In its first major reprisal against Arab hostility to the peace treaty with Israel, Egypt announced today that it is recalling its ambassadors from Saudi Arabia and six other moderate Arab countries, some to them longstanding backers of Cairo.
The move sent Cairo's relations with a substantial part of the Arab world plummeting to a new low. It lett Egypt's diplomatic ties with 12 of the Arab League's 22 members in varying degrees of damage.
"The government of the Arab Republic of Egypt has decided to recall its ambassadors to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Tunisia and Morocco in view of actions by their governments which do not conform to the requirements of Arab solidarity," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
Prime Minister Mustafa Khalil told a parliamentary committee that the withdrawal of ambassadors does not mean a break in relations.
"The diplomatic missions will stay to look after the interests of Egyptians in these countries," he said.
The seven countries involved in today's decision already had pulled their ambassadors out of Cairo in line with resolutions adopted last week by 19 of 22 Arab League members in Baghdad, Iraq.
Until recently, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and the Emirates traditionally had been close allies of Egypt. Morocco's King Hassan and Emirates President Sheik Zayed Sultan Nahyan were close friends of President Anwar Sadat.
Saudi Arabia in particular was Egypt's principal financial backer, giving Cairo $2 billion in aid annually since the 1973 Middle East war.
In another move of defiance toward the rest of the Arab World, Egypt also said that it would not allow the headquarters of the Arab League to be moved from Cairo.
Representatives from 19 of the 22 League members decided in Baghdad last week to move the headquarters from Cairo to Tunis temporarily, as well as take other measures to punish President Anwar Sadat for signing a peace treaty with Israel.
Today, however, Egyptian Prime Minister Khalil told a joint closed session of parliament's Foreign Relations and Arab Affairs committees, "Neither the headquarters of the League nor any of its affiliated bodies will be transferred from Egypt."
Khalil, whose remarks were reported by the official Middle East News Agency, added, "Egypt will not submit to a wrong decision which is contrary to the League charter. Egypt insists on Arab solidarity."
Although there is little that Egypt could do to prevent other League members from using Tunis as a temporary headquarters, it could prevent the organization's files and other documents from being shipped abroad.
In addition to the latest moves, the Arab diplomatic scene shapes up this way since Sadat's November 1977 visit to Jerusalem that began the peace process with Israel:
Egypt's relations with the radical states Syria, Iraq, Libya, Algeria and South Yemen have been severed completely.
The Egyptian Embassy in Jordan has been shut down, just one step short of a complete break in relations, in retaliation for King Hussein's withdrawal of his ambassador from Cairo two days after the treaty was signed in Washington March 26.
Delegates to the Baghdad conference decided to halt all aid to Egypt, suspend its Arab League membership, transfer League headquarters to Tunis, withdraw ambassadors from Cairo and consider breaking off diplomatic relations within a month. Egypt said it was "freezing" its membership in the Arab League.
Only Egypt and its treaty supporters, Sudan and Oman, were absent from the Baghdad conference.