A COAST TO COAST CAUSE

Saudi Arabia 2016 | CONSTRUCTION & REAL ESTATE | FOCUS: KING SALMAN BRIDGE

King Salman Bridge will link the continents of Africa and Asia and is expected to boost tourism and trade between West Africa and the Middle East.

Last April, King Salman went on a landmark five-day visit to Egypt. It was his first official visit since ascending to the throne in January 2015 and the longest ever made by a Saudi monarch to its neighbor to the west. On the second day of the visit and after meeting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi at the Ittahidiya Palace, King Salman said during a televised announcement that the two leaders had agreed to build a bridge connecting the two countries. The King defined it as a historic step to connect the continents of Africa and Asia and as a qualitative transformation able to increase trade between the two continents to unprecedented levels. Upon Al-Sisi's proposal, the structure will be named King Salman Bridge.

Although there are not yet any confirmed details about the massive bit of infrastructure that will link the Arab states, the bridge is expected to stretch from the uninhabited headland of Ras Alsheikh Hamid in Saudi Arabia to Ras Nasrani, a district of Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt, just South of the town of Nabq, where the two countries are only 16km apart. The bridge's total length will depend on its position, but it will presumably stretch 30km, crossing the Strait of Tiran at the same place where Moses is said to have parted the Red Sea. For approximately 20km, it will lay on pillars in shallow waters to reach Tiran Island and then will continue over the sea for about 8-10km to the Egyptian coast. More importantly, the structure will accommodate not only three lanes for cars and trucks in each direction but also a two-track railway, thus promoting both tourism and commercial trade.
According to Ibrahim Al-Dimairi, former Egyptian Minister of Transport and mastermind of the project in 2013, the cost of the project is expected to exceed $3 billion, and the investment would be easily off set in 10 years by tolls paid by tourists, traders, and, in great majority, pilgrims headed to the two Saudi holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

The idea of a Saudi-Egyptian bridge emerged originally in the 1980s. The project has since been in the pipeline for years, discussed on several occasions but constantly failing to come to fruition due to conflicting interests raised by different countries. Rejected in 2006 by then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, concerns had also been expressed by Jordan and Israel, which had economic and security interests incompatible with the project.
Revisited most recently in 2012, the bridge was intended to be named after the then-Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud. Operations were expected to begin in mid-2013 at an estimated cost of $4 billion but, once again, everything stopped at the planning stage.

The Red Sea bridge is considered by politicians and economists as a tremendous step in increasing cooperation between the two countries as well as crucial to boost bilateral and regional trade. It will generate investment and job opportunities and reduce times and costs of transport for people and goods. It will be particularly beneficial for revitalizing the Egyptian economy, which has been badly affected by the turmoil that has occurred in recent years by making the country the new gateway for commercial activities between West Africa and the rich Gulf countries. It will be a game-changer for the tourism sector as well, with Saudi tourists visiting Egypt expected to rise fivefold.

During King Salman's visit to Egypt, the bridge across the Red Sea was only one of the 17 agreements for cooperation signed by the two leaders. The two countries will cooperate on nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, and Saudi Arabia will finance several infrastructure projects mostly aimed at developing Sinai, including a 6km industrial zone, an agriculture complex, a university, housing projects, a new power plant, and an aqueduct, as well as the creation of an economic free zone. Additionally, the Kingdom will finance Egypt's oil needs for the next five years.

The two countries have enjoyed strong economic and diplomatic relations since Sisi took power in 2013. Saudi Arabia sees Egypt as a strategic ally with which it can form a powerful regional bloc.