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Saudi King addresses Egyptian parliament during 'historic visit'

Saudi Arabia's king addressed the Egyptian parliament on Sunday [Khaled Meshaal/The New Arab]

Date of publication: 10 April, 2016

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Saudi Arabia's King Salman addressed the Egyptian parliament on Sunday in a historic but to some controversial visit that resulted in signing investments and aid deals worth billions of dollars.

Saudi Arabia's king addressed the Egyptian parliament on Sunday, the fourth day of a landmark visit that saw the oil-rich kingdom pledge billions of dollars in investment and aid.

In his six-minute address, King Salman urged for "unity" and "joint alliance" among Arab nations.

"To remedy issues of our nations, with the Palestinian cause at the forefront, we are required to be united in one stance, one word," he said.

"The Saudi-Egyptian cooperation we are witnessing today is a blessed beginning for our Arab and Muslim world to achieve balance after years of destabilisation."

In addition, the Saudi monarch said Egypt and Saudi Arabia have agreed to build a bridge linking the two nations across the Red Sea and to work together to create a pan-Arab defence force, an Egyptian idea first floated last year that was later thought to have been overtaken by Riyadh's creation of a pan-Islamic coalition.

Egyptian lawmakers received Salman with deafening applause and a standing ovation. Some lawmakers waved the kingdom's green flag, while others chanted "all of Egypt greets you" or "welcome!"

After the speech, two lawmakers recited poems in praise of the monarch. The king later left the chamber, holding hands with the speaker, Ali Abdel Al.

Egyptian lawmakers received Salman with deafening applause and a standing ovation. Some lawmakers waved the kingdom's green flag, while others chanted "all of Egypt greets you" or "welcome!"

That a Saudi king was invited to address the Egyptian parliament is evidence of how close relations are between the two nations, despite differences over policies on Syria and relations with Turkey and Qatar, two Saudi allies accused by Cairo of supporting militant Islamic groups.

Parts of Cairo were locked down during the monarch's visit, with thousands of security forces deployed as Salman and his host, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, travelled across the city of some 18 million people.

Saudi Arabia has been a traditional source of economic and political support to Egypt, but the kingdom significantly stepped up its backing after the military's 2013 ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.

After the speech, two lawmakers recited poems
in praise of the monarch [Khaled Meshaal/The New Arab]

However, relations shifted when Salman ascended the throne in January 2015 and realigned the kingdom's foreign policy, improving ties with Qatar and Turkey and lobbying the Egyptians to reconcile with them.

Cairo and Riyadh remain divided over Syria, where Saudi Arabia is one of the leading backers of insurgents fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad. Egypt fears Assad's removal could leave a vacuum that would be filled by Islamists.

Sisi's close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who militarily backs Assad against Saudi-supported rebels, has reportedly also caused friction with Riyadh.

However, Saudi Arabia has played a key role in propping up Egypt's economy, whose vital tourism industry has been devastated by years of political turmoil and militant attacks.

For Saudi Arabia, which is in competition with regional Shia-majority rival Iran, keeping Egypt - the most populous Sunni Arab country - under its aegis is crucial.

The two countries signed 16 agreements and memoranda during Salman's visit, including one that paves the way for the transfer of sovereignty over two strategically located Red Sea islands from Egypt back to Saudi Arabia.

The Egyptian government says the two uninhabited islands - Tiran and Sanafir at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba - are Saudi but have been in Egypt's custody for "protection" since 1950.

However, news of the agreement has kicked off a storm on social media networks, with activists arguing that handing over the two islands to the Saudis was tantamount to a sell-off to the kingdom.

Egyptian MP Haitham Hariri told The New Arab that Sisi's signing of the deal was "invalid", as the decision to hand over sovereignty over land must be ratified by the Egyptian parliament first.

Hariri added that the historically Egyptian islands should not be sold off to satisfy Saudi Arabia or even in return for grants in the form of projects and investments.

Along with other MPs, Hariri said he would submit a request to defence ministr Sedki Sobhi and foreign minister Sameh Shoukri to deliver to the parliament the documents that prove Saudi Arabia's sovereignty over Tiran and Sanafir.

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