RIYADH - In a sharp escalation of tensions between the two major Arab countries, Saudi Arabia said on Saturday, April 28, it had recalled its ambassador from Egypt for "consultation" and would close its embassy and consulates in the Arab nation.
"Hostile slogans were shouted out and the immunity of the diplomatic representations was violated, contrary to all international regulations," an official spokesman was quoted as saying state news agency SPA.The embassy as well as consulates in the Mediterranean cities of Alexandria and Suez were also closed.
The spokesman 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, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP).
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 in Saudi Arabia.
Protests at the Saudi embassy started last Tuesday when hundreds of Egyptians demanded the release of an Egyptian human rights activist held by Saudi authorities.
Protesters chanted slogans against the Saudi regime, calling for the "immediate" release of Ahmed Mohammed al-Gizawi who was arrested on arrival at Jeddah airport to perform minor hajj (`umrah) on April 17.
Other protests took place on Friday when around 1,000 protesters demonstrated outside the mission, demanding the release of Gezawi and other Egyptians held in Saudi jails.
"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 Arab culture.
The Saudi authorities claimed that al-Gizawi possessed banned drugs.
However, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, an Egyptian organization, 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 favor of Egyptian detainees in Saudi prisons, it said.
Trying to heal the rift, the head of Egypt's ruling military council contacted Saudi officials on Saturday over its "surprise decision" to withdraw its envoy to Cairo.
"The Field Marshal [Mohamed Hussein Tantawi] conducted contacts with the Saudi authorities to work to contain the situation," the Egyptian state agency MENA said.
Egypt's foreign ministry also regretted "irresponsible actions" by protesters at the embassy and said they were at odds with "deeply rooted Egyptian-Saudi ties".
"Egypt condemns individual actions undertaken by some citizens towards the embassy of the embassy of sisterly Saudi Arabia, and which do not express anything other than the opinion of the people who undertook them, a source in the Egyptian foreign ministry said in a statement cited by Reuters
The Egyptian government has all love and respect for Saudi as a government and people."
"The Egyptian government condemns these irresponsible actions which harm the deeply-rooted Egyptian-Saudi ties."