Throughout its long history, Egypt has always been a strong supporter of Africa’s just causes.
Egyptian foreign policy – especially after the 1952 Revolution – mobilised all its resources to support liberation movements all over Africa, in an effort which has been successfully culminated with the founding of the Organisation for African Unity (OAU) in 1963, with Egypt as a Founding Member…
GDL: Egypt’s reintegration into the African fold reinstates its historic role as a leader in addressing the continent’s manifold challenges in realms such as peace and security, conflict resolution, development assistance and technical expertise. Is Egypt kick-starting its political centre of gravity and priorities to more clearly reflect on both its Arab origins and African roots? Can you elaborate on such initiatives?
IK: Throughout its long history, Egypt has always been a strong supporter of Africa’s just causes. Egyptian foreign policy – especially after the 1952 revolution – mobilised all its resources to support liberation movements all over Africa, in an effort which has been successfully culminated with the founding of the Organisation for African Unity (OAU) in 1963, with Egypt as a Founding Member.
In 1994, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry established the Cairo Regional Centre for Conflict Resolution and Peacekeeping in Africa (CCCPA), which later became the Cairo International Centre for Conflict Resolution, Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding, an Egyptian public agency specialised in training, capacity building and research in the fields of peace and security in Africa and the Middle East.
Egyptian-African relations got a huge boost with the election of Abdel Fattah Al Sisi to the Egyptian Presidency in 2014, who championed African integration initiatives and aimed at reconnecting Egypt with its African roots. In 2014, the Egyptian Agency of Partnership for Development (EAPD) was established by the Egyptian President as the main South-South Cooperation institution in Egypt aiming at placing the country’s comparative advantages and technical expertise into play for the benefit of the African continent. EAPD aims to support African cadres through training courses in partnership with Egyptian Centres of Excellence, by responding to the emergency needs of African countries through the provision of aid and humanitarian assistance, contributing to the transfer of knowledge and the sharing of experiences with African countries by dispatching experts and technicians and advance trade between Egyptian and African countries to improve the economic condition and livelihood of people across Africa.
Furthermore, in 2019, President Al Sisi assumed the Chairmanship of the African Union (AU) with a multitude of priorities as AU Chair, among which are:
- Realising the African Continental Free Trade Area as an accelerator of continental integration;
- Focusing on infrastructure as a basis for supporting the regional integration process; and
- Post-conflict reconstruction and development within the peace and security arena as an effective tool to improve resilience in countries emerging from conflict.
In addition, Egypt sought to increase the efficiency and the methods of work of the Union to further reinforce the reform process. Additionally, one of the most important objectives of the Egyptian Chairmanship of the AU was to make 2019 ‘The Year of Africa in Egypt’ and ‘The Year of Egypt in the AU’ in a manner that solidifies Egypt’s contribution to the AU agenda of continental integration.
During Egypt’s Chairmanship, the African Union witnessed the historic announcement of the entry into force of the Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), convening of the first edition of the mid-year coordination meeting between the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and the AU to create a sustainable and productive relationship between the AU and the regional arrangements in favour of implementing Agenda 2063 and hosted in November 2019 the PIDA (Programme for Infrastructure Development) Week, which discussed in detail the criteria for selecting the list of projects that will be implemented within the framework of the second phase of the AU Infrastructure Programme (2021-2030).
Furthermore, Egypt finalised, in coordination with the AU Commission, the proposed structure of the AU Centre for Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development which will be hosted in Cairo, as well as launched the inaugural ‘Aswan Forum for Peace and Development’ as a platform for strengthening peacebuilding and development efforts in the continent.
In 2020, Egypt has been expanding its efforts to assist its neighbouring African countries in combatting the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as other infectious diseases, sending medical aid and supplies to more than 30 African States throughout 2020 in addition to continue implementing the Presidential initiative to treat 1 million Africans suffering from Hepatitis C.
“The Egyptian State has adopted numerous reforms on many levels and in many sectors since 2014, especially in the security, political and economic sectors.”
GDL: Does Egypt stand ready to partner with the international community in this endeavour for a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace settlement and a long-term just and viable solution on the Palestinian Issue?
IK: Egypt always supports all efforts to revitalise the peace process and the negotiations for the Palestinian conflict. The Egyptian leadership has expressed its will to continue exerting efforts to restore to the Palestinian people their legitimate rights and to establish their independent State according to the international legitimacy references.
Egypt also highlighted the importance of uniting Arab and international efforts to move effectively during the upcoming period to reactivate the mechanisms involved in the peace negotiations between the two parties and bypass any challenges, in parallel with the efforts of the Palestinian national reconciliation track and building confidence.
