Vrnjačka Banja, Niška Banja and Sokobanja received their first groups of tourists from Egypt this summer, with much appreciation from the three municipalities. I was happy to accompany them and meet with the three mayors during these visits. So, tourism is now an important ‘industry’ for cooperation between our two countries ~ Amr Aljowaily
As he prepares to complete his term in Belgrade, Egyptian Ambassador Aljowaily says that he’s satisfied with the new quality ascribed to relations between Egypt and Serbia. Speaking in this interview for CorD Magazine, the ambassador confirms that initiatives aimed at strengthening economic cooperation will receive a new boost at the end of this year, when there should be sessions of the Joint Committee for Economic Cooperation and the Joint Business Council.
When it comes to political relations, in which recognition for the unilaterally declared independence of Kosovo imposes itself as one of the key issues, Ambassador Aljowaily says: “Egypt fully supports the peaceful resolution of international conflicts and disputes, with full respect for the principles and rules of international law and the relevant resolutions and decisions of the United Nations”.
Your Excellency, given that you are approaching the end of your term in Serbia, what would you say to summarise the years that you’ve spent in Belgrade?
‘Planting seeds’ for bilateral machinery and ‘early harvesting’ activities pretty much summarise my four years in Belgrade. We have established a solid base of cooperation in all fields, through the negotiating of an array of agreements and memoranda of understanding that are now ripe for signing at the next high level bilateral meeting. While it has taken incredible time and effort to coordinate the drafting of such legal texts, given the bureaucratic necessities on both sides, once formalised these bilateral mechanisms will enable the technical cooperation between the two sides to hit the ground running. These seeds have been genetically ensured to require little nurturing in order to yield results, given their careful crafting and diverse enriching.
Investing time and effort in the constructing of these foundations didn’t prevent us from undertaking activities and projects in the more immediate term. An unprecedented exchange of high-level visits, a diverse set of cultural and economic activities and an extended range of communication at the societal level provided the fuel that kept the engine running while the road of legal infrastructure was being constructed to expand our cooperation to encompass new fields and aspiring for new horizons.
Has the pandemic caused a slowdown in the pace of the development of bilateral relations between Egypt and Serbia, which you announced would experience “many pioneering activities” in the interview you gave back in 2018? What have you managed to implement?
First, I am impressed that your question reflects a methodology of ‘monitoring and evaluating’ earlier statements and interviews. We should encourage such evaluations by setting benchmarks and designing measuring sticks for our diplomatic activity. I am confident that our work over the last four years has yielded results that earn more than a passing grade. When we speak about ‘pioneering activities’, we mean undertakings that are innovative in method and creative in substance. I would argue that the diplomatic projects initiated in political, military, economic and cultural fields meet – if not exceed – these requirements.
‘Planting seeds’ for bilateral machinery and ‘early harvesting’ activities pretty much summarise my four years in Belgrade. We have established a solid base of cooperation in all fields, through the negotiating of an array of agreements and memoranda of understanding that are now ripe for signing at the next high level bilateral meeting
If we are to cite a few examples, the three main coastal regions of Egypt (Alexandria, South Sinai and the Red Sea) now have sister city status with counterpart regions in Serbia. Provincial twinning has extended beyond the traditional dimension of cultural cooperation to include high-level trade and investment delegations knocking on the doors of economic cooperation by reaching out to the regional level, far beyond the centralised role of capitals and intergovernmental machinery. While facing the pandemic restrictions, hybrid activities enabled the engagement of national actors from the homeland, reinforced by a presence in the field from embassies. The necessity of physical distancing was a blessing in disguise that enabled virtual rapprochement. By being the national guest of honour at the Tourism and Book fairs, the African Durbar Event and the Archaeological Film Festival, we raised awareness of such signature activities in both countries, as well as networking experts from both sides.
During his visit to Egypt this summer, Serbian Foreign Minister Nikola Selaković discussed the possibility of organising sessions of the Joint Committee for Economic Cooperation and the Joint Business Council by the end of this year, in an effort to advance cooperation between our two countries. Is that plan being realised?
