An Egyptian government minister said a rare rift with Saudi Arabia would be resolved after Riyadh recalled its Cairo ambassador in response to street protests there against the arrest of an Egyptian lawyer in the Gulf kingdom.
Demonstrations against Saudi Arabia’s arrest of Egyptian lawyer Ahmed el-Gezawi on April 17 have grown in recent days, culminating in a rally of almost 1,000 people at the Saudi embassy on Friday who hurled insults at the kingdom’s rulers.
“The current crisis between Egypt and Saudi Arabia will be contained, given the solid relations between the two countries which transcend any problem,” Planning and International Cooperation Minister Faiza Abu el-Naga was quoted by the state news agency MENA as saying.
She said the spat would not affect Gulf economic aid to Egypt and that Saudi officials had denied withdrawing any investments.
The withdrawal of the Saudi envoy on Saturday marked a diplomatic rupture between the two long-time allies just a week after the oil-rich Gulf state agreed to send $2.7 billion to support Egypt’s depleted finances.
Activists in Cairo, including Gezawi’s wife, said early in the week that the lawyer was detained when he arrived for a Muslim pilgrimage after being sentenced in absentia to a year in prison and 20 lashes for insulting Saudi King Abdullah.
The Saudi embassy on Tuesday denied that version of events, saying Gezawi was detained for possession of more than 21,000 pills of the anxiety drug Xanax, banned in Saudi Arabia.
In an apparent move to ease public anger at home, MENA published what it described as a copy of Gezawi’s confession to possessing the pills.
Abu el-Naga said on Sunday that the Saudi ambassador was expected to return to Cairo, possibly within hours, and denied Egyptian media reports that Saudi Arabia and Egypt were also in a dispute over two Red Sea islands.
The head of the Arab League, Egyptian Nabil Elaraby, also tried to defuse tension, describing it as “a passing cloud.”