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Egypt Out of the Box

IT never seemed logical, or right, or even in the Arab world's self-interest, to have Egypt stuck in the penalty box for a decade. Especially as its ``transgression'' was the boldest and most significant step in recent years toward peace in the turbulent Middle East. So it's with relief and hope that we watch Egypt resume its proper place within the Arab League, signaled by President Hosni Mubarak's presence at the Arab summit in Morocco this week. It's doubly heartening that Egypt was invited back into the Arab fold without temporizing on its commitment to peaceful relations with Israel and to a negotiated settlement of the Palestinian question.

Egypt was suspended from the league in 1979 after signing a peace treaty with Israel. In the last few years, though, pressure has built to readmit Egypt, as nearly all the Arab states, spurred by diplomatic and economic considerations, individually restored relations with Cairo.

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King Hassan II of Morocco brokered the Egyptian homecoming by calling the Arab summit and rounding up approval for the invitation to Mr. Mubarak.

As the most populous Arab state, and with the prestige derived from its historical attainments, Egypt can be expected quickly to take a leadership role in Arab affairs, including the two issues on the summit agenda: Palestinian self-determination and the disintegration of Lebanon.

On both issues, Mubarak sounded a constructive note at Casablanca. He strongly supported the Palestinians' aspiration to statehood, though he called - in defiance of Syrian and Libyan intransigence - for a peaceful, negotiated resolution of the issue along the lines of Palestine Liberation Organization proposals, which include acceptance of Israel's right to exist in security. (Mubarak helped midwife the PLO outreach late last year).

And on Lebanon, the Egyptian President urged Arab unity to end the bloodshed, pointedly calling for the withdrawal of foreign - i.e., Israeli and Syrian - troops.

Egypt's return to the Arab League doesn't mean that the resolution of the Palestinian or Lebanese crises is in sight. Yet it restores a kind of natural order to intra-Arab relations and marks an increased willingness of many Arab states to move away from diplomatic orthodoxy and to search for more flexible routes toward Mideast peace.

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