Wednesday,22 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1291, (14 - 20 April 2016)
Wednesday,22 November, 2017
Issue 1291, (14 - 20 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

A bridge to the future

The proposed King Salman Bridge between Egypt and Saudi Arabia would transform the region, not just in trade, but in geopolitics, writes Hussein Haridy

Al-Ahram Weekly

Back in March 1990, the joint Egyptian-Saudi ministerial commission headed by the foreign ministers of the two countries, the late Dr Ahmed Esmat Abdel-Meguid and the late Prince Saud Al-Faisal, agreed to build a bridge over the Gulf of Aqaba linking Egypt and Saudi Arabia. This agreement came in the wake of recognition, on the part of Egypt, of Saudi sovereignty over Sanafir and Tiran islands at the southern entrance of the gulf.

At the time, enthusiasm for the project was quite high. Present at the meetings of the joint ministerial commission was Engineer Soleiman Metwalli, the former Egyptian minister of transport, who believed that from an engineering point of view the project would be a challenge but could be constructed, provided financing was available. Everybody was encouraged at the time by the completion of the bridge linking Saudi Arabia to Bahrain, inaugurated a few years earlier.

In the second half of 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait and the strategic priorities of both Egypt and Saudi Arabia shifted to handle the highly destabilising consequences of this action, whose repercussions are still haunting the Arabs. From 1990 until today, the region has been witnessing upheavals, uprisings, invasions, revolutions and cross-border terrorism, the sum of which has led to very serious challenges to the territorial integrity of major Arab powers.

As a result, no one thought of the idea of a bridge over the southern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba until King Salman bin Abdelaziz of Saudi Arabia brought it back to life during his first official visit to Egypt, from 7-11 April. At a joint press conference with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi on Friday, the king called for the construction of such a bridge. It was the first time a Saudi monarch had talked publicly and officially about such a project. The Egyptian president proposed to call the bridge the “King Salman bin Abdelaziz Bridge”.

The construction of this bridge would transform not only the economies and trade of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but also other Gulf countries and the Mashreq ones to the north, especially Jordan and Syria. What is more important is the transformation of the geopolitics in the Arab world. For the first time since the establishment of Israel, the western and eastern part of the Arab world would be linked once more.

People, goods and ideas would cross faster across Sinai from North Africa and Africa to the Arab Peninsula, the Gulf and the Levant. Nothing short of a revolution on a people-to-people level. The idea of Arab unity, although it has lost some of its lustre during the last five decades, could be resuscitated gradually in the years to come, once construction of the bridge is complete.

The images of land caravans on camels treading along the Sinai desert from the Iberian peninsula and North Africa to the East in journeys that had lasted for three years, at least, would be replaced by Ferraris, Bentleys, Rolls Royces, Porches, Audis, Mercedes and BMWs speeding at more than one hundred kilometres per hour, if not more, criss-crossing the Gulf of Aqaba. Also Arab military convoys, when the need arises. And this is where Israel comes in.

Once the bridge is finished, Israel would face a first from a strategic point of view. Until today, Israel has assured its security by monopolising the land route linking Egypt to the East, thus preventing the freedom of movement of Arab ground forces. With the bridge, that would change, and would pose a military challenge for the Israeli army.

With the treaty of peace with Egypt, the Israelis would not be in a position to claim that the bridge poses a threat to their security. Also the presence of multilateral peacekeeping forces in Sinai would be an added reassurance. But no one should be surprised if the Israelis exert pressure to delay construction of the bridge, if not prevent its construction, until the moment there is peace in the Middle East.

The King Salman Bridge is a bridge to the future. It is one of those ideas that are transformative in nature. Let us hope it will be a corridor to a modernised Arab world.


The writer is former assistant to the foreign minister.

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