The historic decision by Saudi Arabia and Egypt to connect via a bridge across the Red Sea was overwhelmingly welcomed on Saturday by Saudi society and Egyptian expatriates, the largest group of Arab expatriates in the Kingdom
To be named after Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, the Red Sea causeway will be built between the Kingdom and Egypt linking Tabuk to the resort city of Sharm El-Sheikh passing through Tiran Island at the entrance of Gulf of Aqaba with a total length of 23km.
The project was announced by King Salman in Cairo on Friday, on the second day of his five-day official visit to Egypt.
The signing of the accord is the fruition of an idea mooted three decade ago for a land bridge between the two continents. Technical studies differed on the location. Some of them stated that the linkage should be made between the two countries south of Sharm El-Sheikh between Ras Nasrani and the Straits of Tiran.
Other environmental studies proposed a land route to the Gulf of Aqaba and then over shallow waters on traditional bridges and then enter Tiran over another land route to the eastern coast at Ras Hamid in Saudi Arabia.
Studies showed that opening a bridge in the Gulf of Aqaba will need to be 50 meters high to enable commercial and tourist ships to pass through.
Bechtel, a specialized consultancy, presented a number of recommendations in 2005, on top of which was the dual use of the causeway with a petroleum oil line from the Kingdom to enter the Sinai and through the Suez Canal to be linked with an Egyptian pipeline. Saudi oil would be exported to the Sidi Kareer Port, west of Alexandria, and be nearer to European markets.
Money could be saved in costs using the Nolon cargo highway, at $1 per barrel, which would pay for most of the cost of establishing a land-route bridge in about one year.
This is in addition to charges to be imposed on lorries carrying trade, foodstuff and vegetable cargos transported between Arab countries. The revenues can benefit daily maintenance.
Bechtel had then estimated that the bridge would cost $3 billion and could be completed in three years.
Welcoming the decision, Mohammed Alkhnessi, a senior member of the Shoura Council, told Arab News: “As this significant visit is aimed at bolstering bilateral relations, the agreement to build the bridge will bring the Kingdom and Egypt even closer.”
He said Egypt is very important to us; being an Arab League country it plays very crucial role to boost Arab unity.
He added that as Egyptian manpower plays an important role in our country, “this bridge will fill the gap with close connectivity, saving hours, in addition to serving our own strategic defense and trade purposes and safeguarding our oil supply to Africa in the future.”
Describing it as a landmark decision, Majed Abdullah Al-Hedayan, a consultant on legal affairs at the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “The new Red Sea bridge, to provide direct road linkage between the Kingdom and Egypt, will not only connect the two friendly countries but also the two largest continents of Asia and Africa, and will help immensely to increase productivity with increased activity, and will reflect well on the development of trade, which is expected to be around $200 billion.”
This bridge will assist in attracting more foreign investment to the Kingdom and Egypt, he added.
Moreover, “this kind of project proves the strength of the Saudi economy,” he underlined.
Mona Salahuddin Al-Munajjed, a prominent sociologist and writer, welcomed the announcement saying this move will add value and bolster bilateral trade and commerce.
Besides helping to boost commercial activities between Asia and Africa, it will also help immensely in cultural exchanges and pilgrims from Africa coming to the Kingdom for Haj and Umrah.
She, however, put a word of caution. The coral reefs on the Tabuk side of the Red Sea need environmental protection during the construction of the bridge.
Abdullah Inayat, a public relation manager, praised the project saying the causeway will help trade between Asia and Africa reach unprecedented levels.
Suleiman Taha, an Egyptian expatriate working as a sales executive, said it will bring a qualitative transformation in trade and commerce, transportation and cultural exchange with more tourist arrivals.
Mohammad Sharif, another Egyptian expatriate working as an accountant, praised the move saying it will boost tourism and offer improved access for pilgrims visiting the holy sites.
Source: Arab News