As we said, the network of legal instruments is being finalised, while the protocol of the committee is being drafted. We are now waiting for the best timing to convene the joint mechanism. The two co-chairs of the Joint Business Council have finally been named. A virtual conference between them is now being coordinated. We have used the time well for substantive cooperation to further reinforce the expected results of the meeting when convened.
Many Serbian tourists visited Egyptian resorts again this summer. In your capacity as ambassador, you’ve advocated for the establishment of a direct Belgrade-Cairo flight. Will this remain your unfulfilled desire?
Well, that desire was finally fulfilled when the direct Belgrade-Cairo flight was resumed after almost 14 years of suspension. The COVID-19 situation forced a suspension of several flights for Air Serbia, one of which was the Cairo route.
We are in constant contact with Air Serbia, so we can together reflect on how to overcome the challenges of the pandemic world to recommence this direct flight. We are also working on other fronts. Air Cairo has maintained direct flights with Hurghada throughout the year, and during his visit to Belgrade this July, its chairman announced plans to launch direct flights to Sharm El Sheikh from Belgrade and that the airline is exploring plans for Niš. I have conducted and facilitated many meetings in the civil aviation field, with the aim of further expanding the network of flights and routes between the two countries. I look forward to positive results in this regard.
You’ve also spoken about Egyptian interest in investing in tourism in Serbia, with an emphasis on spa tourism. Are there any indications that such ideas will be implemented?
Well, there are more than indications. Concrete results have been achieved. Serbia has well-established knowhow in medical-related and wellness tourism, from which new Egyptian spas can benefit. In fact, one leading company in Egypt that’s developing a major resort of this kind in the Sinai has already signed a technical cooperation agreement with the house of expertise in Vrnjčka Banja, while Niška Banja and Sokobanja are also invited to join the Mayor of Niš’s delegation to Sharm El Sheikh this November. Actually, these three destinations received the first groups of tourists from Egypt this summer, with much appreciation from the three municipalities. I was happy to accompany them and meet with the three mayors during those visits. So, tourism is now an important ‘industry’ for cooperation between our two countries.
However, in order for tourism from Egypt to increase, I invite the authorities to work on three parallel tracks: the first is to smoothen the visa regulations through group tourist arrangements and other facilitations with all necessary guarantees applied; the second is to enhance the network of flights, including by resuming direct routes between the capitals – taking into consideration the fact that the population of Cairo alone exceeds 20 million; and the third is to run a promotion campaign to raise awareness about Serbia as a tourist destination.
Belgrade last month hosted a summit commemorating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Non-Aligned Movement. What impressions did you take away from that event?
There were a number of impressions at different levels. At the level of logistics, it was impressive to see the efficient organisation by the host state, Serbia, despite the challenges of the pandemic. At the level of representation, it was gratifying to see the level and size of participation. At a substantive level, it was inspiring to listen to the ideas expressed regarding the continuing relevance of the NAM principles and purposes.
We continue to support the ongoing direct dialogue between Belgrade and Priština. Our voting pattern in international organisations remains unchanged and is based on a principled position
As the ambassador of a founding country of the Non-Aligned Movement, how do you view the Movement’s significance today?
Well, we just saw how the discourse of the Belgrade commemorative meeting demonstrated the conviction of its members regarding the Movement’s continuing relevance, as applicable to the founding purposes and principles. We can add to this the fact that the NAM produces a valuable ‘literature’ adopted by its summits and ministerial meetings, and developed at the expert level, which guides and enriches the outcomes of multilateral meetings. This is particularly significant in the domain of disarmament and international security, on the one hand, and peacekeeping and peacebuilding, on the other.
In fact, the top ten troop contributing countries to the UN’s multidimensional peacekeeping missions have continuously been from NAM member countries. This is a significant contribution to world stability. And it has not been without cost. Indeed, men and women in uniform from NAM countries have continuously sacrificed their lives in support of these peace missions. This is a valuable contribution to international peace and security, one that should be recognised and valued by the international community as a whole.
