Egypt Recalls Its Ambassador From Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is considering Egypt's request to restore diplomatic ties after the kingdom recalled its ambassador over the weekend. Relations between the two Arab countries are at their lowest point in three decades.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Egypt has made a request to Saudi Arabia. In effect: Please, send your ambassador back here to Cairo. The Saudis recalled their ambassador over the weekend, exposing tension in one of the most important relationships in the Arab world. The Saudis have the most money. Egypt has the most people.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Cairo, on what they do now.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Saudi Arabia said it recalled its ambassador to Egypt for consultations due to, quote, "unjustified demonstrations in front of its embassy in Cairo." The kingdom also closed its consulates in the northern Egyptian cities of Alexandria and Suez.

Hundreds of Egyptians held protests last week, demanding the release of lawyer Ahmed el Gizawi. One demonstration was captured in this video.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING PROTESTERS)

NELSON: Gizawi was sentenced in absentia by a Saudi court, to one year in prison and 20 lashes for defaming King Abdullah. The lawyer had filed a lawsuit against the monarch on behalf of Egyptians languishing in Saudi jails without charge. Gizawi was arrested in Saudi Arabia two weeks ago, as he arrived for a religious pilgrimage. Officials claim he was trying to smuggle anti-anxiety drugs into the kingdom.

Egypt's top military ruler called the king over the weekend to defuse the crisis. Relations between the two Arab countries haven't been this tense since 1979, when Egypt signed a peace deal with Israel.

Since the king's close ally, former President Hosni Mubarak, was forced from power, relations have again turned frosty.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo.

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