Saudi Arabia announced its first project on Tiran and Sanafir islands, Egypt’s former islands.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has announced plans for a new economic zone in the kingdom’s northwest region with up to $500 billion in investments, as the official Saudi Press Agency reported.
The new zone, called Neom, will cover an area of 26,000 sq km along 486km on the Red Sea coast and will run across Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt.
A a map published on the project’s website shows that the new economic zone would include the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir.
The Saudi prince said ,”Neom will be constructed from the ground-up, on greenfield sites, allowing it a unique opportunity to be distinguished from all other places that have been developed and constructed over hundreds of years and we will use this opportunity to build a new way of life with excellent economic prospects.”
The statement said that the Neom project will focus on nine different investment sectors including energy, water, biotech and robotics, adding that robots might outnumber people in the city.
The plans are part of the young prince’s vision to overhaul the country’s economy and decrease its reliance on oil as a source of revenue. One of these plans include an initial public offering of 5% of state oil company Saudi Aramco.
Moreover, this new project will bring Israel on the line as reported by Bloomberg which stated in report that connecting Egypt to the new $500 billion Saudi city via a bridge across the Red Sea will require cooperation from Israel, according to analysts.
“Israel’s 1979 peace treaty with Egypt guarantees it access to the Red Sea’s Straits of Tiran, which the planned bridge and causeway would cross.”
According to Yoram Meital, chairman of the Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies & Diplomacy at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev,” That makes Israel’s involvement in the project crucial.”
Tiran and Sanafir islands have been under the control of Egypt, however, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi agreed to hand them to Saudi Arabia in what was known by “the demarcation agreement”.
It was signed in April 2016 by Saudi King Salman Abdulaziz and al-Sisi.
According to the demarcation agreement, Egypt stipulated that the sovereignty of Tiran and Sanafir islands would be transferred to Saudi Arabia.
The agreement was legally invalidated by a verdict from Egypt’s higher courts, including the State Council and the Higher Constitutional Court, and these verdicts cannot be appealed according to Egypt’s 2014 Constitution.
The controversial agreement led to massive criticism and outrage among the Egyptians.
Critics, journalists, and activists accused Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of “selling Egypt” to Saudi Arabia in return for financial aid.
In response, thousands of Egyptians took to the streets in protests on April 15 (Land Day) and April 25 (Sinai Liberation Day) against the agreement, calling for the “Downfall of the Regime.”
The demonstrations were the first huge movement against the al-Sisi regime that included different political affiliations and groups.
The Egyptian security forces led arrest campaigns of activists and journalists who opposed the transfer of the islands.
Moreover, Egypt’s courts have fined tens of the protesters while others were handed down prison sentences that ranged from two to five years.
In addition, a court sentenced seven defendants to eight years in prison each and fined them.