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Egypt, no longer an outcast, finds Arabs warming up

Ostracized by most of the Arab world two years ago, Egypt now is finding Arab suitors at its door. In part, this is because of the strength and uncommitted status of Egypt's 395,000-man Army.

The important upshot of this trend, however, is that a powerful, pro-Western alliance, which includes Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and other moderate Arab nations, may emerge in the Middle East.

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And byproducts might be:

* Further isolation of Syria in the Arab world.

* Further isolation of Libya in North Africa.

* A more united Arab voice directed toward Washington, seeking a moderate solution to the Palestinian problem.

Thedisclosure on March 31 that Egyptian arms worth $35 million were being sold to Iraq and the restoration on April 12 of full diplomatic relations between Egypt and Sudan tend to confirm the view of several diplomatic analysts. They have been predicting a thaw in relations between Egypt and its Arab neighbors as inevitable.

Both Baghdad and Cairo are taking care, however, not to overemphasize the arms deal, but as a commentator for May magazine, which is owned by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's political party, said April 6:

"Cairo has a lot of things which it could say and which would provide the Iraqi regime's enemies in Damascus [Syria] and elsewhere with fertile material for launching a vicious and provocative propaganda campaign."

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The relationship between Egypt and Iraq has been competitive since the days of old when the Nile and Tigris-Euphrates valleys struggled for supremacy in the Fertile Crescent. As with most Arab states (except Oman), relations between Egypt and Iraq became especially tenuous in modern times after the Baghdad summit in March 1979. This was when Egypt was shunned for entering into the Camp David accord.

President Sadat criticized Arab states for freezing out Egypt and warned them that eventually they would have to come his way, saying (as he did in April 1979 ) that when he could "save my people from the misery of war, there is no price tag involved."

At the outset of the Iran-Iraq war last September, Sadat condemned both sides and refused to back Iraq, which was has claimed to be representing Arabdom against Persian aggression. But Sadat has sheltered the widow and successor of the late Shah of Iran and has been critical of the means, if not the ends, of the Islamic revolution.

Now, however, Sadat is not moving to assist Iraq with weapons, but he may be ready to heed the pan-Arabic call from Baghdad. A key security committee of Egypt's Consultative Council April 5 expressed its support for the arms deal, saying Egypt was committed to the Joint Arab Defense Pact.

As Iraq finds a need for Egypt due to its conflict with Iran, Sudan is tightening relations because of its anxiety about Libya. When the Sudanese ambassador presented his credentials in Cairo, he became the first Arab ambassador to return since 1979.

The Iraqi arms deal and the restoration of relations with Sudan, seem to confirm Sadat's argument that the rest of the Arab world could not remain estranged from Egypt for too long. In frequent speeches during the past year, Sadat has called Egypt an island of stability in a war-torn region. Egypt also is moving into an economic position that gives it great independence of movement. Some analysts predict that Egypt soon will resume its historic role as leader of the area.

"Egypt with 1 million barrels of oil [pumped per day] is much, much more important a factor in the Middle East than Saudi Arabia with 11 million barrels, " says a Lebanese academician who specializes inter-Arab relations.

Added to this is the fact that the Egyptian Army is large and well disciplined, even if it has had problems with maintenance. It is the biggest standing military force in Mideast. For the moment, moreover, the Army is not tied down in conflict, thanks in part to camp David.

"Any alliance that wants to maintain itself in the Middle East is going to have to have egypt on its side," predicts are Western analyst. "Egypt against you -- as I'm sure [Libya's Col. Muammar] Qaddafi can see -- is a real threat."

The curious conduit for the Egyptian-Iraqi arms deal was the pro-Western Sultan of Oman. One analyst feels this shows that Iraq's President Saddam Hussein has been developing other ties with the West below the surface.For example, Hussein recently hosted US Deputy Secretary of State Morris Draper.

Saudi Arabia reportedly pressured Iraq not to let Egypt airlift the weapons itself but rather suggested Iraq send a transport plane to pick up the first shipment and then to route the rest by sea through Saudi Arabia.Saudi Arabia reportedly argued that if the materiel were sent via Jordan -- the traditional supply route or Iraq since the war began -- Jordan might shoot down the Egyptian transport planes.

This left diplomats puzzled -- but a possible explanation is that, whatever the story, the end result was to make Saudi Arabia appear to be actively involved in the deal.

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