“Egyptian foreign policy works to clarify the reality of what is happening in the country and the great efforts exerted in the fields of economic and social development, combating terrorism and enhancing security besides working on developing Egypt’s balanced relations with various regional and international parties and strengthening its relations with the international community through multilateral frameworks.”
GDL: Over the past several years Egypt has gone through a series of major changes and constant state of flux and we are undeniably witnessing the emergence of a new Egypt in the Middle East. What are Egypt’s current regional foreign policy priorities?
MFM: Firstly, I would like to thank you for giving me this opportunity to clarify some facts and explain the current developments in Egypt. After two popular revolutions in Egypt in 2011 and 2013, the State has set the goal of rebuilding its institutions and completing a political and economic roadmap. The implementation of this roadmap began in late 2013 and was completed after the enactment of a new Constitution for the country and the holding of Parliamentary and Presidential elections in a democratic and fair environment under the supervision of different local and international observers.
“Egypt has never lost its historic leadership role in the region… but of course we are constantly working to strengthen that role and to utilise it with our friendly countries to promote peace and stability in our regional environment by supporting different mechanisms of dialogue and various initiatives.”
In parallel with these steps, the Egyptian Government started implementing the economic reform programme by taking bold decisions to promote the Egyptian economy and improve the investment environment and develop our infrastructure; perhaps the most prominent of these decisions was the float of the Egyptian pound to create more favorable conditions for foreign investors.
As for Egypt’s foreign policy priorities, it is of course linked to the internal developments witnessed by Egypt, as well as the successive regional and international challenges. The Egyptian foreign policy works to clarify the reality of what is happening in the country and the great efforts exerted in the fields of economic and social development, combating terrorism and enhancing security besides working on developing Egypt’s balanced relations with various regional and international parties and strengthen its relations with the international community through multilateral frameworks.
We work with the international community to confront terrorism and drying up its funding and accountability of its sponsors, as well as working on a political settlement to the crises in the Middle East in order to restore security and stability and to end the difficult humanitarian situations facing different citizens in this part of the world.
GDL: How does Egypt aspire, not only to regain and strengthen, but also improve upon its historic leadership role and international standing?
MFM: Egypt has never lost its historic leadership role in the region to work on restoring it, but of course we are constantly working to strengthen that role and to utilise it with our friendly countries to promote peace and stability in our regional environment by supporting different mechanisms of dialogue and various initiatives that also reflect international peace and security, and of course, among those are the initiatives of H.E. Nikos Kotzias the Greek Foreign Minister (the Rhodes Conference on Security and Stability in the Middle East) and (the Religious and Cultural Pluralism Conference). What I am trying to say is that the crisis in the Middle East is negatively reflected outside its regional context, affecting international interests, including the European ones, and perhaps the refugee crisis is the most prominent evidence of this, that is why we need to use our regional and international role in supporting peace and stability worldwide.
“A permanent and fair solution to the Palestinian conflict must be found on the basis of International Resolutions issued in this regard and to the two-state solution according to the 1967 borders in order to avoid the repetition of such confrontations and to promote peace and stability in the region and the world.”
GDL: How does Egypt seek to project its role in the Arab world?
MFM: Egypt has always been and will always be supportive to the Arab world. This is reflected in Egypt’s role in supporting the Arab countries in confronting the various challenges facing them. The most prominent example is the assertion by our President that the security of the Arab Gulf States comes within our national security interest, besides Egypt has always supported the rights of the Palestinians to establish their independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital and to find a fair and lasting solution to their cause that has lasted for more than 70 years, as well as the efforts exerted in Egypt on all levels to settle the situations in Libya, Yemen and Syria.
GDL: In the present atmosphere, taking difficult policy decisions requires political consensus. What are your Government’s short and intermediate plans to revitalise the economy and attract foreign investments?
MFM: As I mentioned, over the past few years, the Egyptian State has taken many serious and bold steps to stimulate our economy and accelerate the process of economic reform, which has been delayed by the political instability experienced in recent years. The economic reform programme, initiated by the Egyptian Government for more than three years now, included important reforms in fiscal and financial policies, and the launch of a large number of mega projects that we conducted to revive the Egyptian economy and meet the aspirations of the Egyptians regarding social development.
Perhaps the most prominent economic reform steps have been the floating of the local currency to contribute to creating a favourable environment for foreign investors, and it is expected from the new Government to continue in the implementation of the programme of economic development and completion of large projects currently underway.
GDL: What type of domestic economic reforms does Egypt need to increase efficiency and streamline energy consumption in order to reduce its external resource dependence?
MFM: In terms of energy, Egypt is currently relying on a strategy that aims to provide as much domestic resources as possible, thereby reducing our foreign imports in that area. Recent discoveries in the Mediterranean region, particularly the ‘Zuhr’ field, which is expected to achieve self-sufficiency for Egypt for natural gas by the end of this year, is the biggest evidence of our success so far in moving ahead with the implementation of that strategy. In addition, the Egyptian Government is gradually lifting fuel subsidies within the framework of the economic development plan that I have mentioned, which, of course, will lead to attempts to reduce consumption.
