Saudi King announces bridge to Egypt

King Salman (left) after being presented with the Nile Collar, Egypt's highest state honour, by President Sisi.
King Salman (left) after being presented with the Nile Collar, Egypt's highest state honour, by President Sisi.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Project 'to connect two continents' represents show of support for Egypt's President Sisi

CAIRO • Saudi King Salman has announced plans to build a bridge over the Red Sea to Egypt in a show of support for the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, following a meeting at Ittahidiya Palace in Cairo.

The 80-year-old monarch is on a rare five-day trip to Egypt, a country that Riyadh views as a cornerstone to its ambitions in the changing region. Saudi Arabia has been the key backer of Mr Sisi since 2013, when the then army chief overthrew his Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood movement was viewed with suspicion by Riyadh.

"I agreed with my brother, His Excellency President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, to build a bridge connecting the two countries," King Salman said. "This historic step to connect the two continents, Africa and Asia, is a qualitative transformation that will increase trade between the two continents to unprecedented levels."

Mr Sisi, who minutes earlier had presented the King with the ceremonial Nile Collar, Egypt's highest state honour, suggested naming the structure the King Salman bin Abdel Aziz Bridge.

Following King Salman's announcement, representatives of both countries signed 17 investment deals and memorandums of understanding amounting to about US$1.7 billion (S$2.3 billion).

"This visit comes as a confirmation of the pledges of brotherhood and solidarity before the two brotherly countries," Mr Sisi said.

"I believe that the special nature of the Saudi-Egyptian relationship... will enable us to confront together shared challenges and to deal seriously with whoever tries to harm Arab national security."

The visit follows months of reports in both Saudi and Egyptian newspapers of strained ties over Cairo's unwillingness to participate fully in Saudi-led military operations against Iran-backed Shi'ite rebels in Yemen.

Egypt had announced it would back Saudi Arabia with ground troops if needed, but appears to have balked at the prospect of becoming mired in the conflict.

Mr Sisi's close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who militarily backs Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad against Saudi-supported rebels, has reportedly also caused friction with Riyadh.

However, Saudi Arabia has played a key role in propping up Egypt's economy, whose vital tourism industry has been devastated by years of political turmoil and militant attacks.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 10, 2016, with the headline 'Saudi King announces bridge to Egypt'. Print Edition | Subscribe