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Saudi Arabia orders ambassador to return to Egypt after diplomatic spat

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Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz ordered on Friday the return of the kingdom’s ambassador to Egypt and the reopening of the mission after it was shut last week in the wake of angry protests, state news agency SPA said.

The king “instructed the kingdom’s ambassador to Cairo to resume his post on Sunday, and ordered the reopening of the embassy and the consulates in Alexandria and Suez,” SPA reported, quoting an unnamed official.

The decision was announced after the monarch received a top ranking Egyptian delegation, which arrived in the kingdom Thursday on a mission to defuse tension, according to AFP.

The Saudi monarch gave the orders during a visit by a large Egyptian parliamentary delegation to Riyadh, Reuters reported.

“Our decision to recall the ambassador and shut down the embassy was to protect its staff from any ominous consequences,” King Abdullah told the delegation in a speech aired by Saudi state television.

“What happened recently and its ramifications on the relations between the two brotherly countries hurts every Egyptian and Saudi citizen,” he said.

The withdrawal of the Saudi envoy appeared a sharp message to Egypt’s rulers of the need to maintain good ties with a Gulf state that last week agreed to send $2.7 billion to support Cairo’s battered finances.

Riyadh on Saturday recalled its ambassador after angry protests outside the Saudi embassy in Cairo over the arrest of an Egyptian human rights lawyer in the Gulf kingdom which claimed he was in possession of drugs.

King Abdullah welcomed the visit by the large delegation, saying it was a source of “joy”, adding that with “such an honorable position I can only say that we shall not allow this passing crisis to last long.”

The delegation is headed by parliament speaker Saad al-Katatni and the head of the consultative council Ahmed Fahmi.

Katatni and other delegation members urged the king to reopen the embassy, according to footage of the meeting broadcast on Saudi television.

“Recalling the Saudi ambassador from Cairo is difficult for us, Egyptians. This delegation came here to stress the depth of our relation and requests you to send the ambassador back to Cairo on the same plane with us,” Katatni said.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told the delegation that Riyadh does not rule out that “foreign elements” could have plotted to cause the tension between the two Arab heavyweights, SPA reported late on Thursday.

“We do not rule out that foreign elements not wanting the good for us, or Egypt, or the whole nation, could be behind disturbing the historic, solid and growing relations between our two countries and peoples,” he said.

Riyadh and Cairo enjoyed strong relations during the rule of former President Hosni Mubarak, who was forced to step down in February 2011 following nationwide protests.

Last week protesters rallied outside the Saudi embassy in Cairo chanting slogans against the Saudi regime and calling for the release of lawyer Ahmed Mohammed al-Gizawi, who was arrested the previous week at Jeddah airport.

Saudi ambassador to Egypt, Ahmed Adel Aziz Qattan, said Gizawi was arrested when banned drugs were found in his possession, adding that he regretted the “misinformation” published in the Egyptian media.

He said in a statement issued by the Saudi embassy that Gizawi was arrested for possessing 21,380 tablets of Zanak, which is prohibited in the kingdom without medical approval.

The drugs were allegedly hidden in children’s milk cartons and two copies of the Quran.