Saudi Arabia has decided to recall its ambassador to Cairo and close diplomatic missions in Egypt after protests outside its embassy over an arrested Egyptian, state news agency SPA said on Saturday.
The embassy as well as consulates in the Mediterranean cities of Alexandria and Suez were closed.
An official spokesman, quoted by SPA, said the measures were decided in response to demonstrations outside its missions in Egypt and threats following the announcement of the arrest of an Egyptian lawyer in Saudi Arabia.
The protests were “unjustified,” the spokesman said, adding that Saudi and Egyptian employees of its diplomatic missions had been threatened.
“Hostile slogans were shouted out and the immunity of the diplomatic representations was violated, contrary to all international regulations,” the spokesman said.
He said the violence had led to the suspension of diplomatic and consular services for Egyptian workers and Muslim pilgrims headed for Islam’s holiest sites, located in western Saudi Arabia.
Egypt’s military ruler swiftly contacted Saudi officials to try to resolve the row, Egypt’s official news agency MENA reported.
Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi “communicated with Saudi officials to work on ending the rift resulting from Saudi Arabia’s surprise decision to recall its ambassador,” MENA reported.
On Tuesday, hundreds of Egyptians protested outside the embassy demanding the release of an Egyptian human rights activist and lawyer held by Saudi authorities who claim he possessed banned drugs.
The protesters chanted slogans against the Saudi regime as they called for the “immediate” release of Ahmed Mohammed al-Gizawi, who was arrested on arrival at Jeddah airport on April 17.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, an Egyptian organisation, said Gizawi was detained following a sentence of one year in prison and 20 lashes delivered against him in absentia for criticism of the Saudi government.
Gizawi, whose supporters said he travelled to the Gulf state on pilgrimage, was being targeted for his activism in favour of Egyptian detainees in Saudi prisons, it said.
Defending compatriots, he had accused King Abdullah and Saudi authorities of arbitrary arrests and torture of Egyptian nationals in the oil-rich country, according to rights groups in Egypt.
They said the lawyer, who had not been informed of his conviction, was travelling with his wife when he was arrested.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr has said he instructed the country’s embassy in Riyadh “to make urgent contacts with Saudi authorities” to press for the lawyer’s release.
But the Saudi ambassador to Cairo, Ahmed Adel Aziz Qattan, in a statement said no jail or whipping sentence had been passed against Gizawi, who had however been stopped in possession of thousands of pills considered a banned drug.
The pills were found concealed in cartons of children’s milk and in the covers of two copies of the Koran holy book, according to the ambassador.