Saudi Arabia Draws Egypt Closer With New Bridge Linking Sinai to Arabia

Egypt's failing economy is forcing it to cling to Saudi Arabia and the other rich Gulf states but their support comes with a price.

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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In this picture taken Friday, April 8, 2016, provided by the office of the Egyptian Presidency, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, right, stand as with Saudi Arabia's King Salman in Cairo.
In this picture taken Friday, April 8, 2016, provided by the office of the Egyptian Presidency, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, right, stand as with Saudi Arabia's King Salman in Cairo. Credit: AP
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

Saudi monarch Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi announced the construction of a bridge which will connect the Sinai Peninsula to the Arabian Peninsula for the first time.

The announcement was made Friday at a ceremony in Cairo at the outset of the Saudi monarch's five-day visit in Egypt. According to the announcement, the bridge will span between seven to ten kilometers (about four to six miles) and will cross the Red Sea just south of the Straits of Tiran.

The Egyptian president surprised his royal guest when he suggested during the ceremony that the bridge be named in his honor, a statement that received enthusiastic applause from the massive entourage that accompanied the king. According to Egyptian sources the bridge will be four lanes wide (two in each direction) and will include railroad tracks, which will mostly serve for the transport of goods.

Financial commentators have claimed that the bridge would generate billions of dollars in annual revenue, and the construction will create thousands of jobs for Egyptian workers. According to exports, the idea of connecting Saudi Arabia to the Sinai isn't new. It was first proposed in 1988 but didn't take place due to political and diplomatic reasons, including Israel's objection to the plan.

Dr. Yoram Meital, an expert on Egypt at Ben Gurion University told Haaretz that due to the changing situation in the region and the tightening relations between Israel and the Egyptians and Saudis, Israel would have no real reason to oppose the plan.

Meital explained that in addition to the economic side of the visit, King Salman's state visit represents Saudi Arabia's attempt to draw Cairo closer as a major player in the Saudi alliance against Iran in a conflict that is currently being fought on two fronts in Syria and Yemen. Though, just two weeks ago, Syrian President Bashar Assad spoke of Damascus and Cairo's warming relations.

For the Egyptians and for President al-Sissi the most burning matter is the recovery of the economy and advancing a number of grandiose plans like the new Suez Canal, which was inaugurated last year but has yet to lead to any rise in revenues.

Egypt's failing economy has greatly weakened Egypt's geopolitical power; leading to Egypt's cleaving to Saudi Arabia and the other rich Gulf states, which sometimes comes with a price. For example, it may have forced Egypt to support the Saudi proposal to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. A few days ago, Hezbollah's television station Al-Manar, was taken off Egyptian satellite – Nilesat.

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