Riyadh, Cairo in new spat

Riyadh, Cairo in new spat

Riyadh, Cairo in new spat

Army soldiers stand in line as they block off a road leading to the Saudi Arabian Embassy during protests in Cairo. The Saudi Embassy in Cairo and consulates in Alexandria and Suez were closed due to protests. REUTERS photo

Saudi Arabia closed its Cairo Embassy on April 28 and recalled its ambassador following protests over a detained Egyptian human rights lawyer, sparking a diplomatic spat which Cairo moved swiftly to contain.

Saudi state-run news agency SPA said the embassy in Cairo as well as the kingdom’s consulates in the Mediterranean cities of Alexandria and Suez were closed. The unexpected Saudi diplomatic break came following days of protests by hundreds of Egyptians outside the Saudi Embassy in Cairo and consulates in other cities to demand the release of Ahmed el-Gezawi. Relatives and human rights groups say he was detained for allegedly insulting the kingdom’s monarch. Saudi authorities denied that and said he was arrested for trying to smuggle anti-anxiety drugs into the kingdom.

Egypt swiftly tried to contain the Saudi snub. Egypt’s military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi contacted Saudi officials to try to mend the rift after the “surprise decision,” Egypt’s official news agency MENA reported. The Egyptian government issued a statement expressing its “regret” for the behavior of some of the protesters and noted that the government and Egyptian people hold Saudi Arabia in “great esteem.”

The Egyptian news agency also published a copy of what it said was a signed confession by el-Gezawi admitting to drug possession, in a clear attempt to mute Egyptian public anger. But the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood supported the demonstrators. The lawyer flew to Jeddah on his way to perform a minor pilgrimage, called umrah, to Islam’s holy shrines in the Saudi cities of Mecca and Medina, said his sister Shereen el-Gezawi.

Compiled from AP and AFP stories by the Daily News staff.

Xanax drugs

The fact that he was arrested on his way to perform a religious rite further enflamed Egyptian sentiment. His family said he had been convicted in absentia and sentenced to a year in prison and 20 lashes by a Saudi court for insulting the king. However he was not notified of the court’s ruling ahead of his Saudi trip. El-Gezawi had earlier filed a lawsuit in Egypt against King Abdullah over the alleged arbitrary detention of hundreds of Egyptians.

The Saudi Embassy on April 24 denied that version of events and said he had been arrested for possession of more than 21,000 pills of the anxiety drug Xanax, which is banned in Saudi Arabia. It was worst diplomatic tiff between two countries since Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries broke off diplomatic ties with Egypt after it signed a peace deal with Israel in 1979. Diplomatic relations were restored in 1987.