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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Saudi crown prince tours Suez Canal zone on second day of Egypt visit

Riyadh and Cairo underline commitment to joint development with multibillion-dollar deal

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi visit the Suez Canal at the city of Ismailia on March 5, 2018. Egyptian Presidency handout / EPA
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi visit the Suez Canal at the city of Ismailia on March 5, 2018. Egyptian Presidency handout / EPA

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El Sisi played the proud tour guide on Monday as he took to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on an inspection tour of Suez Canal zone infrastructure projects.

The two leaders took in the modernised port facilities, expanded waterway and new tunnels running under the canal that are part of Mr El Sisi's plan to develop the area into an international transport, logistics and production hub.

Egyptian media meanwhile lauded Prince Mohammed for making Egypt his first foreign visit since becoming crown prince last June, and local news channels devoted hours of live broadcast coverage to his Suez visit.

Egyptian officials were eager to emphasise an integrated economic vision shared by the two leaders, embodied by the planned King Salman Bridge linking the countries across the Gulf of Aqaba.

“The Suez Canal Development Corridor will turn Egypt into a global logistics hub,” said Mohab Mamish, chairman of the Suez Canal Authority.

He positioned Ismailia as the Mediterranean gateway for Prince Mohammed's Neom project – a new business and industrial city powered by clean energy that will be built adjacent to Jordan and Egypt on the shores of the Red Sea.

On Sunday, Mr El Sisi and Prince Mohammed launched a $16 billion (Dh59bn) Saudi-Egyptian investment pact committing the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) and the Egyptian Ministry of Investment and International Cooperation to develop the Egyptian side of Neom. Egypt has allocated 1,000 square kilometres in South Sinai for the project.

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Read more: Touring Mohammed bin Salman eyes partners for change

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Complementing the economic development, the two countries also signed a Red Sea environmental pact to protect the maritime environment and preserve coral reefs and beaches. While Saudi Arabia plans to build seven new cities with tourism projects on its coast, Egypt will focus on upgrading the existing resort cities of Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada,

The two leaders also addressed mutual political concerns as Prince Mohammed began his visit on Sunday, with Mr El Sisi affirming that "the security of the Gulf is an integral part of Egyptian national security”, with presidential spokesman Bassam Rady said.

Prince Mohammed has also moved to demonstrate his support of Mr El Sisi's "new religious discourse” to counter extremism, which emphasises Islam as a religion open to and respectful of other faiths and renouncing the confrontational "takfiri" approach to people with different beliefs.

He met Pope Tawadros II, the head of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church, at St Mark's Coptic Cathedral in Cairo on Monday evening, in what was the first visit by a Saudi crown prince to the headquarters of the largest Christian denomination in the Middle East.

“I really believe that the crown prince is genuinely modern and an enlightened leader, and his meeting with Pope Tawadros obviously reflects this,” said Michael Mamdouh, 20, a Coptic Christian undergraduate at Ain Shams University. “Our relationship is getting better and will definitely improve the well-being of the country. We need Saudi support now.”

After meeting the pope Prince Mohammed was scheduled to attend a contemporary Arabic theatre performance at the Cairo Opera House with Mr El Sisi, reflecting the greater openness towards entertainment and the arts that he has introduced as part of wide-ranging reforms in Saudi Arabia.

A source in the presidential palace said plans were being made for the crown prince to attend Egypt’s parliament on Wednesday, the final day of his visit.