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Recalled Saudi ambassador returns to Egypt, signaling thaw in ties

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Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Egypt returned to Cairo on Saturday, Egyptian airport officials said, almost a week after he was recalled in in response to street protests in Cairo against the arrest of an Egyptian lawyer in Saudi Arabia.

Egypt sent a large parliamentary delegation to Riyadh this week to help rebuild ties with the Gulf kingdom which has promised $2.7 billion to support battered Egyptian finances.

On Saturday, Saudi Arabia confirmed its plans to send aid.

“We’re taking procedures to execute the aid budget,” Saudi Finance Minister Ibrahim Alassaf told reporters after a meeting of Gulf Arab finance ministers in Riyadh.

Previously strong ties between Riyadh and Cairo were strained by last year’s uprising in Egypt that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak who was close to the Saudi leadership.

The rising power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has also worried many in the Gulf who fear the spread of its influence.

“Our decision to recall the ambassador and shut down the embassy was to protect its staff from any ominous consequences,” King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia told the visiting Egyptian 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,” King Abdullah said.

He 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.