I tried to capture some of the examples in a chapter entitled “Adjusting the NAM to New Global Realities: Employing Institutional Memory and exploring Best Practices” in a book that was published this year by the Institute of International Politics and Economics in Belgrade. I also invite all readers to consult the valuable CorD special edition published on the same occasion, where I was also pleased to provide Egypt’s contribution.
You’ve stated that the multilateral system, which has the United Nations at its heart, is an Egyptian foreign policy priority. How would you comment on the commonplace opinion that both the NAM and the UN have lost their power and significance, and that geopolitics is often conducted beyond the framework of the UN?
If the UN didn’t exist, we would have to invent it. The UN is unique in being the only international organisation that combines universal membership with a comprehensive mandate. Its three pillars of work – in international peace and security, economic development, environment and climate change, and human rights, humanitarian and social issues – are indispensable for a stable, secure and prosperous world. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive to strengthen the UN. In fact, issues of reform are high on the agenda of Egypt’s role in this global organisation, further supporting the African Common Position and other regional and transregional initiatives to which Egypt belongs.
With the end of your term in sight, could you clarify Egypt’s stance on the independence of Kosovo? The authorities in Priština have announced fresh attempts for Kosovo to join international organisations like UNESCO and Interpol. What position will Egypt take if it comes to a vote?
Egypt fully supports the peaceful resolution of international conflicts and disputes, with full respect for the principles and rules of international law and the relevant resolutions and decisions of the United Nations. Political solutions reign first. We continue to support the ongoing direct dialogue between Belgrade and Priština. Our voting pattern in international organisations remains unchanged and is based on a principled position. Our position is a source of appreciation that we have received warmly from all relevant parties. Growing relations with Serbia are a testimony to the validity of our stances in this regard.
We are committed to the implementation of what was agreed upon during the Egypt-Libya Joint Higher Commission, held in Cairo last September, in order to achieve further cooperation between the two countries, and serve the mutual interests of the two brotherly peoples in light of the multiple bonds, common objective and shared destiny that bind them
Could you provide more details about the recent discussions between the Egyptian and Russian foreign ministers and the proposal that the two countries engage more actively to support peacekeeping operations in neighbouring Libya?
Egypt is committed to the stability of the neighbouring brotherly Libya. We are engaged in all the relevant regional and multilateral processes aimed at finding a lasting political solution to the situation in Libya. Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry conducted a visit to the Libyan capital, Tripoli, to participate in the Conference in Support of the Stability of Libya, held on 21st October. Egypt affirmed its utmost keenness to support brotherly Libya within the framework of bilateral relations in a manner that fulfils Libyan aspirations for a better future, and contributes to the restoring of Libya’s security, stability, territorial integrity and sovereignty.
We are committed to the implementation of what was agreed upon during the Egypt-Libya Joint Higher Commission, held in Cairo last September, in order to achieve further cooperation between the two countries, and serve the mutual interests of the two brotherly peoples in light of the multiple bonds, common objective and shared destiny that bind them.
In response to your question, I would point out that Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry met this month with the Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, Nikolai Patrushev. They discussed ways to enhance bilateral cooperation in light of the deep-rooted and diverse ties binding Cairo and Moscow, in addition to exploring a number of international and regional issues that are of interest to both countries. The meeting also tackled a number of international and regional issues of mutual concern, mainly the situation in Libya and enhancing various endeavours that would lead to a comprehensive political settlement, wherein Minister Shoukry stressed Egypt’s support for the political roadmap approved by the Libyans and the necessity for the departure of all foreign forces and the ending of any foreign presence on Libyan territories.
I am confident that our work over the last four years has yielded results that earn more than a passing grade. When we speak about ‘pioneering activities’, we mean undertakings that are innovative in method and creative in substance
The NAM produces a valuable ‘literature’ adopted by its summits and ministerial meetings, and developed at the expert level, which guides and enriches the outcomes of multilateral meetings
If the UN didn’t exist, we would have to invent it. The UN is unique in being the only international organisation that combines universal membership with a comprehensive mandate