Saudi Arabia, Egypt to proceed with Red Sea bridge project

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red sea causeway map
Egypt and Saudi Arabia plan to build a 32-kilometer (20-mile) bridge across the bottom of the gulf. The Sinai Peninsula (left) and the Strait of Tiran. The finger of water in the middle is the Gulf of Aqaba; the bulge in the lower right is the Red Sea. Image – Microsoft Live Maps/Bing.com

Egyptian Transportation Minister Mohammed Rashad announced on Wednesday Saudi Arabia and Egypt are going ahead with plans to build a causeway that will link the two countries at an estimated cost of $3 billion.

A technical committee will meet in late September to discuss the causeway, the pan-Arab Al Hayat daily said. Political differences between both the Arab countries were the project’s major obstacle in the past. Observers believe the recent visit to Riyadh by Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi and discussions with Saudi King Abdullah over the Red Sea link helped ease the concerns.

Meanwhile,  environmentalists have raised an alarm over the plans for the 32km bridge linking Egypt and Saudi Arabia, claiming it will destroy Red Sea coral reefs and endanger wildlife in a national park.

The project, which will cost an estimated $3 billion was shelved by Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s former president, who had strongly opposed the project.

The bridge would link the popular Sinai tourist resort of Sharm el-Sheikh with the northwestern Saudi Arabian province of Tabuk.

It would take about three years to build and just 22 minutes to drive over.

Egypt hopes it would boost business opportunities and investment by providing a crucial transport link for migrant workers, tourists and pilgrims and strengthen political ties between the countries.

It could also prevent accidents, such as the 2006 ferry disaster in which more than 1,000 people died.

Environmentalists say, however, that its route would cut through the islands of Sanafir and Tiran in the Gulf of Aqaba, devastating marine life and damaging some of the finest scuba diving sites in the world.

Tiran island is also a breeding ground for endangered seabirds, sea turtles and dugongs – a threatened species of marine mammal similar to a sea cow. Both islands form part of the Ras Muhammad national park, Egypt’s oldest nature reserve.

Sherif Baha El Din, a leading conservationist, believes the bridge would damage the region’s ecology and environment.

The plan could be opposed by Jordan and Israel because the Gulf of Aqaba provides them with access to the Indian Ocean.

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