Saudi mission to reopen in Egypt

Egyptian security forces stand guard outside the Saudi embassy in Cairo on April 28, 2012.

Story highlights

  • Saudi Ambassador Ahmad Kattan is returning to Egypt
  • "We will not allow this incident crisis to prolong," King Abdullah says
  • The ambassador was pulled after protests in front of the Saudi Embassy

Saudi Arabia is re-establishing its diplomatic presence in Egypt after tensions briefly spurred the kingdom to pull its envoys and shutter its missions, Egyptian and Saudi state news agencies said Friday.

Ambassador Ahmad Kattan is returning to his post in Cairo, and Saudi Arabia's embassy and consulate will reopen by Sunday, the agencies said.

Saudi Arabia called back Kattan and closed its embassy and consulates last Sunday after raucous protests in Cairo over the imprisonment of Ahmed Mohammed el-Gezawi, an Egyptian human rights lawyer.

Throngs of Egyptians had gathered in front of the Saudi Embassy last week, calling for the release of el-Gezawi.

The decision to pull out Saudi diplomats came after protesters' "attempts to storm and threaten the security and safety of its (embassy) employees," the Saudi Press Agency said.

Saudi officials say el-Gezawi is accused of trying to smuggle thousands of pills into the country.

The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights say el-Gezawi had been traveling during Umrah, a minor pilgrimage to Mecca, when he was detained.

"What has happened in the recent days of repercussions in the relationship between the two countries is painful to every honorable Saudi and Egyptian citizen, and our decision to recall the ambassador and the closure of the embassy were only to protect its employees from other situations that could have developed with dire consequences," the Saudi Press Agency said, quoting King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz.

"We will not allow this incidental crisis to prolong."

The protests and the Saudi reaction appear to have again ratcheted up long-standing tensions between the two Middle Eastern nations.

The strains can be traced back to 1979, when the kingdom broke off diplomatic relations after Egypt inked a peace deal with Israel based on the Camp David Accords. The ties were restored in November 1987.

Egypt, the most populous Arab country, has often engaged in "a subtle competition" with its Saudi counterparts "over this question of regional leadership," Cook said.

Egypt erupted in protest last year during 18 days of demonstrations in Cairo's Tahrir Square after similar uprisings in neighboring Tunisia, ultimately ousting Egypt's longtime president Hosni Mubarak after nearly three decades in power.