EGYPT INDEPENDENT (Egypt), SAUDI GAZETTE (Saudi Arabia)
Egypt and Saudi Arabia moved one big step closer to connecting two of the Arab world's most pivotal countries -- and biggest economies -- in a very real way. The Saudi Binladin Group, the world's largest construction company, has given its final approval to a project to build a 33-kilometer-long bridge to link the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to Ras Hamid in northwestern Saudi Arabia.
Projected to span the Gulf of Aqaba across the narrow Strait of Tiran, the bridge was first proposed in 1988, and its estimated cost will be $4.5 billion. The Saudi Binladen group, which has historically been closely linked with the Saudi royal family, approved final plans on Wednesday, and is expected to cover $3 billion of the cost of the bridge. The bridge will be named after Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud.
The project was put on ice five years ago by then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak because of security concerns reportedly voiced by Israel. Egypt's current President Mohammed Morsi has made the project a priority, calling for the "revival of a common Arab market, the Saudi Gazzette reported.
The Egyptian president sees the bridge as a major economic opportunity, as a way to increase trade and travel between the two countries, especially in the pilgrimage seasons of Hajj and Umrah, as well as for Saudi tourists to reach the resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh.
“We must fight as an Arab and Muslim nation the drawbacks of globalization together, through mutual cooperation,” Morsi said during his opening speach at last month's Economic Development Forum in Riyadh..
Still, like any other major infrastructure project, there are environmental concerns. Abby Stevens, a graduate student of Egypt's Red Sea Environmental Center in Dahab told Al-Masry al-Youm that Tiran, one of three protected islands in the area, is an important breeding ground for sea turtles and seabirds, and is surrounded by coral reefs that provide critical habitats for a variety of marine life.