Egypt may be on the verge of a rapprochement with the Arab world that spurned it three years ago for signing the Camp David peace accords.
The drift back toward the Arab camp, apparent soon after Hosni Mubarak took over the reins of power in Egypt, has now been accelerated by the Egyptian President's recent visit to Washington.
Mainstream Arab states, gratified by Mr. Mubarak's stress on Palestinian rights during his Washington stay, now appear receptive to the idea of reconciliation.
The effect of an Egypt-Arab world rapprochement, even if it does not immediately mean a resumption of diplomatic relations, would be to:
* Strengthen the Arab bargaining position vis-a-vis Israel by creating a strong, moderate bloc.
* Induce fringe moderates such as Iraq to be less bellicose toward Israel, and thereby improve the credibility of the Arab world.
* Open the door to financial aid for Egypt from the oil-rich conservatives in exchange for more Egyptian aid in the military area.
Arab intellectuals and Western diplomats voice concern, however, that the rapprochement could be severely tested if Israel makes a provocative military move - such as one in southern Lebanon - before completing its April 25 withdrawal from Sinai.
In that event, ''Either Mubarak stands his ground and puts Sinai in jeopardy or he loses his backbone by standing silent,'' comments a Palestinian professor in Jordan.
Israel is already upset with Mr. Mubarak's diplomatic posture. His calls in Washington last week for Palestinian ''self-determination'' prompted criticism from the Israeli Foreign Ministry. An official said Egypt was hardening its position and Israel would bring up the matter in coming diplomatic sessions with Egypt and the United States.
But that is not likely to change what appears to be Mr. Mubarak's careful shift away from the late Anwar Sadat - and, by implication, from Israel. What he appears to be doing, essentially, is bringing Egypt's governmental policy into line with the extensive de-facto contact that Egypt and the rest of the Arab world have today. And the response has been positive.
President Mubarak's visit to Washington last week was watched carefully in Amman, Baghdad, Riyadh, and the Gulf capitals. On several occasions during the state visit, Mr. Mubarak coupled statements of support for Camp David with calls for Palestinian ''self-determination'' and reminders that the Palestinian problem is a crucial one for the Reagan administration to address.
This received favorable attention in Amman, although the statements were not seen as signaling a dramatic break with the Sadat policies of the past decade.
Mr. Sadat was frequently condemned in these capitals, so the more gentle treatment of Mr. Mubarak stands as a striking contrast. The conclusion drawn in the state-supervised press of these moderate Arab countries is that ''Mr. Mubarak may be coming our way.''
''Mubarak's style has made for a much softer line on the relations between Egypt and the rest of the Arab world,'' commented Jeddah's Arab News. ''This has not gone unreciprocated.''
The Jordan Times said, ''Mr. Mubarak certainly has a different style than that of his predecessor, and he has made many sensible statements about his intentions to focus on Egypt's real priorities.'' But the newspaper complained that because of his continuing support for Camp David, there is as yet ''no significant change from the past, beyond a change in style.''
Even a change in style - if not substance - has its impact, however.
Both the Jordan Times and the Arab News ran an editorial cartoon showing Mr. Mubarak in shirt sleeves lifting the corner of one of the Giza pyramids and sweeping under it slips of paper labeled ''Sadat's Way,'' and ''Sadat's Regime.'' And the Jordanian newspaper Al Destour Feb. 7 noted for its largely Palestinian-Jordanian audience that Mr. Mubarak ''devoted the greater part of his statements (in Washington) to the Palestinian issue.''
Last week, the chairman of Iraq's National Assembly said a distinction must be made between Mr. Mubarak and Mr. Sadat. At the same time, Moroccan King Hassan II said he would favor an invitation to Egypt to attend the Arab Summit Conference when (and if) it reconvenes in his country later this year.