Egypt parliament gives go-ahead to Saudi King's Sinai development programme

Gamal Essam El-Din , Sunday 26 Jun 2016

Saudi King Salman's Sinai development programme was finally approved by Egypt's parliament on Sunday

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, right, sits with Saudi Arabia's King Salman in Cairo, Egypt (AP)

Egypt MPs approved in a plenary session on Sunday a presidential decree on a Saudi-Egyptian loan agreement – the King Salman Programme for the Development of Sinai – that targets development in the peninsula.

The agreement, which was signed in Riyadh in March, provides Egypt with a $1.5 billion soft-term loan to help develop Sinai and buy Saudi oil products.

"Half-a-million dollars from the loan will be allocated to developing Sinai in the form of building the King Salman University in El-Tor, funding agricultural and irrigation projects and upgrading North Sinai's road network," said a report by parliament's Economic Affairs Committee.

The remaining $1 billion will be earmarked for buying Saudi oil products, which "Egypt needs for development purposes."

The loan agreement was provisionally approved by parliament in the first week of June.

Parliament's Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee concluded at the time that the loan agreement is in line with Article 151 of the constitution, which stipulates that no foreign agreement can be approved if it involves Egypt ceding part of its territory to another country.

"It is clear the Sinai development agreement with Saudi Arabia does not affect Egypt's sovereign rights in any way, and therefore it will not be put to a public referendum," said parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Al.

In its report on Sunday, the Economic Affairs Committee said the agreement – signed by Egypt's Minister of International Cooperation Sahar Nasr and Saudi Minister of Finance Ibrahim Al-Assaf on 20 March – aims at helping Egypt improve the performance of its national economy.

The report also said the agreement "forms a basic part of Saudi Arabia's package of financial support deals unveiled during the Sharm El-Sheikh Economic Development Summit last March."

'Landmark deal' 

Mohamed Anwar El-Sadat, chairman of parliament's Human Rights Committee, said the agreement represents a landmark deal aimed at changing the face of Sinai.

"But we hope that this agreement does not turn out be a fiasco like many previous ones that were aimed at developing Sinai," said El-Sadat, adding that "different institutions like the Ministry of Reconstruction and the Armed Forces Development Apparatus have previously attempted to develop Sinai but without success."

El-Sadat recommended that a special apparatus under the name "Sinai Development Apparatus" be formed to take charge of implementing all Sinai development programmes.

"This will help implement these programmes in short time and in an efficient way," said Sadat.

Salma El-Roqaie, a North Sinai MP, said that not only will the Saudi loan help develop Sinai, but will also help rid it of terrorism.

"Channelling a lot of investments into Sinai will stand as an obstacle in the way of terrorist groups turning it into a magnet for terrorism and violence," said El-Roqaie.

El-Roqaie also said that building a bridge between Egypt and Saudi Arabia will revolutionise development in Sinai.

"Not only will the agreement help connect Sinai with other parts of Egypt, but will also help connect it with Arab Gulf countries, Jordan and Iraq," said El-Roqaie.

Parliament's approval of King Salman's Sinai development programme was completed on the same day Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court was hearing a government appeal on the Saudi-Egyptian border demarcation case.

The appeal was filed against the Cairo Administrative Court ruling on 21 July voiding the border re-demarcation agreement signed between Cairo and Riyadh that placed the two islands of Tiran and Sanafir in Saudi waters.

Parliament speaker Ai Abdel-Al said in a TV interview this week that it is parliament that will have the final say on the Red Sea islands agreement.

Bahaaeddin Abu Shoka, chairman of parliament's Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, said that "if, like the King Salman loan agreement, the Red Sea agreement is judged not to be in violation of Article 151 of the constitution, it will not need to be put to a public referendum".

He also insisted that "regardless of any court rulings, it is parliament that must have the final say on the agreement in line with Article 151 of the constitution."

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