Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 24 October 2019

A bridge to link two continents

Saudi Arabia’s plan to connect Africa and Asia will boost Egypt’s economy and the region
Egypt's president Abdel Fattah El Sisi, right, with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz in Cairo.  AFP
Egypt's president Abdel Fattah El Sisi, right, with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz in Cairo. AFP

On Friday, King Salman of Saudi Arabia announced a plan to build a bridge over the Red Sea to Egypt. The move by the king, who is on a five-day visit to Egypt, is not just an expression of Riyadh’s support for the government of Abdel Fattah El Sisi, it also marks a new and historic chapter in joint Arab cooperation.

Although such projects are not unheard of in this region – indeed, a causeway connects Saudi Arabia and Bahrain – this one has a special significance as it will link two continents.

Following King Salman’s announcement, the two countries signed 17 investment deals and other agreements worth about $1.7 billion (Dh6.24bn). These included a deal to establish a university and homes in south Sinai, and a power plant. The two countries are also to expected sign energy and development deals worth $20bn in coming days.

There is no doubt that the Saudi investment will boost the Egyptian economy through trade and tourism as it will open a new route for pilgrims visiting holy sites in Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s tourism industry has been battered by recent upheaval and extremist violence. Tourism, particularly in north Sinai, has all but stopped, depriving the region of a vital source of hard currency.

The bridge project, estimated to cost between $3bn and $4bn, will augment Mr El Sisi’s long-term strategy to use mega-projects to boost the economy and create jobs. This vision became clear when the president opened a major extension of the Suez Canal last year. A strong Egypt is also vital for the security of this region. This explains why the UAE too has provided Egypt with Dh16.99bn to assist with developmental projects and charitable operations.

However, both Egypt and Saudi Arabia will be aware that this project represents an enormous engineering challenge. Even at the narrowest point of the Gulf of Aqaba, there is still 16km of water between the two countries.

Updated: April 9, 2016 04:00 AM

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