Saudi Arabia Closes Embassy in Egypt (WSJ) WALL STREET JOURNAL) By MATT BRADLEY CAIRO, EGYPT 04/29/12)
WALL STREET JOURNAL
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CAIRO—Saudi Arabia closed its embassy in Egypt´s capital and withdrew
its ambassador amid protests by hundreds of Egyptians, sparking a
diplomatic crisis just as Egypt´s economy is most in need of
assistance from its wealthy neighbor.
The Saudi Embassy in Cairo has been the sight of protests for nearly
a week. A Saudi judge sentenced Ahmed el-Gezawi, an Egyptian lawyer,
to a year in prison and 20 lashes for allegedly "insulting" King
Abdullah, the monarch who has led the desert kingdom since 2005,
according to Mr. Gezawi´s family.
The official Saudi Press Agency reported on Saturday that Ahmed
Qattan would return to Riyadh 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" of the
kingdom´s embassy in Cairo and its consulates in the port cities of
Alexandria and Suez.
Saudi authorities said Mr. Gezawi was arrested for smuggling several
thousand doses of the antianxiety medication Xanax when he entered
the kingdom to perform a pilgrimage to the Saudi holy site of Mecca.
Saudi Foreign Ministry spokesman Osama Nugali said Mr. Gezawi hadn´t
yet faced trial.
But Mr. Gezawi´s supporters contend that Saudi authorities targeted
the human rights lawyer because he filed a lawsuit against King
Abdullah to complain about the arbitrary arrest, detention and ill-
treatment of thousands of Egyptian guest workers.
The ambassador´s withdrawal marks the worst escalation in diplomatic
tensions between the two countries since Egypt signed a peace treaty
with Israel in 1979.
Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the leader of the council of generals
leading Egypt until the promised hand-over of power to civilians at
the end of June, called King Abdullah on Saturday to attempt to mend
the damaged relationship, according to Egypt´s state news agency.
Saturday´s flap comes during a precarious moment for Egypt´s economy.
Egypt needs financial assurances from its wealthy Arab neighbors to
both shore up its $11 billion budget deficit and to help underwrite a
$3.2 billion loan Egypt is negotiating with the International
The IMF loan will be crucial to repairing the damaged perception of
the Egyptian economy among foreign investors and forestalling a
currency devaluation. If Egypt can gather the domestic and regional
political support necessary to secure the loan in the next few
months, economists expect the country can avoid a disorderly collapse
of the Egyptian pound.
Egyptian financial authorities rejected the loan last summer, in part
because of expectations that Saudi Arabia, the world´s biggest oil
producer, would follow through on its commitment to lend Egypt $3.75
billion. Except for $500 million sent last summer, Egypt has yet to
see the rest of the cash. But last week Saudi Arabia agreed to
deposit $1 billion in aid with Egypt´s central bank.
The IMF repeatedly has said that Egypt will need "adequate external
financing from Egypt´s international partners," a phrase that
economic analysts understand to mean in-kind loans from European,
American and particularly Persian Gulf Arab donors who hold extensive
business, political and cultural connections to Egypt.
Those connections once formed a diplomatic barricade against the
spread of Iranian influence throughout the wider Middle East. But in
the 14 months since protesters felled former President Hosni Mubarak,
those connections have frayed.
Saudi diplomats were furious when Egypt´s first post-Mubarak foreign
minister announced that he would seek warmer relations with Iran.
Egyptian prosecutors then began peering into the details of business
deals conducted by Saudi investors under Egypt´s former regime.
Prominent members of the Saudi royal establishment, including
billionaire Al Waleed bin Talal, found themselves answering to
financial probes that would have been unthinkable only two years ago.
The Saudis were further incensed when Egyptian prosecutors charged
Mr. Mubarak, an old friend of the Saudi royal family, with capital
murder crimes for his role in suppressing the uprising that
eventually overthrew him.
But the harder line on Saudi interests has been popular among Egypt´s
newly emboldened public. Since the 1970s, millions of Egyptians have
traveled to Saudi Arabia to make their fortunes in the kingdom´s
booming oil industry.
Liberal Egyptians blame Saudi cultural influence for the decadeslong
rise in religiosity and the sudden surge of fundamentalist Salafi
Islamist thought in Egypt´s postrevolutionary politics. Many more
resent the way Egyptian workers are treated under the Saudi legal
system. Mr. Gezawi´s activism was widely applauded as a strong stand
against Saudi Arabia´s exploitative guest-worker program and alleged
disregard for the rights of foreign workers.
—Ellen Knickmeyer contributed to this article. (Copyright © Dow Jones
& Company, Inc.) 04/29/12)
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