Ambassador of Egypt to Serbia H.E. Amr Aljowaily began his term as ambassador just as preparations were underway to commemorate the 110th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations between Egypt and Serbia.
“In this period lasting more than a century, the two countries were initially connected by their struggle for independence, and then by their commitment to fight for equality and the rule of law in international relations,” says the Egyptian ambassador in this interview for CorD Magazine.
“Good bilateral relations should be complemented in this second century of relations by intensified economic cooperation, which will be contributed to through the work of the Committee for Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation, to be headed by the foreign ministers of the two countries, who will hold a joint meeting in Cairo in the middle of next year.”
Even with the rich heritage of diplomatic relations, there is still room to enhance the scope and organise new milestone events
Facilitation of the trade regime is surely a priority for the period ahead, including the selection of a list of goods that are of priority to both countries
Egypt is exerting its utmost efforts to maintain international peace and security in its Arab and African regions, and particularly in its immediate neighbourhood in the two regions
Your Excellency, you will soon mark the completion of the first year of your term in Serbia. How would you describe this period?
The year 2018 has been an unprecedented year in bilateral relations between Egypt and Serbia. It has included many pioneering activities, whether visits or events, many of which were the first of their kind. I have found my reception by official and social circles since my arrival as being most welcoming, and the continuous positive feedback encourages us at the Embassy to continue to exert the same level of effort and quality of dedication.
This summer marked the 110th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations, which reminded of the friendship, cooperation and support that characterise these relations. How do you see Egypt and Serbia today?
In order to look at “Egypt and Serbia today”, as you term it, we should use the historical lens crystallised over 110 years. When the Serbian King sent his first ambassador to Africa and the Arab World, stationed in Cairo, the two countries were already forging an enduring relationship that was sparked by the anchoring of their modern identity, enjoying independence and projecting a regional and even global role in the modern international system after World War I.
This similarity in foundation framed bilateral relations in the years that followed, as the two countries strived for independence and worked together to foster justice and equality in international relations as a whole, through their regional role.
Serbian companies can easily establish flights to Egypt and use that as a stepping stone to project their reach to the wider region
To commemorate the occasion of 110 years of diplomatic relations, Ali Abdel Aal, Speaker of the Egyptian House of Representatives, visited Belgrade and announced the upcoming meetings of the two countries’ mixed committees for economic, scientific and technical cooperation, as well as the signing of a trade promotion agreement. Can you tell us how much progress has been made on these announced activities?
You may recall that at the beginning of this interesting interview we mentioned that this unprecedented year has been marked by many events that were the first of their kind. Well, the 19th July visit of the Speaker was a highlight and the first such visit to Belgrade, despite long historical relations between the two countries, and was especially significant in that it included an appreciated special session of the National Assembly with a direct broadcast of the address. This says something: that even with the rich heritage of diplomatic relations, there is still room to enhance the scope and organise new milestone events.
Let me return to your question regarding the follow-up to a number of announcements made during the visit. Well, I’m glad that this interview is taking place at the end of the year when we can report back to the distinguished readership regarding the many important activities that took place, especially as they relate to the Joint Committee. I’m particularly pleased to be able to highlight that during November’s visit of Egyptian Foreign Minister H.E Sameh Shoukry – itself the first such visit in more than eight years – it was announced that the Committee will be upgraded to be chaired by the two countries foreign ministers, with its next session to be held in Cairo during the first half of 2019. That is a concrete step that reflects the commitment of both countries to substantially enhance their bilateral relations.
As for the trade, I can assure you that the promotion of commercial relations will feature high in preparations for this now-upgraded Joint committee. We see that the current volume of trade, which has not exceeded 100 million dollars, doesn’t reflect the current excellent relations, nor does it meet expectations – especially in light of encouraging results with Serbia’s neighbouring states in eastern and southern Europe.
Facilitation of the trade regime is surely a priority for the period ahead, including the selection of a list of goods that are of priority to both countries. I hope that the mechanisms of the Joint Committee, including its preparatory processes, will leave space for trade officials to address these important issues.
You’ve advocated for the establishment of direct flights between Belgrade and Cairo. Do you believe there is enough interest in such a regular route to be economically viable?
This is one of the most important steps we all need to work on to expand bilateral relations. I invite airlines in both countries to consider not only the important, yet not holistic, aspects of passenger traffic between the two countries, but equally important is the fact that both capitals are gateways to their respective regions.
Cairo has one of the most extensive networks of flight routes to Africa and the Arab World. Serbian companies can easily establish flights to Egypt and use that as a stepping stone to project their reach to the wider region. It is worth noting that ‘Greater Cairo’ now hosts to new airports, namely West Cairo’s Sphinx International Airport, which enjoys the tremendous advantage of close proximity to the Giza Pyramids, the soon-to-be-opened Grand Egyptian Museum and the Cairo-Alexandria highway. Can you imagine what it would mean for Serbian companies to be the first to enter the Egyptian civil aviation market, and to make use of this promising potential not only to access a country that has a population of 104 million but a city that is a hub for two adjacent regions? I leave it up to our readers, and especially civil aviation policymakers, to provide an answer!
