Egypt is poised to become a major player in the Arab world once again. Despite its 1979 peace treaty with Israel, the current tense situation in the Gulf has forced the Gulf states to turn to Egypt to provide a strategic counterbalance to Iran.
The Gulf states say they will push for the restoration of Egypt's membership in the 21-nation Arab League, now meeting in Amman. If the Arab leaders reject the proposal, the Gulf states are prepared to restore diplomatic ties with Egypt on their own - perhaps as early as next week.
The development comes as members of the Arab League are meeting in extraordinary session to adopt a common stand on issues ranging from the Gulf war to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The dangers facing the Gulf states and Iraq were demonstrated Sunday evening when an Iranian missile slammed into Baghdad, killing 11 Iraqis at exactly the same time King Hussein of Jordan was beginning his welcoming speech here.
The decision of the Gulf states to, in effect, go it alone on the matter of Egypt has presented the Arab leaders meeting here with a major challenge.
Arab League officials had expressed confidence last week that the willingness of all the member states to attend the summit - a first in the league's 42-year history - augured well for the unity that has so often eluded high Arab councils.
But the opposition of Syria and Libya to Egypt's readmission to the league, plus disagreements over the Arab-Israeli conflict and other issues, have dimmed hopes that the Arab nations could close ranks on matters of common regional interest.
Analysts say the Gulf states' decision to renew ties to Egypt outside the context of the Arab League points up the inability of the league to help the Gulf states in a time of need. But it presents an opportunity for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who suggested before the summit that Egypt is willing to play a more active role as an Arab protector in the Gulf.
According to Jordanian Foreign Minister Taher Masri, who has been briefing reporters on summit developments, the Egypt issue was one of four matters discussed Monday in what he characterized as ``frank and serious and objective dialogue'' among the Arab leaders.
He noted that Syrian President Hafez Assad spoke in the closed session ``for a long time.'' But he declined to disclose details of Mr. Assad's position. Mr. Masri did say, however, that other leaders present disagreed with Assad's stance on Egypt.
The summit is expected to adopt a resolution on the Gulf war strong enough in its condemnation of Iran to enable the Arab leaders to claim unity, but weak enough to avoid angering Syria, Iran's strongest ally among the Arab nations.
The Arab leaders are hoping to nudge Iran toward acceptance of United Nations Security Council Resolution 598, which calls for a cease-fire and an end to the seven-year Iran-Iraq war.
United Arab Emirates President Zayid ibn Sultan al-Nuhayyan disclosed on Sunday, following a brief caucus of the Gulf states, that the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council were prepared to renew relations with Egypt on their own if the summit failed to endorse a Gulf proposal to readmit Egypt to the Arab League.
The six - Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates - will join five other Arab states that declined to break relations with Egypt following the 1979 Camp David treaty with Israel or which have since resumed ties.
Top Egyptian officials, including Mr. Mubarak and Defense Minister Abdel Halim Abu Ghazala, have suggested in recent comments a readiness on Egypt's part to help the Gulf states stand up to Iran.
``We cannot accept the defeat of Iraq or the threat to any Arab states in the Gulf,'' the defense minister told a press conference in Cairo Sunday.
Gulf leaders would clearly like to harness Egupt to the task of protecting against any move by Iran to expand the war to the Arabian Peninsula. Egyptian officials are said to be weighing the possibility of providing advisers and materiel to shore up Gulf defenses.
Some Arab sources in Amman said that if the Gulf states renewed ties with Egypt, the move would constitute a deterrent to further direct attacks by Iran on Kuwait or other Gulf states.
Other Arab observers dismissed the deterrent value of restored Gulf ties with Egypt, saying they don't think Iran is susceptible to such pressure.