Cairo and Riyadh cooperate 'to achieve common goals': King Salman tells Egypt parliament

Gamal Essam El-Din , Ayat Al Tawy , Sunday 10 Apr 2016

In a landmark speech to the Egyptian parliament, the first-ever by a Saudi king, Salman stressed economic, political and military cooperation between the two countries

Saudi Arabia's King Salman (L) speaks at the Egyptian parliament house in Cairo, Egypt, April 10, 2016 (Photo: Courtesy of Saudi press Agency)

Saudi Arabia's King Salman said on Sunday that Riyadh and Cairo have agreed to set up a "free trade zone" in the Sinai Peninsula, adding that both nations will go on with efforts to form a pan-Arab military force to combat terrorism.

The Saudi monarch made the remarks during a "historic" address at the Egyptian parliament, the first time a Saudi king has addressed the chamber.

Parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Al welcomed Salman with a praising address that was repeatedly interrupted by enthusiastic ovation.

Abdel-Al's introduction highlighted strong ties, "integration" and anti-terrorism cooperation between the two Arab nations.

King Salman said Egypt and the Gulf kingdom have agreed to establish a free trade zone to develop Egypt's border Sinai region as part of a multitude of deals and memorandums the two countries have signed during the visit.

He added that the two "brotherly nations" are working together "to go ahead with setting up the joint Arab [military] force," which will allow both countries and their allies to intervene in regional areas of conflict.

Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi proposed in 2015 the creation of a joint Arab military force. Last February, El-Sisi said that the need for military force is growing every day as the region faces the threat of Islamist militancy.

During his six-minute speech, Salman urged the need to find "practical solutions to combat terrorism," while stressing that the two Arab allies will "cooperate to achieve common goals."

Salman added that an inter-continental bridge connecting Egypt and Saudi Arabia would be built across the Red Sea to "boost Saudi-Egyptian trade, provide job opportunities for youth in the region... and serve as a pathway for pilgrims."

The Saudi king arrived in Egypt Thursday on a five-day visit, his first to Egypt since ascending to the throne in January 2015.

International cooperation minister Sahar Nasr told Ahram Online on Sunday that Cairo and Riyadh signed final agreements during the king's visit worth over $24 billion, including $22 billion to finance Cairo's energy needs for the next five years.

Nasr added that Cairo and Riyadh signed other memorandums of understanding worth a total of around $20 billion.

While the two Arab nations have appeared at moments to be at odds over some regional issues including the civil conflicts in Syria and Yemen, parliament speaker Abdel-Al stressed that both countries enjoy "compatible visions on all Arab and regional issues."

Riyadh has been the main backer of President El-Sisi's government following the ouster of his predecessor Mohamed Morsi in 2013, giving billions of dollars in aid, grants and cash deposits to help shore up the country's ailing economy.

The oil-rich kingdom, along with Kuwait and the UAE, has also helped Egypt meet some its energy needs over the past two years.

Around 100 Saudi officials sat in official Saudi garb in the front rows of the chamber along with Egyptian MPs to listen the Salman's speech.

Some Egyptian lawmakers waved Egyptian and Saudi national flags while others chanted "welcome, welcome" and "all Egypt greets you."

Some parliamentarians also recited poems praising the king and the Egyptian-Saudi relations.

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