Saudi closes Cairo embassy, recalls envoy

April 29, 2012 - 1:56:49 am


Egyptian security forces detain protesters demonstrating outside the Saudi embassy in Cairo yesterday.

DOHA: Saudi Arabia said yesterday that it had recalled its ambassador from Egypt “for consultations” and closed its embassy and consulates in the country for security reasons after protests against the kingdom’s arrest of an Egyptian lawyer, wire agencies reported yesterday.

The move follows security concerns over growing protests outside the Saudi embassy in Cairo over the arrest at Jeddah airport on April 17 of an Egyptian lawyer, Ahmed El Gezawi., however, reported yesterday that El Gezawi was arrested as he was carrying 21,380 pills of anxiety drug Xanax which is banned in Saudi Arabia.

“El Gezawi has in his confessional statement said that his real name is Ahmed Mohamed Tharwat El Sayed and he has also admitted to having tried to smuggle the pills into Saudi Arabia,” said

El Gezawi had already struck a deal in Saudi Arabia to sell these pills for Saudi riyals (SR) 100,000 (roughly $27,400). He had bought the pills in Egypt for 5,131 Egyptian pounds (SR3,170).

And he had struck a deal to sell the pills in Saudi Arabia for 31 times more than that sum (the deal was for SR100,000), said “He was looking for huge profits.”

Investigations reveal that while El Gezawi came on pilgrimage (Umrah) visa, he was wearing a white shirt and blue trousers at the time he was arrested. He should actually have been wearing traditional attire for the pilgrimage, reported quoting Saudi Arabia’s Arabic daily ‘Okaz’. in fact displayed a photograph showing the Xanax pill stocks with which El Gezawi was said to have been caught at the Jeddah airport on April 17.

Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman, Ahmed El Rushdie, has meanwhile said that the Egyptian embassy in Riyadh and the consulate in Jeddah are in constant touch with the Saudi authorities on the issue.

Egypt’s foreign minister has instructed the embassy and the consulate to provide legal assistance to El Gezawi.

Wire agencies meanwhile said it was the first public rupture between the two major Arab states since last year’s popular uprising in Egypt that forced Hosni Mubarak, a close ally of Riyadh, from power.

The head of Egypt’s ruling military council, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, said in a statement reported by Egypt’s state media that he was working to “heal the rift” with Saudi Arabia and had contacted Riyadh over its “surprise decision”.

Demonstrations outside the Saudi embassy in Cairo had grown in recent days over the arrest of Ahmed El Gezawi on his arrival at Jeddah airport on April 17.

Saudi Arabia’s official SPA news agency quoted an unidentified source as saying the protests were unjustified and that attempts had been made to storm the embassy, threatening the safety of its employees.

On Friday, around 1,000 protesters demonstrated outside the mission, demanding the release of Gezawi and other Egyptians held in Saudi jails, witnesses said.

“Oh Saudi ambassador, we will respond to every lash with a hundred!” they chanted, some of them showing their anger by removing their shoes and waving them at the building - a gesture deeply insulting in Islamic culture.

Egypt’s foreign ministry bemoaned “irresponsible actions” by protesters at the embassy and said they were at odds with “deeply rooted Egyptian-Saudi ties”.