I’m also happy to point out here that, in addition to the indispensable element of flying to Cairo, we have also achieved tangible results in civil aviation with regard to other destinations in Egypt, especially Hurghada International Airport, where this season – for the first time in years – we witnessed three companies serving tourists flying to this beloved resort city. Also, the visit of the Governor of the Red Sea to Serbia last October, which was also the first visit of its kind, included talks with the top management of Niš’s Constantine the Great Airport, from where we are expecting the first flights to depart for Egypt in May 2019. An important element in civil aviation is to think ‘out of the box’, as we did with Niš, and to consider the bigger picture, as we are projecting for Cairo as a regional hub.
Egypt is currently the seventh largest contributor of troops and police officers to UN peacekeeping missions, serving in almost every mission in Africa
Media have reported that Dragan Marković has been selected as the president of the Business Council of Egypt and Serbia. Could you tell us more about this council and what its role will be?
Mr Marković conducted a visit to the Governorate of the Red Sea, within the twinning agreement between Jagodina and Marsa Allam, the latter being a rising resort destination for lovers of diving and beach resorts. The Agreement between the two provinces includes economic and commercial relations as a major aspect of cooperation for implementation. I’m glad that an exchange of delegations, with major business representation, was implemented less than two months after the signature of that twinning accord. Different mechanisms that institutionalise business interactions between the two local administrations are a welcome development.
Furthermore, I’m very pleased to note that we have received a list from the Chamber of Commerce & Industry of Serbia featuring the Serbian side’s designated members of the Joint Business Council, according to the agreement signed with the Egyptian Businessmen Association in 2005. In a positive reply, this latter association also provided its nominees from the Egyptian side for endorsement to the Ministry of Trade and Industry, which Foreign Minister Shoukry announced as being underway at the meeting with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Dačić last November. I trust that these concrete steps will ultimately lead to the formation of the long-awaited business council, which I believe is an essential mechanism for promoting trade.
I would like to emphasise, however, that business contacts help substantially, though in less institutionalised ways. For example, despite the short span of Foreign Minister Shoukry’s November visit, he was keen to hold a breakfast meeting with the leaders of many companies interested in the Egyptian market at the Privrednik Business Association. In fact, we were pleasantly surprised that a larger number than expected – almost 60 – showed up at 7.45am! This commitment is greatly appreciated, and we consider it as a major indication of the potential that exists between the two countries. The first ‘Egyptian Economic Caravan’ to tour Serbia, in an intensive week last September, showed similar potential, with the provincial chambers of commerce in Novi Sad, Niš and Užice reflecting the fact that potential is not limited to large companies headquartered in Belgrade, but rather extends further to reach SMEs in all four corners of Serbia.
During the visit of the House of Representatives Speaker Ali Abdel Aal, the President of Serbia extended an invitation for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to visit Serbia. Are you working on making this visit a reality?
This invitation was reiterated, with much appreciation, at meetings during the November visit of Foreign Minister Shoukry. The excellent relations between the two Presidents, initiated during their meeting in New York in 2017, provide an excellent basis for realising further summits in Cairo, Belgrade and wherever else the opportunity arises. The Embassy spares no effort in preparing the groundwork for all high-level meetings, two of which took place in 2018 – through the visits of the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. I’m confident that this exchange of high-level visits will not only continue in 2019 but will intensify.
As a diplomat who has had a rich career, how would you evaluate the current situation in the Middle East and Egypt’s current position in the region?
Egypt is exerting its utmost efforts to maintain international peace and security in its Arab and African regions, and particularly in its immediate neighbourhood in the two regions. Its main contribution to restoring regional stability is in contributing to diplomatic processes aimed at resolving these ongoing conflicts. This includes, for example, and not as an exhaustive list, Egypt’s continuous efforts for the Palestinian cause, its active engagement in the Libya Neighbour Ministerial mechanism and its participation in the Small Group on Syria.
On a wider scale, Egypt is currently the seventh largest contributor of troops and police officers to UN peacekeeping missions, serving in almost every mission in Africa, as an example of Egypt’s unwavering commitment to peace and prosperity on the continent; one that is only reinforced by its chairmanship of the African Union Peace and Security Council for December 2018, and its chairmanship of the Union throughout 2019.
At the political level, Egypt maintains that the most effective approach to ending these conflicts is anchoring national identity and consolidating national institutions, away from tribal, religious or ethnic divisiveness. Egypt’s own national identity, enriched by several pillars of accumulated human civilisation, was itself manifested at the World Youth Forum in Sharm El Sheikh in November, where a large representation from Serbia included the presenting of Novi Sad as the upcoming Youth Capital of Europe. That was no coincidence, as the role of youth in resolving national conflicts and realising development could not be overemphasised, especially in Africa and the Arab World, where its proportion of the population is comparatively highest.
This quality of Egyptian diplomacy, emanating from a long tradition of peacemaking, is most apt for contributing to other regions, let alone globally; one that we are now promoting through partnerships for the Cairo International Centre for Training on Conflict Resolution and Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding, which has the best practises and lessons learnt that are also relevant to the Balkans. This is yet another area of potential cooperation that we are pleased to highlight through your distinguished magazine!