GDL: Diplomatic relations have been further strained by Khartoum’s and Cairo’s revival of a long-standing border dispute and the proposed Ethiopian construction of an upstream dam on the Nile that Egypt fears will cut into its share of the river. How is your Government dealing with these two pressing issues?
MFM: Since Ethiopia’s declaration of its willingness to establish the dam, we have expressed our full readiness and openness to launch a constructive dialogue with the Ethiopian and Sudanese sides with a view to preserving Egypt’s historical rights in the Nile and its water share as stipulated in the 1959 Agreement and at the same time meet the Ethiopian aspirations for development and prosperity. The leaders of the three countries affirmed during their meeting this year that there is a genuine political will to reach that goal; despite the difficulties of the technical negotiations in this regard. However, the second meeting of the Negotiating Committee, which includes ministers of foreign affairs, water resources and heads of intelligence, have witnessed some positive indications to achieve a consensus that preserves the interests of all parties concerned.
GDL: How does Egypt feel about the recent devastating developments in the Gaza Strip?
MFM: We certainly feel very sorry and condemn the use of force against peaceful demonstrators and civilians in general, which led to dozens of casualties and hundreds of injured victims, and as I said before, a permanent and fair solution to the Palestinian conflict must be found on the basis of International Resolutions issued in this regard and to the two-state solution according to the 1967 borders in order to avoid the repetition of such confrontations and to promote peace and stability in the region and the world, since the settlement of this conflict will be positively reflected on international peace and security.
GDL: How can Egypt assist in the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, in order to consolidate a steadfast approach to the Palestinian issue?
MFM: The file of the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas is a complicated file which includes a lot of details and sub-topics. It has been adopted by Egypt, which indecently has already hosted many meetings between the leaders of Fatah and Hamas to reach a comprehensive reconciliation agreement in the interest of the Palestinian issue as a whole. Egyptian mediation efforts have already succeeded in reaching an agreement on a number of outstanding points between the two sides, but there are still many steps to be taken in this regard, especially in terms of confidence building between the two sides.
“Egypt and Greece enjoy an important strategic partnership and the two countries are currently witnessing an unprecedented period of prosperity and growth at both bilateral and regional levels as two main pillars of regional stability and peace.”
GDL: Egypt and Greece continue to enhance their bilateral relations, whilst also collaborating with other countries in the region such as the trilateral cooperation between Egypt, Cyprus and Greece. What does this partnership offer, not only to the countries involved, but also to the EU and Euro-Mediterranean cooperation in general?
MFM: Egypt and Greece enjoy an important strategic partnership and the two countries are currently witnessing an unprecedented period of prosperity and growth at both bilateral and regional levels as two main pillars of regional stability and peace. Moreover Egypt and Greece, together with Cyprus, have initiated the tripartite cooperation mechanism which has held five periodic meetings since its launch at the Cairo Summit in November 2014 at the level of the three leaders. The mechanism of political consultation between the three countries was also upgraded to the level of foreign ministers and we regularly hold sideline meetings at the General Assembly in New York in September each year.
The understanding and agreement in visions between Egypt and Greece on various international and regional issues of common concern enhances security, peace and stability, not only in the two countries, but in the whole region, including Europe and the Mediterranean as well. Let me tell you that the strong Egyptian-Greek relations and coordination is positively reflected in our common efforts to combat terrorism, extremism, illegal immigration and human trafficking, which by default, is reflected in the security and prosperity of the whole region.
Beside this, our cooperation, together with Cyprus, also in the field of gas and carbon exploitation in East Mediterranean, definitely comes within the realm of securing the energy supply and needs for both the European market and our local one.
GDL: Relations between Egypt and Greece can be traced back to Antiquity. How has time shaped these relations and what do you predict for the future?
MFM: Of course Egypt and Greece are two of the oldest civilizations in history and our bilateral relations are historical and go back many years. Let me tell you that the friendly Greek community that lived in Egypt during the last Century has left a well-recognised print and trace in the Egyptian culture and traditions; even today we still share some words, that is why both countries have exceptional mutual understanding and I can only see much more cooperation and coordination between them in different fields during the coming near and far future.
GDL: Your Excellency, your Embassy is always organising events to bring our two peoples closer together. What can we look forward to in the near future?
MFM: We will continue to organise and participate in such events which mainly aim to enhance our peoples relations and understanding, such as our organisation of the Cavafi’s Night at the Embassy and also the Back To Roots Week – Nostos event that took place in Egypt, alongside the successful event that was held in Athens to highlight the Hellenic era in Egypt under the auspices of H.E the President of the Hellenic Republic and the participation of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina President. Such events come within the framework of our cultural diplomacy, moreover it brings back good memories for our peoples where the Egyptians feel that Greece is their home and the Greeks feel that Egypt is theirs.
Interview by Nicolas Boutsicos
Editor, Greek Diplomatic Life