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Saudi Arabia jails Egyptian lawyer for defaming king

Egypt's foreign ministry is trying to secure the release of an Egyptian lawyer detained in Saudi Arabia on charges of defaming King Abdullah.

Ahmed al-Gizawi was arrested last week as he arrived in Jeddah to undertake Umra, the lesser pilgrimage to Mecca.

Unknown to Mr Gizawi, a Saudi court had earlier sentenced him in absentia to a year in prison and 20 lashes. He is due to receive the lashes on Friday.

Mr Gizawi's case has aroused widespread anger in Egypt.

Social media have been blazing with attacks on the Saudi authorities and several politicians have demanded action, with one MP describing his detention as kidnapping.

The Saudi ambassador to Egypt has tried to calm the situation by phoning into an Egyptian TV station, saying that there would soon be good news on Mr Gizawi.

BBC World Service Middle East analyst Sebastian Usher says many Egyptians work in Saudi Arabia and there have often been cases where they say they have been mistreated under Saudi law.

Mr Gizawi's case is also reminiscent of that of a Lebanese TV fortune teller who was also arrested while on pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. He was accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death - but an international outcry helped stop his execution.

'Criticism of Saudis'

Mr Gizawi is reported to have filed several lawsuits against the authorities in Saudi Arabia on behalf of Egyptians detained there without trial, who claim to have been tortured or who believe they were unfairly convicted.

An Egyptian human rights group, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), suggested that the judgement against him followed criticism of the Saudi government.

"Gizawi criticised the Saudi repression of Egyptians living in Saudi territory and filed a case... calling for the Saudi authorities to be forced to hand over Egyptians detained in its custody, accusing the Saudi king himself," the group said on Saturday.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr was "following the case closely" and trying to find out "the reasons for the arrest", his spokesman told the state news agency, Mena.

Correspondents say part of the anger felt in Egypt comes from perceptions that the Saudi authorities are abusing their control of the Muslim holy places in Medina and Mecca.

"Saudi Arabia should not use its control of the Kaaba in political issues" Emad Arab, an Islamist activist told Egypt's Ahram Online, referring to the ancient cube-shaped shrine in Mecca's Grand Mosque.

The Umra is an extra, optional pilgrimage and does not count as the once-in-a-lifetime Hajj. Although it includes some of the rituals of the Hajj, they are shortened and there are fewer of them.

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