Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Egypt for “consultation” and temporarily closed its embassy and consulate in Cairo following protests in Egypt against the detention of an Egyptian activist by the Saudi authorities.
The Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported that the reason behind the diplomatic move was “unjustified protests” in Egypt and attempts to storm the Saudi embassy and consulates which “threatened the safety of its employees.”
Egyptians have been protesting outside the embassy against the arrest of an Egyptian lawyer and human rights activist, Ahmad al-Gazawi, in the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia said he was arrested for smuggling drugs.
Egyptian activists, however, said Gazawi was detained for filing a complaint against Saudi Arabia for its treatment of Egyptian citizens in Saudi prisons.
The Egyptian state news agency reported that Egypt's military ruler Mohamed Hussein Tantawi contacted the Saudi government over its “surprise decision” to withdraw its envoy to Cairo.
The agency added that Tantawi was working to “heal the rift” that had resulted from the decision. “The Field Marshal conducted contacts with the Saudi authorities to work to contain the situation,” the state agency MENA said
A Saudi embassy statement said Gazawi has not been convicted or sentenced in any case. Instead they said he was being questioned by authorities after airport officials in Jeddah found more than 20,000 anti-anxiety pills hidden inside his luggage.
According to his family member, Shereen al-Gazawi, Ahmad flew to Jeddah on his way to perform a minor pilgrimage, called Umrah, to Islam’s holy shrines in the Saudi cities of Makkah and Madinah.
But the Saudi statement said Gazawi was not wearing pilgrims’ clothes, which they said indicated he was not making a religious pilgrimage as his family maintains.
The fact that Gazawi was detained on his way to perform a religious rite has further enflamed Egyptian sentiment.
Egyptian demonstrators called for the expulsion of the Saudi ambassador in Cairo.
Anti-Saudi sentiment has flared in recent years following reports of Egyptian nationals being mistreated in the kingdom or experiencing a miscarriage of justice in a Saudi court.
Saudi journalist and writer Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi told Al Arabiya that the current row between Saudi Arabia and Egypt was only a “summer cloud” and that will pass in the light of “the strong strategic ties” between the two countries.
Khashoggi blamed the crisis on a “third party” seeking to damage relations between the two Arab powers.