Saturday,18 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1350, (22 June - 5 July 2017)
Saturday,18 August, 2018
Issue 1350, (22 June - 5 July 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Security and prosperity

Egypt’s House of Representatives has rightly affirmed the Saudi-Egyptian maritime agreement. Now is the time to secure its true gains, writes Abdel-Moneim Said

The crisis pitting Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt against Qatar, backed by Iran and Turkey, will take its time to play out. But Kuwaiti mediating efforts have delivered the message to Doha clearly: no one wants to punish Qatar or impose unsustainable burdens on our fellow Qatari people. Qatar’s brothers in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and in Egypt merely want Qatar to cease supporting, funding and arming terrorists and to abandon its game of playing Arab alliances, on the one hand, and Iran, Turkey and their instruments, on the other, against the middle. However, what is important at the moment is that, as the Chinese saying goes, the crisis comes with both risks and opportunities. Perhaps at the heart of opportunity, here, is that the four-member alliance was forged at a critical and complex juncture in order deliver an important message to Qatar and, moreover, to collectively contend with international and regional responses to the rupture of diplomatic relations with Qatar. The wills of four major Arab states converged with the intent to act in concert on the terrain of political, diplomatic and strategic realities, not just to deliver defeat to terrorism and those that support it but also to restore security to this region and to establish a regional security system capable of ensuring development and prosperity for its people.

Fortunately, conditions now favour much more than assorted arrangements and measures. The Egyptian House of Representatives has just approved the agreement delineating the maritime boundaries between Egypt and Saudi Arabia in accordance with Egyptian legislative procedures and following a confrontation between the government and opposition during which Qatar, once again, tried to practise its adolescent political wiles. The attempt failed to reduce the agreement, which covers a vast area stretching from the Gulf of Aqaba in the north to the 22nd degree latitude in the south, merely to the question of the Tiran and Sanafir islands.

From a purely economic perspective, the huge economic potentials on both sides of the Red Sea offer hope for the creation of what will be at one and the same time a vast maritime security zone and vast mutual prosperity zone. Both the “Saudi Vision 2030” and the “Egyptian Vision 2030” place great emphasis on the optimum economic utilisation of the Red Sea area, inclusive of its waters, coastlines and islands, with all the touristic and mineral resources it offers and its potential to serve as a multidimensional bridge between the Arabian Peninsula and Egypt. In fact, the “Saudi Vision 2030” contains a dynamic perception of this bridge as a means to bolster the Saudi geostrategic position by extending it to the eastern Mediterranean via the Suez Canal. It was no coincidence that the agreements signed during the visit by the Saudi monarch to Cairo in April 2016 included a $105 billion Sinai development project and a plan to build a King Salman Mosque in Ras Sudr on the eastern shore of the Gulf of Suez.

The Egyptian Vision 2030 converges with that of Saudi Arabia in Sinai. Egypt has set into motion an ambitious project that exceeds by far the currently existing Ahmed Hamdi Tunnel linking Suez city — and by extension the Nile Valley — to South Sinai; the Al-Salam Bridge linking the Nile Valley to North Sinai; and the SUMED project carrying Gulf oil from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. The new project features six tunnels beneath the Suez Canal to facilitate the passage of people and goods, and cars, trains and other forms of transport between the two banks of the Suez. The Suez Canal Corridor project is probably the largest development project in Egypt’s modern history. It is based on a triangle that has its tip at the ports of Port Said and Damietta in the north while its base is demarcated by the Cairo-Ain Sokhna road where the new administrative capital will stand soon. The eastern and western legs of the triangle are shaped by the Suez Canal and by the Damietta branch of the Nile. Below this triangle a development process in progress to link Upper Egypt with the Red Sea by means of a network of latitudinal roads which are lined with components of the “golden triangle” project that seeks to tap the many mineral resources in that area, not to mention the huge tourist capacities centred around such Red Sea towns as Hurghada, Safaga, Quseir and Marsa Alam. To the south of all of this is the developmentally and economically virgin area of Halayeb and Shalateen.

The Saudi and Egyptian visions are mutually complementary and furnish an immense space for mutual cooperation and mutual success.

Perhaps the natural starting point for all this was to put into effect the agreements signed between Cairo and Riyadh, as these agreements lay the cornerstone that will have political consequences as important as their economic ones. The political component proves that the opponents to the maritime boundaries agreement, on the Egyptian side in particular, were wrong by abbreviating its substance to two islands since, in fact, it will inject life into more than 81 islands situated in the Egyptian maritime economic zone and into a similar number, I believe, on the Saudi side. Because of such benefits, the Cairo-Saudi agreements could possibly become a framework for mutual consultation and deliberation over a broad range of mutual interests and concerns.

However, the horizons of the Saudi and Egyptian visions are much broader and could lead to the declaration of a Saudi-Egyptian economic cooperation and prosperity zone in the Red Sea. Its aims would be multi-fold: firstly, to ensure the security of navigation in the Red Sea against all types of threats; secondly, to develop ambitious joint development projects starting at Tiran and Sanafir islands which would become a meeting point between the Egyptian and Saudi people by means of the envisioned King Salman Bridge; and, thirdly, to open a large window to long-term investment for the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and even Qatar once its wakes from its folly and stops supporting terrorism and terrorist organisations in the region.

A project of this sort requires a mechanism for drawing up the necessary plans and devising the appropriate means for their implementation so that participants can maximise the opportunity to realise their economic and strategic interests. There are in fact precedents to draw on, such as SUMED, which has proven a superb example of success in economic cooperation, although it should be borne in mind the envisioned project is far more extensive in scope, covers a larger geographic area and is more diverse in its aims. The mechanism could take the form of a joint council that would be responsible to the leaderships of both countries and that would propose plans, projections and means of implementation.

Perhaps, in a way, the Arab Common Security and Prosperity Zone could perform the role that the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) performed at the outset of the European Common Market that has since evolved into the European Community and the EU. A large degree of intensive cooperation in an important matter is generally instrumental to the spread of cooperation to other areas and concerns.

Although it is always acceptable to dream, the question now is how to begin from the present point, following the Egyptian legislature’s ratification of the maritime borders agreement, and proceed to the creation of the envisioned security and prosperity zone. The people’s eyes are on us and history is watching. They are wondering whether the current generation will be able to take advantage of the available opportunities or, conversely, whether they will prove that the circles of the politically immature who opposed the agreement will win once more and drag us backwards.

The writer is chairman of the board, CEO and director of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies.

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