By SU Rahman (NVONews.Com)
A day after protest demonstration outside its embassy in Cairo, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Saturday recalled its ambassador from Egypt for security reasons.
Riyadh and Cairo had a very cordial relationship during the reign of dictator Hosni Mubarak.
But on Friday about a thousand Egyptians gathered outside the embassy in protest against the arrest of an Egyptian lawyer, Ahmed El-Gezawi, on April 17 who went to Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage.
The diplomatic rupture between Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Egypt and monarchy in Riyadh came as a surprise as the latter claims to be supporting the Syrian branch of Brotherhood. Its leader, Mohammad Riad Shaqfa, lives in exile in Saudi.
Ever since last year revolution Saudi Arabia appears to be disturbed by the development in Egypt as it may strengthen the anti-monarchy moement in the entire Gulf, including Saudi Arabia.
The relationship was under strain ever since then. The Friday demonstration only provided an opportunity to the royal family to react.
The latest move will further isolate Saudi Arabia in the region where Iran is playing increasingly pivotal role. It has deprived the kingdom of the opportunity to give a Shia-Sunni colour to the tension in the region. Unlike Iran, Egypt is a Sunni-dominated country.
Ahmed El-Gezawi’s arrest angered the Egyptians, who even hurled insults at the Saudi rulers during the Cairo rally.
However SPA, the official Saudi news agency, said the protests were unjustified and that attempts had been made to storm the embassy, threatening the safety of its employees.
The Egyptian military rulers who are in the process of completely handing over the power to the civilian government within next few weeks, tried to downplay the crisis. Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the military council, called the authorities in Riyadh to “heal the rift” while the Egyptian cabinet stressed country’s “love and respect” for Saudi Arabia. Foreign ministry regretted “irresponsible actions” by protesters at the embassy.
However, Gezawi’s wife and other activists, said early in the week that the lawyer was detained in Saudi Arabia when he arrived for pilgrimage after being sentenced in absentia to a year in prison and 20 lashes for insulting King Abdullah.
But the Saudi embassy on Tuesday 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 alleged that he had smuggled the pills inside bottles of infant milk formula and boxes intended to hold the Koran.
On this issue Saudi Arabia is being supported by several Gulf monarchies and sheikhdoms. The media in these countries went all out to publish photographs of the drugs Gezawi supposedly carried alongside. Their editorials condemned criticism of the royal family in Egypt.
Egyptians are upset at problems their compatriots face in Saudi Arabia. Leaders from across the political spectrum have spoken about a case which appears to have touched a popular chord.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing said the protests at the Saudi embassy showed “the desire of Egyptians to preserve the dignity of their citizens in Arab states”.
“We call on the military council … to take serious measures to resolve the Gezawi problem in a way that guarantees the dignity of Egyptians and at the same time preserves the strength of Egyptian-Saudi ties,” the statement added.