Saudi-Egyptian deal sparks controversy

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, right, sits with Saudi Arabia's King Salman in Cairo.  Egypt welcomed Saudi Arabia's monarch on a landmark visit to the Arab world's most populous country on Thursday, with Cairo seeking to boost ties and garner deals to prop up the nation's shaky economy despite some persistent divisions with the Sunni powerhouse. (Fady Faris, Egyptian Presidency via AP)

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, right, sits with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman in Cairo. Egypt welcomed Saudi Arabia’s monarch on a landmark visit to the Arab world’s most populous country on Thursday, with Cairo seeking to boost ties and garner deals to prop up the nation’s shaky economy despite some persistent divisions with the Sunni powerhouse. (Fady Faris, Egyptian Presidency via AP)

King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia arrived in Egypt on a five-day visit, his first to Egypt since ascending to the throne in January 2015.

International cooperation minister Sahar Nasr said that Cairo and Riyadh signed final agreements during the king’s visit worth over $24 billion, including $22 billion to finance Cairo’s energy needs for the next five years. Nasr added that Cairo and Riyadh signed other memorandums of understanding worth a total of around $20 billion, according to Al-Ahram.

King Salman said that Riyadh and Cairo have agreed to set up a “free trade zone” in the Sinai Peninsula, adding that both nations will go on with efforts to form a pan-Arab military force to combat terrorism. Speaking to the Egyptian parliament, the first-ever by a Saudi king, Salman stressed economic, political and military cooperation between the two countries.

During his six-minute speech, Salman urged the need to find “practical solutions to combat terrorism,” while stressing that the two Arab allies will “cooperate to achieve common goals.”

Salman added that an inter-continental bridge connecting Egypt and Saudi Arabia would be built across the Red Sea to “boost Saudi-Egyptian trade, provide job opportunities for youth in the region… and serve as a pathway for pilgrims.”

Tweet by Bassem Youssef reading: "Roll up, roll up, the island is for a billion, the pyramid for two, and a couple of statues thrown in for free"

Tweet by Bassem Youssef reading: “Roll up, roll up, the island is for a billion, the pyramid for two, and a couple of statues thrown in for free”

But Egypt’s decision to cede sovereignty over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, as part of the collective deals, has sparked anger from some commentators online. Some Egyptians have been expressing outrage at the decision on the islands while Saudis have taken the opportunity to boast of their country’s new possessions.

An Egyptian government spokesman told local media that the decision on the islands had come after 11 rounds of negotiations by experts from the two countries over more than six years.

But some Egyptians were quick to see the deal as a sign of the country’s weakness, saying Egypt had effectively sold the islands. Well-known satirist Bassem Youssef mocked the deal in a tweet suggesting President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi was selling the islands to the highest bidder in the style of someone conducting an auction.

Saudi user saying, "Now I'm planning a visit to our islands in the north, Tiran and Sanafir... Lovely views."

Saudi user saying, “Now I’m planning a visit to our islands in the north, Tiran and Sanafir… Lovely views.”

Other users commented that the giving up of the islands had led to a loss of legitimacy for President Sisi, and that it may even be in contravention of the constitution.

Memes also appeared mocking the perceived blind loyalty of supporters of President Sisi, as opposed to the criticism levelled at previous Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.

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