Sunday 29 April 2012

Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the suspected drug mule

Ahmad al-Gizawi and wife Shahinda (Photos from al-Ahram)

Riyadh and Cairo seem inclined to bury the hatchet after Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who leads the military council currently governing Egypt, telephoned Saudi King Abdullah and asked that Saudi Arabia’s decision to close its embassy and consulates in Egypt be reconsidered.
The monarch promised to “look into the matter” in light of the fraternal relations between the two countries.
Saudi Ambassador Ahmad al-Qattan was Saturday recalled for “consultations” following “unwarranted protests” in front of the Saudi embassy in Cairo and consulates in Alexandria and Suez.
Dozens of Egyptians demonstrated outside the Saudi missions on April 24 demanding the release of Ahmad Mohammed Tharwat, better known as Ahmad al-Gizawi, a human rights activist and lawyer.
Saudi customs detained Gizawi at King Abdulaziz Airport in Jeddah on April 18 for trying to smuggle over 21,000 pills of the tranquillizer drug Zanax (a common misspelling of Xanax) in his luggage.
Gizawi was traveling with his wife on Umrah visas to make the offseason pilgrimage to Mecca.
Cairo daily al-Ahram today says Egypt’s semi-official Middle East News Agency (MENA) obtained a copy of an affidavit signed by Gizawi stating: “I, the undersigned, Ahmad Mohammed Tharwat, an Egyptian citizen holding passport number 5627816A, issued on 3 February 2012, certify that upon my arrival on Saudi Airlines flight 308 at 5.40 a.m. on Wednesday 18 April 2012, I picked up my three pieces of luggage. A customs official found in the suitcases eight cans of powdered milk and three Quran boxes containing the sedative drug Zanax. (Signed and fingerprinted).”
Gizawi’s wife, Dr. Shahinda Fat’hi, told the Saudi daily al-Watan before flying back to Cairo this morning she was allowed a short visit to her detained husband by courtesy of the Egyptian embassy. She told al-Watan she didn’t feel her husband was coerced to own up.
Separately, al-Watan says the tiff between the two countries could affect the flow of Saudi tourists to Egypt, “where Saudi Arabia has a $25 billion investment in the Egyptian tourism industry.”
According to the Egyptian Tourism Authority, Egypt took in 18,764 Saudi tourists last month, as opposed to 10,711 in March 2011 -- a 75.2 percent increase.
Saudi Arabia in turn hosts a massive Egyptian expatriate community numbering 1.7 million.
Egyptian columnist Mahmoud an-Nuba, writing for al-Ahram today, says, “It seems our brothers in the Kingdom expected Egyptian authorities to secure their embassy and put up barriers to prevent protesters from reaching the embassy doors. But why, I wonder, did we allow the crisis to get out of hand, knowing we have community of more than 1.5 million Egyptians in Saudi Arabia?”
Nevertheless, an-Nuba is confident “deep-rooted strategic relations between the two brotherly countries” are bound to help them overcome occasional hiccups.
Turki al-Dakheel, Saudi Arabia’s prominent journalist and number one interviewer, is less conciliatory.
Saudi-Egyptian relations, he writes in his daily column for al-Watan, have ebbed and flowed over the years. “They reached rock bottom under Egypt’s Gamal Abdel-Nasser, who wanted to put an end to Arab monarchies and repeatedly described Saudi Arabia’s political discourse as reactionary.”
Another dip in bilateral ties, Dakheel recalls, came in the wake of Anwar Sadat’s November 1977 trip to Israel and his subsequent signing of the Camp David Accords in September 1978.
Relations flowed again “on Egypt’s return to the Arab fold” in the 1980s.
But since the outbreak of the Egypt Spring in January 2011, Dakheel writes, “many of our brothers in the Egyptian revolution took to maligning Saudi Arabia, its rulers and its regime with or without occasion. They mistook the placidity of the Saudi side at the official and popular levels as a sign of weakness. They are mistaken. The ‘sons of the desert’ – as some of them enjoy calling us – choose tolerance because it denotes their wisdom, not failing…
“We Saudis are not chauvinists as to prevent others from discussing our affairs. Our country is key – geopolitically, economically and religiously. But we won’t tolerate being used as a peg to hang on all the shortcomings Egyptians see in their country.”
Dakheel says Saudi customs detained lawyer Gizawi for trying to smuggle in 21,000 sedative pills. The Egyptian consul acknowledged the cause of the arrest but said Gizawi was a drug mule.
Even so, says Dakheel, how could a lawyer ignore the legal implications of becoming a Saudi-bound drug mule?