Via Ahram Online, by Dina Ezzat
Cairo and Riyadh are not planning a divorce, they are just reworking the terms of an otherwise Catholic marriage
Egyptian security forces stand guard outside the Saudi Embassy in Cairo, (photo: AP)
"If you think that Egypt is in any way comfortable with the current fallout with Saudi Arabia, then you are much mistaken; this is the last thing we want, and it is actually something we are trying to rectify," said an Egyptian diplomat, who asked to remain anonymous.
According to this diplomat, the fallout between the two leading Arab states over the arrest of an Egyptian citizen, Ahmed El-Gizawi, upon his arrival in Saudi Arabia last month on a confused set of charges, is something that both countries would have not wanted to happen.
El-Gizawi was first said to have been arrested for insulting the Saudi king but is now facing charges of attempting to smuggle drugs into Saudi Arabia. While some human rights activists say that the smuggling affair was totally fabricated to justify the arrest of an Egyptian citizen, official sources affirm that there is compelling evidence for the smuggling claim.
The confusing and contradicting reports about the El-Gizawi affair promoted angry demonstrations, small as they were, in front of the Saudi Embassy in Cairo last week.
According to one source at the embassy, the demonstration in and by itself "is not a problem for us; but what we cannot tolerate are the insults directed against the Saudi people and the Saudi king, who have never been anything but kind towards Egypt."
Official Saudi anger mounted, despite several mediations, to a point by which Riyadh decided to summon its ambassador in Cairo for consultations – a typical diplomatic show of anger. The ambassador, Ahmed Qattan, is expected to return to Egypt within days – two weeks maximum says an official – following the direct intervention of the head of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
However, as concerned Egyptian and Saudi diplomats agree, the return of the ambassador and the re-opening of Saudi Arabia's embassy and consulates would not rectify the growing rift between the countries, who have been allies for over four decades.
The disagreement goes way beyond the El-Gizawi affair, although this debacle has prompted harsh memories of unkind treatment to Egyptian workers, both professionals and working class, in the oil rich Arab Gulf state where some three million Egyptians live and work.
Although both countries share a commitment to promoting a negotiated Arab-Israeli peace and to reigning in the ambitions of Iran, and for that matter Turkey, there remains ongoing tension. Cairo has declined to hand over ousted president Hosni Mubarak to Riyadh or to spare the ailing man from trial, despite endless and repeated demands made by the Saudi king himself.
"We thought that Saudi Arabia and its king could make a request to Egypt; it was disappointing that this request was not accommodated," said the same Saudi source.
Egypt, or at least SCAF, according to informed officials, had wanted to accommodate the request of Saudi Arabia, especially as they knew that this would mean a generous aid package at a moment of post-revolution economic austerity.
However, the strict public opposition to this move prevented Mubarak and his family from seeking asylum in Saudi Arabia.
This said, there are other reasons for tension in Saudi-Egyptian relations. These reasons, in the analysis of Egyptian officials, boil down to the fading Egyptian commitment to agree with Saudi Arabia on all matters of Middle East policies.
"This was the case under Mubarak, let us admit it. Saudi Arabia would ask for anything and its demand would be accommodated; today things are different," said the same Egyptian diplomatic source.
He added that t