Saudi crown Prince leaves for maiden foreign visit

Saudi crown Prince leaves for maiden foreign visit

RIYADH - Saudi Arabia’s crown prince lands in Egypt on Sunday on the first leg of his maiden foreign tour as heir to the throne, a diplomatic charm offensive that follows his stunning rise to power.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s two-day visit to Cairo comes ahead of a scheduled trip to Britain on Wednesday for talks with Prime Minister Theresa May and the United States during March 19-22.

The trips are aimed partly at courting investors and come after a tumultuous period that saw a major military shake-up and a royal purge, part of the prince’s sweeping power play that has shaken business confidence.

The son of Saudi King Salman is already seen as the country’s de facto ruler controlling the major levers of government.

His visit to Cairo, a key regional ally, comes before Egypt’s presidential polls in late March, with incumbent Abdel Fattah al-Sisi expected to win a second four-year term.

“Prince Mohammed’s visit will be interpreted as proof of Saudi support for Sisi to remain as the president of Egypt in the coming term,” Mostafa Kamel al-Sayed, a political science professor at Cairo University, told AFP.

Egypt is part of a Saudi-led military coalition which intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to fight Iran-backed Houthi rebels, a conflict that the United Nations says has engendered the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Saudi Arabia and Egypt are also part of a bloc of nations that has boycotted Qatar since June over alleged ties to Islamic extremists and Iran. Qatar denies the accusations.

A Saudi government source said Prince Mohammed’s choice of Egypt for his maiden overseas trip as crown prince “reaffirms Saudi-Egyptian cooperation at the highest level”.

Talks would cover regional rival Iran, the conflict in Yemen, counter-terrorism and energy cooperation, the source said.

The crown prince is also expected to visit France in the coming weeks. - APP/AFP