Middle East

Egyptian protests over detained lawyer shut Saudi embassy

Egyptian protesters take part in a demonstration in front of Saudi Arabian embassy in Cairo on April 24, 2012, calling for the release of Ahmed al-Gizawi who arrested on April 17
Image caption Egyptians have held angry protests outside the Saudi embassy in Cairo this week

Saudi Arabia has shut its embassy and consulates in Egypt following protests over an Egyptian lawyer who has been detained in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi ambassador to Egypt had also been recalled, the Saudi state news agency said.

Egyptian protesters have demanded the release of human rights lawyer Ahmed al-Gizawi.

The head of Egypt's ruling military council has expressed surprise over the Saudi move.

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi contacted the Saudi government on Saturday to try to resolve the issue, the Egyptian Mena news agency reported.

'Sharp escalation'

The Saudi closures affect the embassy in Cairo as well as consulates in the cities of Alexandria and Suez.

The BBC's Jon Leyne says the Saudi action marks a sharp escalation of a row that has been going on for some days.

Mr Gizawi was detained earlier this month on arrival in Saudi Arabia and accused of insulting King Abdullah.

Egyptian activists say he was held after lodging a complaint against Saudi Arabia for its treatment of Egyptians in its prisons.

His family says he had gone to perform a minor pilgrimage - a detail which has angered many Egyptians who feel resentment at the kingdom's treatment of Egyptians.

But Saudi authorities say Mr Gizawi was found by airport officials to be carrying drugs - allegedly more than 20,000 anti-anxiety pills - in his luggage.

They doubt Mr Gizawi was on a pilgrimage, as they say he was not wearing white pilgrims' clothes.

Observers say it is the worst diplomatic falling-out between the two regional powers since Saudi Arabia severed ties after Egypt signed a peace deal with Israel in 1979.

Many Egyptians work in Saudi Arabia and there have often been cases where they say they have been mistreated under Saudi law.

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