CAIRO, AUG. 11 -- The Arab world's condemnation Friday of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the decision by 12 member countries to send troops to defend Saudi Arabia alongside U.S. forces represented an important step in intra-Arab diplomacy, analysts said.
The moves marked the first time that an Arab summit conference took an action on a less-than-unanimous basis. In the past, such conferences were not convened unless major differences had been ironed out in advance and a unanimous position had been ensured.
By calling Friday's meeting of the Arab League Council -- the group that in 1979 in Baghdad imposed Arab sanctions against Egypt for signing a peace treaty with Israel -- Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak took a major gamble that could have resulted in irrevocable damage to whatever unity exists in the Arab world, diplomatic analysts agreed.
Instead, the former air force commander, who was thrust into a leadership role when then-president Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981, pleaded, cajoled and argued successfully not only to hold the summit together, but to produce a majority resolution that could be a watershed in the history of Arab communal relations.
At the summit Friday, Arab leaders voted 12 to 3 to deploy troops to Saudi Arabia to counter possible Iraqi aggression. Three countries abstained and three voted with "reservations" but without taking a conclusive position. An earlier resolution by the Arab League condemning Baghdad's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait also was passed without unanimity.
"It's importance cannot be overemphasized," said one senior Western diplomat. "It established that Arabs can take action on crucial issues on less than a full basis of unanimity."
"They were saying, 'If we are going to get out of this dilemma, we have to be able to act in an international framework,' " the diplomat said.
Another diplomat said that for a body of Arab leaders, whose views on foreign interference range from simply negative to xenophobic, to send troops to defend Saudi Arabia alongside U.S. forces is nothing less than remarkable.
One senior diplomat called the summit's decision "one of the great markers of the next 50 years for how international crises get resolved." He added, "It puts the United States and this region in a new relationship."
As a result, the pivotal role played by Mubarak at the summit has significantly elevated his standing at home and throughout much of the Arab world, Western and Arab diplomats said today.
It also has underlined the consistency and durability of the special relationship between the United States and Egypt, giving U.S. policy-makers reason to rejoice over their influence on developments in the Middle East.
Egyptian officials would not disclose the size of Egypt's contribution to the force, which also is to include Syrian and Moroccan troops, but it is expected to be a largely symbolic contingent of several thousand troops that is intended to send a message to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that his Arab brethren are standing between his army and his territorial ambitions.
"We are not afraid of anything. We took a decision yesterday and we are convinced by what we have achieved until now," Mubarak told reporters.
Mubarak said today that there was no hope of a peaceful solution to Iraq's annexation of Kuwait. "I'm always optimistic, but frankly I tell you there is no hope. I wish there was."
Diplomats said Egypt will emerge in the strongest position in which it has been in the Middle East in years if the uprising of the Arab masses against moderate Arab leaders called for by Saddam on Friday fails to materialize, and if Western and Arab nations succeed in tightening the noose around the Iraqi leader.
But one analyst pointed out that it will not be the kind of stature Egypt acquired two decades ago under president Gamal Abdel Nasser and amid a massive influx of Soviet weaponry. Instead, it will be stature based on diplomatic acumen and statesmanship.
So far, Saddam's call for a mass Islamic uprising against Mubarak, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia and other moderate Arab leaders who have tacitly approved of U.S. and international efforts to contain Iraq's military adventurism has shown no sign of taking hold in Egypt.
While there have been fundamentalist Moslem demonstrations in Jordan and Yemen in support of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and against the U.S. intervention, the mood in Egypt has been decidedly supportive of Mubarak and against Saddam.
The demonstrations in Jordan could have resulted from bitter resentment felt there among Palestinians against the Kuwaiti royal family for a perceived lack of support for the Palestinian cause. And in Yemen, Saddam's Iraqi Baath Party is said to be active underground and capable of fomenting anti-Western and pro-Saddam protests.
But in contrast, Egypt normally has 1 million contract workers in Iraq -- including some who were forced into the Iraqi army during its war with Iran -- and many Egyptians hold little sympathy for Saddam's repressive regime. Even the opposition and popular press here has been supportive of Mubarak and condemnatory of Saddam.
In fact, hundreds of Egyptians have gathered in front of the Kuwaiti Embassy here in recent days, demonstrating their support and even volunteering to join the Kuwaiti army.