x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Arab League seeks to calm Egypt-Saudi Arabia diplomatic tensions

Nabil Al Arabi, the Arab League chief, indicates that he was mediating a spat between Saudi Arabia and Egypt, calling it a "passing phase."

CAIRO // Arab League chief Nabil Al Arabi indicated yesterday that he was mediating a diplomatic spat between Saudi Arabia and Egypt, calling it a "passing phase."

Riyadh on Saturday recalled its ambassador from Cairo after protests outside the Saudi embassy in Cairo over an Egyptian human-rights lawyer who was arrested in the kingdom.

Saudi state news agency SPA said the Cairo embassy as well as the kingdom's consulates in the cities of Alexandria and Suez were closed.

Mr Arabi said in a statement yesterday that he had been in touch with the Saudi and Egyptian foreign ministers, Prince Saud Al Faisal and Mohammed Kamel Amr.

He said he had "confidence in the wisdom of the two nations to get over this passing phase in the historic and strategic special relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia."

Mr Amr said yesterday it was important not to focus on a single case when it came to relations between the nations.

"There are very few problems for Egyptians in Saudi Arabia when you consider their number, which is more than two million," he told parliamentary committees on human rights and Arab affairs.

He also rejected "all offensive comments written on the walls of the Saudi embassy in Cairo."

On Tuesday, hundreds of Egyptians protested outside the embassy demanding the release of rights activist and lawyer Ahmed El Gezawi, who was arrested when he arrived at Jeddah airport on April 17.

The Saudi authorities claim he possessed banned drugs.

On Saturday night, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood urged Riyadh to "work towards not increasing tensions between Cairo and Riyadh, and to think again about closing its embassy and consulates."

"The people who protested outside the embassy ... were merely stating the desire of Egyptians to maintain the dignity of their compatriots in Arab states," the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Egypt's Central Bank Governor Farouk El Okdah said a Saudi Arabian financial aid package to Egypt won't be blocked because of the dispute. "It will arrive for sure," Mr El Okdah said. "This has been agreed on between the two countries."

Planning and International Cooperation Minister Fayza Aboulnaga said in an interview on April 19 that the package will include a US$1 billion deposit and $750 million to buy treasury bonds.

* Agence France-Presse with additional reporting by Bloomberg