King Salman, Sissi agree to build Saudi-Egypt link bridge

* Egyptian President awards Saudi King ‘Order of the Nile’ honour

King Salman, Sissi agree to build Saudi-Egypt link bridge

CAIRO: Saudi King Salman announced Friday an agreement with Egypt to build a bridge over the Red Sea connecting the two countries, on the second day of his visit to Cairo.

The monarch made the announcement in televised comments after meeting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and before representatives of the two countries began signing investment deals.

“I agreed with my brother his Excellency President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to build a bridge connecting the two countries,” Salman said.

“This historic step to connect the two continents, Africa and Asia, is a qualitative transformation that will increase trade between the two continents to unprecedented levels,” he added.

A beaming Sisi, who had minutes before presented the king with the ceremonial Nile Collar, suggested they name the bridge “King Salman bin Abdel Aziz Bridge”.

Following the announcement, representatives of both countries signed 17 investment deals and memorandums of understanding. A government official had said the deals agreed with Saudi Arabia throughout Salman’s visit would amount to about $1.7 billion (1.5 billion euros). They included an agreement to set up a university and homes in South Sinai, and a power plant.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi bestowed the Order of the Nile medal, Egypt’s highest state honour, on King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia in Cairo on Friday. The medal is granted for exceptional services to the nation, and is often awarded to heads of friendly foreign states. Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel-Aziz received the honour during his visit to Cairo last week.

King Salman, who is currently in the second day of his five-day visit to Egypt, met with El-Sisi on Saturday in the Ittihadeya presidential palace to the receive the honour, amid heavy media and presence. The king has signed a number of economic accords, including the framework for a number of loans signed in March, worth over $20 billion. On Friday, the king was greeted on arrival at Cairo International Airport by El-Sisi. Security was tight in the capital.

According to Saudi ambassador to Cairo Ahmed Qattan, the delegation accompanying the Salman includes 18 ministers and 25 Saudi princes. The ambassador described it as the biggest such delegation to a foreign country in the history of the Saudi kingdom. Salman is expected to receive the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II, and Al-Azhar’s top cleric, Ahmed El-Tayeb, at his residence in Cairo on Friday. The visit will be the first such in the history of the Coptic Orthodox Church, according to spokesperson Father Boules Halim.

On Saturday, the king expected to visit Al-Azhar and then place a foundation stone for the residential area for expatriate students. Qattan also said that more investment deals between Saudi businessmen and Egypt will be announced on Saturday. King Salman arrived in Egypt Thursday for a five-day visit, his first to this most populous Arab country since he ascended to the throne more than a year. The visit is seen as showing support for Al Sissi whose country is grappling with economic woes and Islamist insurgency.

King Salman is expected on Saturday to visit Al Azhar, Egypt’s influential Sunni Muslim seat of learning. On Sunday, he will address the Egyptian parliament. The Cairo University, Egypt’s leading public academic institution, has said it will offer an honorary doctorate to the Saudi leader. Saudi Arabia has been a major diplomatic and financial backer of Egypt since the army’s mid-2013 overthrow of president Mohammad Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood.