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Cover Story, Saudi Affairs

Saudi Arabia and Egypt: Towards a Brighter Future for the Region

Crown Prince and Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman al-Saud (R) and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (C) inspect investment projects in Ismailia, Egypt on March 05, 2018. (Getty)

by Farah Hashem

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman embarked on a three-country visit with stops in Cairo, London and New York, as part of his first foreign tour as heir to the Saudi throne.

In his first stop in Cairo, the Saudi Crown prince held talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi where they discussed political, economic and other regional issues. This was followed by visits to Al-Azhar Mosque, St Mark’s Cathedral and the Opera House.

Egypt gave a warm welcome to Saudi Crown Prince upon his arrival. Posters featuring the Crown Prince alongside President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi lined major roads in central Cairo. Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Egypt reflects the Kingdom’s desire for a united Arab vision for the world.

RESTORATION OF AL-AZHAR

During his visit, Prince Mohammed Bin Salman was keen to have various meetings and visits within Egypt that not only relate to the region’s political situation, but to the country’s cultural and religious landmarks. His trips included a visit to the Suez Canal and a unique meeting with the Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the Diocese of Saint Mark, in the Cathedral of St. Mark, in the busy suburb of Abbasiyah in central Cairo.

The Saudi Crown Prince also held talks with Sheikh al-Azhar, Dr. Ahmad Tayeb, at al-Azhar headquarters in Cairo where he was received by several scholars. Cooperation between al-Azhar and Saudi Arabia in several different areas of common interest were discussed. The two officials stressed the importance of joint coordination in tackling challenges facing the Arab and Muslim worlds to preserve religious values, promote Islamic culture and highlight its principles of tolerance.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman hailed al-Azhar’s role in spreading Islamic teachings and serving the Muslim nation, while sources from al-Azhar said: “The visit reflects the special ties between Egypt and Saudi Arabia and the constant coordination between them on all issues that concern and Islamic and Arab countries.”

In 2014, Saudi Arabia issued a royal decree to renovate the mosque. As al-Azhar announced, the renovation works of al-Azhar mosque in Cairo were possible through a grant by the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz and a sponsorship of King Salman bin Abdelaziz.

CAIRO COPTIC CATHEDRAL

On the second day of the Saudi Prince’s visit, Ramsees Street in the heart of Cairo welcomed the Crown Prince with the Saudi flag fluttering over the walls of St Mark’s Cathedral. Pope Twadros was keen to welcome the Saudi Crown Prince, who is also the highest-ranking Saudi official to visit the cathedral since its establishment in 1968. Upon his arrival, Crown Prince was also greeted by a number of bishops of the Cairo Coptic cathedral, which is followed by more than 90 per cent of the Christians of Egypt.
The meeting held in Pope Twadros’ office had a friendly and positive atmosphere, according to church sources. Pope Twadros II said “the Prince spoke a lot about his love for Christians.” The Pope welcomed the Saudi Crown Prince “in his second home in Egypt.” He also praised Saudi Arabia for the development it is undergoing, saying that it will “help us defeat violence and terrorism that has plagued our region.”

Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman al-Saud (L) meets with The Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church Pope Tawadros II (R) in Cairo, Egypt on March 05, 2018. (Getty)

The Saudi Crown Prince and the Egyptian President then headed to the Opera House, where they were welcomed by Dr. Inas Abdel Dayem, Egyptian Minister of Culture. They watched a play starring a group of young amateurs which shed light on a number of issues related to modern-day reality. The play has been chosen by many critics as the best theatrical performance of 2017.

TRANSBOUNDARY DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS

Saudi Arabia and Egypt set up a $10 billion joint fund to develop a planned mega-city, committing more than 1,000 square kilometres in the south Sinai. A Saudi official told Reuters that Riyadh’s part of the new joint investment fund will be cash to help develop the Egyptian side of NEOM, which Prince Mohammed unveiled last October as part of plans to wean the world’s top crude exporter off oil revenues. The investment deal underlines the strategic ties between the richest Arab state and the most populous.

Saudi Arabia announced last August it was planning to develop 50 luxury resorts on islands and other sites on the Red Sea. Construction of this development is expected to start in 2019 and be completed in 2022, according to state news agency reports.

“We have started to establish tourist facilities, and we seek to achieve more integration with the neighbouring Arab countries,” the Crown Prince said.

Egypt’s president took the 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.

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

He highlighted the huge investment opportunities Ismailia offers in the industrial, service and tourism sectors, and the wide prospects offered by the cooperation between the Suez Canal Economic Zone and the ‘Neom’ project on the Red Sea coast.

A JOINT SAUDI-EGYPTIAN STATEMENT

At the end of the Saudi Crown Prince’s visit to Egypt, a joint statement was issued expressing the satisfaction of both sides with the level of cooperation and coordination between the two neighbouring countries. The statement also stressed the importance of support that serves the interests of both countries and peoples in various fields including politics, security, military, culture, education, commercial, investment and tourism. Such an investment enhances the integration and solidarity between the two countries in the face of challenges.

The statement also stressed the need to confront all those who support terrorism. The statement added that enhancing Egyptian-Saudi cooperation is a fundamental pillar for protecting Arab national security and confronting foreign interference that led to fuelling tensions, conflicts and terrorist activities in Syria, Libya and Yemen.

The two sides affirmed their full support for all the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, foremost of which is their right to establish an independent Palestinian state.

With regard to Syria, both sides stressed the importance of supporting the political process to end the Syrian crisis, so as to preserve the unity of Syrian territory and achieve the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.

The statement also focuses on the importance of preserving Yemen’s unity, achieving its security and stability, and supporting its legitimate government.

The Egyptian side condemned the launching of ballistic missiles against Saudi Arabia by the Iranian-backed terrorist Houthi group, stressing its full solidarity with Saudi Arabia in the face of any threat to its security.

The two sides affirmed their categorical rejection of Iranian interference in the internal affairs of the Arab countries, pointing to the continued coordination between them in this issue within the framework of their membership in the Arab League Committee to confront the Iranian interventions.

As for Libya, the two countries affirmed their support for the comprehensive political process led by the United Nations to resolve the Libyan crisis. Both sides confirmed that the Libyan political agreement remains the best framework for dealing with the Libyan crisis. They highlighted the importance of the implementation of all elements of the initiative presented by Ghassan Salameh, the UN envoy to Libya that calls for a political solution that achieves the security, stability and unity of Libyan territory and allows Libya to rid itself of all forms of extremism and terrorism.

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