Saudi crown prince discusses economy on Egypt trip
CAIRO, March 5, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman continued a visit to Egypt on Monday focused on economic cooperation, with Riyadh agreeing a $10 billion investment with Cairo for a futuristic mega city project.
Prince Mohammed accompanied Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to review construction projects near the Suez Canal before boarding a boat with the president to tour the waterway.
A Saudi government source said the two countries had agreed to set up a joint $10 billion fund to develop areas of Egypt linked to the NEOM project.
The $500 billion NEOM mega city, unveiled by Prince Mohammed last year, is planned to be a biotech and digital hub spread over 26,500 square kilometres (10,000 square miles) in an area facing Jordan and Egypt.
The Saudi government source said the joint fund, which involves leased land for the Egyptian share, would be used to develop lands in the south of the Sinai Peninsula as part of NEOM.
Prince Mohammed, who landed in Cairo on Sunday, is to fly to Britain on Wednesday and later this month to the United States, in his first forays abroad as crown prince.
His visit to Egypt deals with “economic and investment cooperation,” Egyptian presidency spokesman Bassam Radi told state television.
Prince Mohammed and Sisi agreed in talks to bolster economic ties and launch joint projects, “particularly in the tourism sector on the Red Sea,” Radi said.
Later on Monday Prince Mohammed met Egypt’s top cleric Ahmed al-Tayeb of the Al-Azhar institution, whose historic mosque in Cairo is being renovated with Saudi funding.
He will also meet Coptic Pope Tawadros II.
Saudi Arabia views Egypt as a cornerstone of regional stability, after former army chief Sisi overthrew his Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
Riyadh viewed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood with suspicion and at one point briefly recalled its ambassador from Cairo during his turbulent year in power.
It has since showered Cairo with aid to prop up the country’s economy, in a relationship that has led to some controversy in Egypt.
In 2015, during a visit by King Salman to Cairo, the two countries agreed on the transfer of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, sparking protests in Egypt.
Sisi ratified the deal last year, and Egypt’s top court annulled lower court rulings for and against the treaty on the eve of the crown prince’s arrival.
Prince Mohammed’s visit comes ahead of Egypt’s presidential polls in late March, with Sisi expected to win a second four-year term.
The visit would be “interpreted as proof of Saudi support for Sisi to remain as the president of Egypt,” Mostafa Kamel al-Sayed, a political science professor at Cairo University, told AFP.
Cairo and Riyadh have maintained close ties, although Egypt has signalled a lack of enthusiasm for Saudi regional policy, both on the Yemen war and a potential escalation with Iran.
But it is among a bloc of Arab nations that joined a Saudi-led boycott since June of Qatar.
The crown prince’s tour also aims to court investors and comes after a tumultuous period that has seen a military shake-up and a royal purge in Saudi Arabia.
Prince Mohammed is already seen as the country’s de facto ruler controlling the major levers of government.