Middle East: No Time for Fanfare

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As a good Moslem should, Egypt's President Gamal Abdel Nasser last week made a pilgrimage to Mecca. Clad in white penitential clothing and with one arm and shoulder bare, Nasser entered the sacred Kaaba, housing the ancient Black Stone, and prayed in each of the enclosure's four corners.

There was also something of the penitent in Nasser as he turned from piety to politics and the humiliating purpose of his visit to Saudi Arabia. He had arrived in Jedda harbor aboard his presidential yacht Hurriah (Freedom) to negotiate with King Feisal a way out of the stalemated three-year war in Yemen. Egypt's ruler was ready to compromise, for his long, expensive military campaign on the Arabian peninsula was an obvious failure.

Rumors of Death. It was no time for fanfare. At the request of the Egyptians, the banners and flags normally put up to celebrate a visiting dignitary were omitted, and the sidewalks were cleared of people as Nasser drove to the guest palace in a big black Cadillac. Since assassination rumors were in the air, the car was a special bulletproof model, insisted on by the 40 Egyptian agents sent ahead to work out security arrangements for Nasser's first visit to Saudi Arabia since 1956. In the intervening years, relations between the two states became so strained that Nasser had even forbidden Egyptian Moslems to make the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Strain was noticeably absent this time. On the evening of his arrival, Nasser was welcomed at a banquet and reception for 700 guests. Feisal and Nasser sat alone together at the head of the table and dined off gold-rimmed plates. Away from the banquet table things went equally well. In less than 48 hours the two Arab potentates reached full agreement, thus enabling Nasser to leave on schedule for his current visit to the Soviet Union. The announcement was made in the chandeliered main hall of the palace, where the marble floor is carpeted in green—the color of hope. Once the agreement was signed, tall, sinewy Feisal embraced his old foe and new-found friend and kissed Nasser on both cheeks.

On the Rocks. The pact provides for 1) the gradual withdrawal from Yemen of the 50,000-man Egyptian expeditionary force within a ten-month period and the cessation of all Saudi help to the royalists; and 2) the formation of a Yemen Congress of 50, representing all factions, which will be charged with forming a transitional regime and establishing procedures for a national plebiscite to determine Yemen's future government. Feisal proved willing to give in to Nasser on points that would help him save face back home in Cairo, but there was no compromise on basics. Nasser hoped but failed to win a guarantee of survival for the republic that he had backed in Yemen; in addition, he hoped but apparently failed to win agreement that Royalist Leader Imam Badr and his aides be barred from all future governments.

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