A bridge to unity, strength
Firstly, for a Saudi king to stay in another country within the region for five days is unprecedented. Secondly, King Salman is the first to have met with an Egyptian Coptic Pope; in this case Pope Tawadros II, who thanked the king for standing by Egypt and offering support in the aftermath of the June 30 revolution. Third, he held discussions with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed El-Tayib on methods of combating extremist ideologies.
Importantly, the visit sends a powerful message to Iran and its satellites that the Sunni Arab World is unifying and strengthening its resolve to defend itself against aggression. Word has it that Egypt is amenable to healing rifts with Sunni states that haven’t been so supportive.
“The unique quality of the relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the extent to which they are strong and deep-rooted, will allow us to face mutual challenges,” said the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, adding, “Our cooperation will certainly allow us to resolve all of our regional crises, such as Palestine, Yemen, Libya and Syria.”
Egypt, whose tourism sector has been battered following the downing of a Russian passenger plane last year, remains stricken with economic woes, which will be somewhat alleviated by a $16 billion investment fund signed by King Salman and the Egyptian president. Headlines in UK papers characterize the once vibrant Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh as “a ghost town.” The antics of a deranged individual who hijacked an Egypt Air flight to Cyprus wearing a fake suicide belt have been damaging. Egypt has greatly tightened up security within its airports but there are no confirmations as to when flights from Russia, the UK and Europe will be restored.
Hotels, restaurants and businesses have closed. Tens of thousands are jobless forced to return to their towns and villages. But with him King Salman brought hope in the form of grants and loans as well as the promise of a road-and-rail bridge spanning the narrowest part of the Gulf of Aqaba linking not only Saudi Arabia’s Ras Hamid with the southern Sinai Peninsula but also North Africa with Asia.
As a result of years of discussions, the maritime borders between Saudi and Egypt have now been delineated, which leave both the uninhabited, Tiran and smaller Sanafir — subsumed into Egypt when it formed part of the Ottoman Empire — within the Kingdom’s territory. Set to take three years to construct at a cost of $5 billion, the 32-kilometer bridge will initially offer mega employment opportunities. Once built, when traveling from one country to the other will take less than 30 minutes, it will be a conduit for trade and tourism and the founding of new business relationships. It is also likely to boost the ambitions of Suez to become a major trading and re-export hub.
The plan is not new. Shortly before President Mubarak was forced to step down, he shelved it indefinitely due to Israeli security concerns. The Straits of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba were noted in the Camp David Peace Accords between Egypt and Israel as “international waterways” in order to secure the free passage of Israeli vessels.
Overall, Egyptians are appreciative of the generous helping hand their country has received from GCC states and from Saudi Arabia in particular.
Ultimately, there’s a big picture to be seen and as the CEO of network builder Easy Branches once said, “We all want to see sunshine after moonlight.” A new era of unity and prosperity is within grasp. Let the sun’s rays illuminate the relationship between Saudis and Egyptians today, tomorrow and forever!
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view