Egypt prepares for first visit by Saudi Arabia's Mohammed bin Salman as Crown Prince

Menna Alaa El-Din , Saturday 3 Mar 2018

The visit comes as Egypt and Saudi Arabia continue to bolster economic and political ties, following a previous cool period in relations

File Photo: Saudi's now appointed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (L) meets with Egypt's President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi (R) in April 2015 (Photo: AFP)

Cairo is preparing for the first official visit to Egypt by Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman since he became Crown Prince last June.

Bin Salman is set to visit Egypt for three days, where he will meet with President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi on Sunday, according to a Friday statement by Presidency spokesman Bassam Rady.

Bin Salman will then head to the UK on 7 March and to the US on 19 March.

“Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will be an honoured guest in his second country, Egypt,” Rady said in the statement, which did not provide details about the course of the visit or topic to be discussed. 

Saudi media outlets have not mentioned specific issues to be discussed, mainly focusing instead on the impact of the overall foreign trip as a first time crown prince.

Egyptian state-owned news agency MENA described the visit as a “natural extension of human, historical, and political” relations, adding that the trip aims to boost bilateral ties between the two countries as well as "brotherly and friendly relations,” as well as coordinate positions and stances on regional and international issues.

According to the agency, El-Sisi and Bin Salman will discuss the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, as well as ways to prevent Iran from interfering with the security and domestic affairs of Arab states, the dispute with Qatar, and combating terrorism and unifying efforts to fully eliminate it.

Sunday’s visit comes as both countries seek enhanced political and economic ties, more than a year after a tug-of-war in 2016 over misunderstandings on positions on regional issues, UN Security Council resolutions on Syria, as well as a maritime border demarcation agreement that caused uproar within Egypt’s opposition.

The agreement, inked during a historic visit by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman in 2016, hands two Red Sea islands, Tiran and Sanafir, to Saudi Arabia.

It was ratified by El-Sisi 24 June 2017, following parliamentary approval in the same month.

The agreement has faced a number of legal challenges and has led to disputes over which courts have jurisdiction to hear such cases.

However, on Saturday, Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court issued a verdict that disregards all legal challenges that were outstanding and opposing the deal, one day before Bin Salman's visit.

In the last year, relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia improved, with the latter reaffirming its pledge to be a key backer to Egypt, providing billions of dollars in aid, grants, oil products and cash deposits to help the Egyptian economy following the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

In March 2017, Saudi oil company Aramco resumed providing Egypt with oil products as per agreements after a halt in October 2016 that took place following conflict over UN Security Council resolution voting on Syria.

Egyptian officials affirmed at the time that the suspension was not of a “political nature”, despite the Saudi ambassador to Egypt leaving Cairo for a short time.

“Gulf security indivisible to Egypt”

Egypt’s El-Sisi has repeatedly said, during a number of visits to the Gulf region, as well as in press interviews, that Gulf security is indivisible from Egypt’s own national security.

“We’re always together. It’s clear. Stability in the Kingdom means stability for Egypt, and vice versa. This also applies to the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait,” he told pan Arab newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat in an exclusive interview in November 2017.

He said that he and his "brothers" in the Gulf and other Arab states can fight terrorism if they are united, adding that those "evil powers" who seek to target Egypt are the same powers that seek to target the whole region.

In June 2017, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and UAE severed diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting Islamist militants and Iran, charges Qatar says are baseless.

The four Arab states affirmed "working together with partners" around the world towards finding solutions to countering terrorist organisations and extremist groups, expressing unity in their ongoing commitment to combat terrorism, drying up its funding, countering extremist ideology and the ways of its promotion, according to the statement.

Since then, the four countries have issued lists designating entities and individuals as involved in terrorist activities and linked to Qatar.

Egypt has also told Saudi Arabia it rejects attempts by Iran to shake the stability of Arab states. In November 2017, Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry asserted to Saudi Crown Prince Bin Salman, during a visit to Riyadh, Egypt's full rejection of foreign interference in the region, specifically from Iran.

Shoukry said that Egypt supports security and stability in the Gulf, as it is integral to Arab and Egyptian national security.

Both Shoukry and the Saudi prince affirmed that the stability of both Egypt and Saudi Arabia was a "valve of security" for the Arab region, adding that any damage to one of the two countries would damage the other.

Saudi Arabia has been also informed of updates regarding the controversial Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD) negotiations, which reached deadlock in recent months, between involved countries Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.

Egypt’s has also strongly denounced a series of rocket attacks against Riyadh by the Iran-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen, the latest in December 2017.

“Economic ties remain firm”

According to MENA, Saudi investments top those of Arab countries in Egypt, coming second in terms of volume of all foreign direct investment. 

In statements last February during the Egyptian-Saudi Business Council held in Cairo, Egyptian Minister of Trade Tarek Kabil said Saudi investments in Egypt hit $6.1 billion, representing around 11 percent of the total foreign investment in Egypt, and around 27 percent of total Arab investment, which reached $20 billion.

The head of the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce Ahmed El-Wakil has said Saudi Arabia ranks first among the Arab investors in Egypt, with total investments worth $27 billion in 2,900 projects in a number of fields.

Minister of Investment and International Cooperation Sahar Nasr has also been meeting a number of Saudi businessmen to present investment opportunties.

In August 2017, Egypt’s investment ministry said Saudi Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal is set to invest in a number of new touristic and construction projects in Egypt valued at $800 million, in an agreement reached with Talaat Mustafa Group (TMG) and Minister Nasr.

It’s unclear if the Saudi Prince’s plans for investment are still in effect, after he was released from detention in January, more than two months after being taken into custody in a sweeping Saudi crackdown on corruption.

Nasr also presented investment opportunities in light of Egypt’s investment friendly law, ratified in June 2017, at the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh in October 2017.

During the conference held in Riyadh, Crown Prince Bin Salman announced the listing of NEOM, a 26,500-square kilometre (10,230-square mile) zone that will extend into Jordan and Egypt, the latest and most extraordinary in a slate of privatisation programmes led by the floating of Aramco.

Adjacent to the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba and near maritime trade routes that use the Suez Canal, the zone will serve as a gateway to the proposed King Salman Bridge, which will link Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

This month, both countries are set to issue tenders for a project to link the electricity grids of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, according to Saudi newspaper Al-Madina, which quoted Egyptian Minister of Electricity Mohamed Shaker.

The project, which would cost round $1.6 billion, and to which Egypt would contribute about $600 million. would have a capacity of 3 GWs with a completion date of 2020.

According to Saudi officials, the 1,300-kilometre, 500 kV DC transmission line will start at Badr in Egypt, and pass through the northwest Saudi town of Tabuk and end in Saudi’s Al-Madina.

Egypt’s El-Sisi has praised the steps of Bin Salman's anti-corruption campaign that saw toppled a number of businessmen and Saudi officials in November 2017.

“I place on record my appreciation and respect for the kingdom’s steps on various levels, which will have a positive impact, domestically and internationally,” El-Sisi said during the Al-Sharq Al Aswat interview, describing the steps as "bold and well thought out".

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