GDL: Egypt is a great country with big challenges. How feasible is it for Egypt to make substantial gains in diverse goals such as security, political stability and economic progress? What concerted efforts are required and what sectoral reforms are needed to succeed on all three fronts?
IK: Indeed, the Egyptian State has adopted numerous reforms on many levels and in many sectors since 2014, especially in the security, political and economic sectors. The Egyptian Government is working in a comprehensive approach to enhance these three pillars which are all related to achieving substantial gains and strengthen the social and living standards of our people.
As a result, the indicators of the Egyptian economy over the past period have shown remarkable progress and many positive figures in light of the efforts made by the State represented by the Government in cooperation with the private sector and various companies and investors from inside and outside Egypt in various sectors to achieve the desired economic and social development.
“Terrorism in all its forms is an affront to humanity and the right to life…
Egypt firmly believes that the eradication of terrorism is crucial for regional stability. Defeating terrorism requires addressing the root causes of this transboundary threat through a holistic approach, as well regional and international cooperation. This approach should include not only security measures but also social, economic, educational and cultural components.”
GDL: How should Egypt shape its regional environment to allow its democracy to mature free from the scourge of extremism and the menacing sectarianism which threaten the regional fabric, the danger of terrorism and the chronic instability that stems from the Middle East’s perennial conflicts?
IK: Egypt firmly believes that the eradication of terrorism is crucial for regional stability. Defeating terrorism requires addressing the root causes of this transboundary threat through a holistic approach, as well regional and international cooperation. This approach should include not only security measures but also social, economic, educational and cultural components. Egypt is committed while combating terrorism to ensuring full respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Preserving the foundations of the nation State and its institutions is a prerequisite for the success of counter terrorism efforts. Egypt’s foreign policy and its approach to regional conflicts place high importance on the centrality of national institutions in combating terrorism and extremism.
It is important to also underscore in this regard that all terrorist groups must be combated on equal footing and to avoid making any distinctions among them. Terrorism in all its forms is an affront to humanity and the right to life. Therefore, Egypt places combating terrorism among its foreign policy priorities. Within this context, Egypt supports the international efforts to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq, in particular through its participation in the Global Coalition to defeat ISIS.
Moreover, Egypt is among the founders of the Global Forum Against Terrorism and is co-chairing its working group on Capacity Building in East Africa for Countering Terrorism. Furthermore, Egypt undertakes a pivotal role in countering terrorism within the African Union, OIC and the League of Arab States.
Within its policies to eradicate terrorism, Egypt calls for the prevention of the flow of Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTF’s) from Syria to other regions, in particular Libya. In this regard, Egypt calls on the international community, including the Security Council, to hold the countries which facilitate the movement of the FTF’s to Libya accountable and to push them to respect their obligations in pursuance to the relevant Security Council Resolutions, in particular Resolution 2396.
We are also particularly concerned with the growing terrorist threats in Africa. In this regard, our cooperation with our African brethren in different areas of countering terrorism was significantly bolstered through capacity building programmes and sharing best practices. Cairo will soon host a specialised counter-terrorism Centre for CEN-SAD countries.
“Egypt and Greece, by virtue of their great civilisations, geographical location, longstanding historical and the strong cultural ties, have constituted an ideal example for inter-state relations.
These common factors and mutual interests that Egypt and Greece share have made the two friendly countries an important bridge of interaction and dialogue between the Arab and Islamic worlds on one side and the European continent on the other.”
GDL: During the recent State Visit of His Excellency President of the Arab Republic of Egypt Al Sisi to Athens it was noted that the common values, mutual interests and close cultural ties between Egypt and Greece make both countries an important bridge of meeting, dialogue and cooperation between the Arab and Islamic worlds on the one hand and the European continent on the other.
How do you foresee the future relations of both countries and in which areas should they reinforce their efforts?
IK: His Excellency President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi’s visit to Athens took place at a time of significant importance where fruitful talks were held between both sides in an atmosphere of understanding and which addressed bilateral, regional and international issues of common concern.
In addition, the Presidential Visit followed three important milestones in the Egyptian-Greek relations namely; the partial agreement on the delimitation of maritime zones between the two countries, the East Mediterranean Gas Forum Agreement and the 8th Trilateral Summit between Egypt-Cyprus-Greece which was hosted by Nicosia.
Egypt and Greece, by virtue of their great civilisations, geographical location, longstanding historical and the strong cultural ties, have constituted an ideal example for inter-state relations. These common factors and mutual interests that Egypt and Greece share have made the two friendly countries an important bridge of interaction and dialogue between the Arab and Islamic worlds on one side and the European continent on the other. Therefore, such factors enable future collaboration between our two friendly countries and people in all fields including economic cooperation and enhancing future investments.
