Saudi Arabia closed its embassy in Egypt and recalled its ambassador as tensions between the two countries are at their worst in over thirty years. Protestors in Egypt have been gathering at the Saudi embassy for nearly a week, and things escalated so much that Saudis felt the need to close the embassy and bring their ambassador home. Saudi state television says the country pulled their ambassador for "consultations" after "unjustified demonstrations and protests" and "attempts to storm and threaten the security and safety of Saudi and Egyptian employees, raising hostile slogans and violating the inviolability and sovereignty" at the embassies in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez.
Why are they fighting? Ahmed el-Gezawi, an Egyptian lawyer, was detained by Saudi Arabia for allegedly insulting King Abdullah, the nation's monarch. The Saudi government says he wasn't arrested for insulting the King, but for smuggling over a thousand doses of Xanax into Saudi Arabia while on a pilgrimage to Mecca. Egyptians have been protesting for the lawyer's release ever since. The charges for insulting the king stem from a lawsuit filed by el-Gezawi against King Abdullah for the alleged arbitrary detention of thousands of Egyptians. He was convicted in absentia to a year in prison and 20 lashes, but wasn't informed of his conviction before making his trip to Mecca. Egyptians think the drug charges have been trumped up by the Saudi's to try and get back at someone who insulted the King.
What's at stake? Egypt has a massive amount of debt. They're currently sitting on a $11 billion budget deficit, and they're trying to negotiate a $3.2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. Egypt has been looking to other Arab League countries for financial "assurances" to satisfy the doubts of the IMF. Egyptian financial officials originally rejected the loan last summer because they thought Saudi Arabia was going to give them a $3.75 billion loan. $500 million came, but there hasn't been anything since.
Will the protest continue, or are they making nice? The Egyptian government is desperately trying to make this go away. Hussein Tantawi, Egypt's military leader, called King Abdullah on Saturday and asked if the King would "reconsider his decision" to detain el-Gezawi, according to Egyptian and Saudi state television. Abdullah is expected to "look into" the matter over the next few days. In the mean time, the Egyptian government played like a country with a lot to lose and issued a statement expressing "regret" over some protestor's behaviour, and stated how they hold the Saudi's with "great esteem." Egyptian state TV also published a written confession from el-Gezawi, though protestors believe he was pressured into confessing to ease diplomatic tensions.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.