Fostering Arab Unity: King Salman’s Visit to Egypt

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The ongoing state visit by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman to Egypt is emblematic of the importance of what are today the two most central countries of the Arab world. Egypt with nearly 93 million citizens is the most populous Arab country, with the largest military in the region, while Saudi Arabia is the leader of the Muslim world and has the region’s largest economy. With much of the Arab world in such disarray, it is only natural that these two countries should strengthen and expand historic ties and look for ways to rescue countries in our region that are at war.The Kingdom and Egypt have relations that stretch back to 1926 when the two countries signed a Treaty of Friendship, and the first meeting between King Abdul Aziz and King Farouk in 1945. It was during another visit in 1946 that King Abdul Aziz gave final approval to the Kingdom’s accession to the Arab League, which is based in Cairo.

The two countries signed a joint defense agreement in 1955. “Arabs are indispensable for Egypt and Egypt is indispensable for Arabs,” King Abdul Aziz said at the time. This agreement assured Egypt the Kingdom’s support when it was attacked in 1956 by British and French forces during the Suez Canal crisis. The Saudis supported the Egyptians’ demand calling for the withdrawal of British troops. The Kingdom also backed Egypt when it was attacked by Israel in the 1973 war.

But affinities and cooperation between the two countries have long been shared across many areas, be they economic, political, military, educational and travel-related. Saudis have for decades studied in Egyptian universities, creating strong ties between them — Egyptians and their culture. Since the 1970s, Egyptians have been working in the Kingdom in sectors ranging from construction to medicine and education. For more than 50 years, Cairo has been a favorite summer holiday destination for Saudi tourists, many of whom bought apartments there, and have been an important source of income for restaurants, cinemas, shops and cafes in Cairo and Alexandria.

On the economic front, Saudis are the largest Arab investors in the Egyptian economy. It is estimated that more than $5.77 billion have been invested by Saudis in Egypt from 1970 until the end of 2013 in the fields of industry, construction, tourism, financing, agriculture and communications.

King Salman and his delegation of high-level ministers and princes will be signing an array of investment agreements with Egypt that will pump an estimated $22 billion into the local economy. Agreements for soft loans of $20 billion to finance Egypt’s five-year petroleum needs will be signed, as well as another one worth $1.5 billion for 12 development projects in the Sinai. The Saudi Development Fund is also providing a SR450 million loan to renovate Cairo’s Kasr El-Aini Hospital, and another loan of $100 million to finance the expansion of the West Cairo power station to generate an additional 650 megawatts.

All of this aid has been crucial in supporting the government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi following the overthrow of President Muhammad Mursi in July 2013, and the huge drop in tourist arrivals following the upheaval of the Arab Spring demonstrations that started in 2011. But also as important is the strategic and military alliance that is growing between our two countries.

Egypt has been crucial in policing the Sinai, where it faces ongoing threats from several terrorist groups, and the Red Sea shipping lanes from the Suez Canal all the way down to Bab Al-Mandib Strait in Yemen.

Egypt has joined the Islamic coalition led by the Kingdom to fight terrorism in the region, participating in the impressive Northern Thunder military exercises held last month in Hafr Al-Batin.

“The region’s stability is contingent upon the alliance between Egypt and Saudi Arabia,” former Egyptian Ambassador to Washington

Abdel Raouf Al-Ridi told Al-Arabiya English. “This is especially the case now with the Syria and Yemen crises needing the input of both countries.”
Egypt, the Kingdom and Turkey are also reportedly in exploratory talks to form an alliance that would serve as a bulwark against Iranian expansion in the region. “Both countries will discuss the means of creating a unified Arab position on Iranian expansions in the region and the means of curbing them,” Dr. Sadaka bin Yehia Fadel, a member of the Saudi Shoura Council, told Al-Arabiyah English. “Both Egypt and Saudi Arabia announced that their top priority is Arab national security and this necessitates facing the Iranian threat,” Anwar Eshki, director of the Jeddah-based Middle East Center for Strategic Studies, told the website.

King Salman will visit the Egyptian Parliament on Sunday. This will be highly symbolic of the strategic partnership taken on by both countries in a Middle East beset with armed conflicts from Libya to Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Now more than ever Egypt and Saudi Arabia must pool their economic and military resources to help pull these Arab countries back from the brink and to restore some sort of sanity so that healing and growth can return to the region. Arab unity has never before been so much in disarray and at such risk. With the American withdrawal from the region’s conflicts, we Arabs must lead and prove to ourselves and the world that we can solve our own problems. King Salman and President El-Sisi will surely lead us and show us the way to more peace, unity, reconciliation and prosperity.

____________________________________________________________________________________Arab News

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