(7 of 10)
What do other principal countries in the crescent have in common? Fragility, the Islamic faith, a strong sense of nationalism, but not much else. Curiously, the closest real parallels would appear to be between Egypt and Iran, even though the one country is the perennial sick man of the Middle East, while the otherdespite the current turmoilhas the economic potential to remain a regional superpower. Two years ago, Cairo exploded in riots after the government raised the prices of staple foods; calm was restored when the increases were rescinded. President Sadat has a strong popular following and widespread support for his peace initiative with Israel. Still, as in Iran, the poverty of Egypt's urban masses stands in bleak contrast to the wealth of a small upper class. Sadat has done much to improve the lot of Egypt's landowning peasants, but he has neglected the needs of landless millions who pour into Cairo and other cities in a vain search for a better life.
Iraq, whose oil reserves are fourth largest in the Middle East, has much in common with Iran besides a 700-mile border: a Shi'ite Muslim majority, an ambitious development program and strong police control. But the Iraqis have little chance of demonstrating their disapproval of their repressive government. The Baghdad regime remains friendly with Moscow, though the force of Iraqi nationalism prevents the Russian bear hug from becoming too oppressive. To limit Soviet influence in the region, the Iraqis have cooperated quietly with the conservative Saudis. The Baghdad summit conference was ostensibly called to denounce the Camp David accords. In reality, it was a Saudi-Iraqi ploy to give some support to Syria, one of the Arab states on the "front line" against Israel, and to prevent the Damascus regime from becoming totally dependent on the Soviet Union for backing against the Israelis. In other triumphs of pragmatism over ideology, Iraq sought Iran's cooperation in order to crush the Kurdish rebellion in its northern sector, and though its foreign policy is resolutely anti-Israel and anti-U.S., Iraq is quite willing to deal commercially with American firms.
The new government in Afghanistan of President Noor Mohammed Taraki is commonly thought to be in Moscow's pocket, especially since it recently signed a friendship treaty with the Soviets. There are signs, however, that this too may be an exaggeration. During Taraki's visit to Moscow last month, President Brezhnev reportedly chided him for behaving too obsequiously before the Russians, which he felt made the Afghan leader look bad. As soon as they got back to Kabul, Afghan officials began to drop hints that they would welcome more Western aid. Apparently, the Russians are not altogether satisfied with their new client regime in Kabul. Moreover, they may be trying to avoid frightening Pakistan, which the Taraki government has already alarmed unnecessarily with its pro-Soviet rhetoric and its ineptness in dealing with Pathan and Baluch tribesmen in the border areas.
Pakistan is nothing if not unstable. It is ruled by a Muslim purist,