CAIRO – Egypt gave a warm welcome to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman al-Saud Monday, with military fanfare and a trip to the Suez Canal meant to underline a growing strategic partnership.
Posters featuring Salman alongside President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi lined major roads in central Cairo, where Salman later met with Egypt’s Coptic Pope Tawadros II in the first such visit by a Saudi official to the spiritual center of the country’s Orthodox Christian community.
He also met Egypt’s top Islamic official, Ahmad al-Tayyeb, and saw a performance at the Cairo Opera.
The prince and Sisi traveled through one of the new tunnels being built under the canal, before boarding a boat from a red-carpeted dock. He later cut the ribbon at a ceremony to inaugurate a nearby army-built resort.
Egypt seeks investment from Saudi Arabia to help develop the area, where Cairo wants to establish an international transport, logistics and production hub.
On the first day of the three-day visit, the two signed agreements on common investment funds and environmental protection, the Saudi news agency SPA reported.
A Saudi government source said the two countries had agreed to set up a joint $10 billion fund to develop areas of Egypt linked to the Saudi NEOM project.
The $500 billion NEOM mega city, unveiled by Prince Mohammad last year, is planned to be a biotech and digital hub spread over 26,500 square kilometers in an area facing Jordan and Egypt.
The Saudi government source said the joint fund, which involves leased land for the Egyptian share, would be used to develop lands in the south of the Sinai Peninsula as part of NEOM.
Egypt, the most populous country in the Arab world, and Saudi Arabia, one of the wealthiest, tightened their long-standing alliance after Sisi led the military overthrow of an elected but divisive Islamist president in 2013, with Riyadh providing tens of billions of dollars in aid.
As Sisi has consolidated power and global oil prices have fallen, however, the emphasis has shifted to investment. The two countries have plans to build a causeway across the Red Sea and to jointly develop areas on both sides.
Prince Mohammad is to fly to Britain Wednesday and later this month to the United States, in his first forays abroad as crown prince.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Monday that Britain’s planned exit from the European Union did not reduce its attractiveness as an investment destination, adding that he said he expected the crown prince’s visit to take bilateral relations to a higher level.