailed after Sadat's death is "fast vanishing," Ibrahim wrote in "Spring of Fury." An "atmosphere of polarization of opinion" and "a war of intellectual extermination" have taken its place, he charged.
Another writer, Fuad Morsi, a Marxist, asked in an article appearing in the leftist party organ Al Ahali whether "the countdown to another September has begun." This was a reference to Sadat's sweeping arrest of virtually all of his opponents in September 1981, a month before his assassination.
While the leftist rhetoric has probably been overblown and falsely apocalyptic, there can be little doubt now that Mubarak has kept his promise of istimrar and istiqrar, or "continuity and stability," to the point of surrounding himself with the same men who ran the day-to-day affairs of the country under Sadat.
These include Prime Minister Fuad Mohieddin, who is also secretary general of the ruling National Democratic Party; Mustapha Khalil, deputy party secretary general and a former prime minister under Sadat; Sufi Abu Taleb, speaker of the National Assembly since 1978; Foreign Minister Kamal Hassan Ali; and Defense Minister Marshal Abdel Halim Abu Ghazala.
The only significant Cabinet changes in Mubarak's first 20 months of rule have been in the interior minister and in the economic team, which has been revamped three times without a meaningful change in policy.
Most Egyptian and western analysts regard Prime Minister Mohieddin as the leading "Sadatist" and the most influential voice in domestic affairs within the Mubarak government.
Foreign policy, however, is where Mubarak has tried to make the greatest change in appearance, if not in substance, from Sadat's course. Mubarak has tried to present a more nonaligned facade, one overtly less pro-American and more Third World, notably Arab, in orientation.
But the substance has in fact changed little, if at all. Mubarak still has not renewed full diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, which Sadat downgraded in the last month of his life, or succeeded in restoring Egypt's ties to the Arab world broken off over its signing of a peace treaty with Israel in March 1979.
Opponents of the "Sadatists," from Nasserites and Marxists to the new "Social Democrats," have applauded Mubarak's emphasis on nonalignment and efforts to overcome Egypt's isolation in the Arab world.
Their real bone of contention with the Mubarak regime is domestic policy, focused now on the degree of democracy it intends to permit. Their efforts to widen the democratic process, extremely limited and growing narrower under Sadat, have received a number of setbacks since January.
In February, while the president was visiting the United States and Europe, the Interior Ministry denied a request by the "Social Democrats" to establish a kind of "forum," or debating society, telling them its refusal was "for security reasons."
Despite Mubarak's absence, no one here thinks the decision was taken without his knowledge and approval.
In late March, another blow befell the opposition. Under strong pressure from the "Sadatists," the government rushed a bill through parliament that in effect "packed" Egypt's powerful lawyers' union with its own appointees and reduced the representation in elections of the dominant Cairo and Alexandria chapters.
The measure, signed into law by Mubarak at the airport before his departure on an Asian tour, should assure government control over the union, which under Sadat was a major source of outspoken opposition, particularly to his foreign policy.
Then, in April, Mubarak issued a presidential decree banning the serialization of Heikal's controversial "Autumn of Fury" in an opposition newspaper or elsewhere. This effectively killed the incipient debate over Sadat and his policies. Mubarak even prevailed upon several other Arab leaders, including King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, to ban the book's publication in their countries or in Arab newspapers they finance in London and Paris.
Defending Mubarak's action, Khalil said it was "an ethical issue" since Heikal's book contained a "personal attack" on Sadat's ancestry, referring to his dark complexion and to the relations between his mother and father in an attempt to provide a psychological explanation for his character and policies.
In a speech May 1, Mubarak issued a stiff warning to the opposition for criticizing Sadat and, indirectly, himself, saying, "It is disgraceful and a grave sin to attack Egypt. It is against our traditions and morals."
But he also said he planned to take no further action against his opposition and reaffirmed his commitment to democracy.
The remaining issue affecting the extent of democracy in Egypt today is whether Mubarak will allow the leaders of the old, pre-1952 revolution Wafd Party, which tried to revive itself in 1978, to do so now. Sadat blocked the first attempt by outlawing its leaders from politics when the party gathered a million members in its first three months, indicating it could easily become a major challenge to the ruling National Democrats.
There is little likelihood that the "Sadatists," who control both the party and government, will allow Egypt's old landed wealth and professional classes to reemerge on the political stage today.
Thus, all signs are that Egypt's foreign and domestic policy under Mubarak will remain by and large the same as under Sadat. The question this raises is how the opposition will react, and whether the Mubarak government can avoid its own "Autumn of Fury."