GDL: The signing of the EEZ partial delimitation agreement and its entry into force is a milestone for the relations between Egypt and Greece, as well as for the wider region. As President Al Sisi said, Egypt stands by Greece and in support of its rights on any issue related to its security and maritime borders.
What is the pace of consultations so that this agreement can be extended soon?
IK: One of the most prominent bilateral files discussed during the last period was the delimitation of the maritime zones between the two countries, as the Egyptian and Greek sides signed a partial agreement on the delimitation of the maritime zones between them on August 6th 2020 during the visit of Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias to Cairo at that time.
After 13 rounds of bilateral negotiations between the two countries over a span of 15 years and in accordance with the principles and provisions of International Law and the 1982 United Nations convention, the Egyptian and Greek Parliaments have also completed the procedures for ratifying the agreement and jointly submitting its registration at the UN.
Additionally, the importance of concluding the agreement is that it provides both countries with the opportunity to start allowing different companies to explore and search for natural gas and in order to maximise the benefits from those resources and enhance the interests of the Egyptian and Greek people.
“Egypt and Greece face common security challenges that threaten the stability of the region and the importance of security and military cooperation is intelligible.”
GDL: The recent meeting of the Heads of MoDs in Cairo highlighted the firm relations of both countries and the keenness of the Armed Forces’ Command to enhance bilateral cooperation and partnership in security and military fields.
In which areas should both sides further strengthen their military cooperation? Both countries agree that global terrorism has nothing to do with religion and have rejected any insult to any religion. How can both countries further promote this important message?
IK: Egypt and Greece face common security challenges that threaten the stability of the region and the importance of security and military cooperation is intelligible.
Thus, both sides are keen on enhancing and developing cooperation in the aforementioned areas to ensure the strengthening of the two countries’ capabilities to deal with any security risks, including the efforts of combatting terrorism and its extremist elements and organisations.
“On the bilateral level between Egypt and Greece, we are aiming at strengthening cooperation relations in trade, investment and economic fields and means of advancing the tripartite cooperation mechanism projects with Cyprus, as well as the possibility of cooperation with Greece in investment projects in the African continent.”
GDL: Taking to account that Egypt and Greece are partners with mutual export relations and common strategic goals, what joint initiatives should be undertaken in order to be even more attractive for investment destinations?
IK: The confidence of foreign investors and the Egyptian diaspora has increased in the investment environment in Egypt during the past years as a direct result of the reforms made by the Egyptian Government in this regard.
It has also been indicated in the statistics published by the IMF and international institutions, as well as the various local institutions, which indicate that the Egyptian economy achieved growth rates of 5.6% during the fiscal year 2018/2019 with a decline in inflation and unemployment rates. The IMF has also indicated that the stability of the local currency exchange value in the markets has been recorded in line with the increase of remittances from Egyptians abroad in 2019 reaching nearly 26.6 billion euros, while the value of foreign direct investments in the country increased by 16% during the second quarter of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
On the bilateral level between Egypt and Greece, we are aiming at strengthening cooperation relations in trade, investment and economic fields and means of advancing the tripartite cooperation mechanism projects with Cyprus, as well as the possibility of cooperation with Greece in investment projects in the African continent.
Both sides have proposed forming a working group and focal points from both sides to develop cooperation and communication plans with business representatives, the public and private sector, as well as companies interested in implementing those plans in various fields, the most prominent of which are the food industries, information technology, tourism, agriculture sectors and cooperation between ports.
“With regard to the issue of energy cooperation, Egypt launched an initiative to establish the Eastern Mediterranean Natural Gas Forum in October 2018. The founding countries have recently agreed to transform it into a regional organisation that would be the basis for transforming the Eastern Mediterranean region into an energy Centre…
…the organisation has received requests from different countries to join its membership, either permanently or as observers.”
GDL: Egypt makes important investments directly including improvements to its power and gas infrastructure. What is the strategic plan of the Eastern Mediterranean Natural Gas Forum?
IK: With regard to the issue of energy cooperation, Egypt launched an initiative to establish the Eastern Mediterranean Natural Gas Forum in October 2018. The founding countries have recently agreed to transform it into a regional organisation that would be the basis for transforming the Eastern Mediterranean region into an energy Centre.
Greece has strongly contributed to overcoming the controversial issues of the founding Charter of the forum, being among the first countries of the founders of the forum to sign the transfer of the forum to a regional organisation.
More recently, the organisation has received requests from different countries to join its membership, either permanently or as observers.
Interview by Nicolas Boutsicos
Editor, Greek Diplomatic Life