How Can Ukraine and Egypt Expand Cooperation?
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on the sidelines of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly at the end of September. The leaders of the two countries noted the intensification of the Ukrainian-Egyptian political dialogue and outlined promising directions for the further development of bilateral cooperation. So, how can Ukraine and Egypt expand trade, economic, and investment cooperation? To discuss this and more, we welcome to our studio Hossam Eldin Mohamed Ahmed Ali, Ambassador Extraordinary, and Plenipotentiary of Egypt to Ukraine
I think that, firstly, I have to admit that the sector of tourism is very much driven by cultural interests from the Ukrainian side, interest in our seaside resorts and so on. There’re a number of factors playing in here that were, maybe, increasing this. One is the steadily and constantly advancing bilateral relations on a governmental level, we have better understanding, we have more exchanges, we have room to remove obstacles and hurdles facing our Ukrainian visitors to our resorts, and much has been done in this regard in close cooperation with the Minister of Foreign Affairs here and other related authorities so we could actually bypass some obstacles in the past. Another is overwhelming interest of the Egyptian government in providing security, stability and all kinds of high-quality services in our tourist resorts, and if you know the amount of effort that goes into this, in making sure that tourists and our guests in Egypt are enjoying wonderful locations at very competitive prices and very high standards on every level you would be very impressed. I can tell you that we take this issue of security very, very seriously. So, this has been the case, we have also a number of other elements, tour operators who are actually providing flights, and they descend, like, to Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada. There are flights from eight major cities, big number of flights every week. There’s also the resumption of direct flights that occurred in April 2018, bringing the interest of the Ukrainian tourists also to visit the extremely culturally wealthy capital of the country. We have an endless number of museums, many of them still in the making, we have a very huge landmark museum that is going to be opened in a few months. The GEM costing $2 billion encloses some stuff I’m very much looking forward to visit. So there’s this constant developmental effort by Egypt to make sure that our resorts are very high-end, our security is fine, our infrastructure that is there gets better and better and that our services are not just competitive on the international or regional level, but that they are outstanding. And I can tell you, indeed, we do have a package that is very difficult to compete with. And this has led, over a previous couple of years, to a very notable, steady and slow increase in the number of Ukrainian students, Ukrainian tourists we receive. Maybe now we’re near to the figure of 1.2 million visited Egypt last year.
Well then, Ukrainians are getting to know Egyptian culture, President Zelensky got to know President el-Sisi when they met at the UN General Assembly meeting. Do you know how that conversation went, what they spoke about?
I can, firstly, tell you that Egypt sees Ukraine as a friendly country, we have very healthy relations with Ukraine based on mutual interest, we are very understanding of each other. We know where we stand on all key international issues, but we have, slowly and very consistently, step-by-step built a relationship on mutual benefit. So, it’s not just about tourism, but it’s also on a number of other scales. The meeting that recently took place between the two heads of state was not coming out of a vacuum, it was a result of very slow, but promising progress that occurred. So we moved in the past several years, for example, we’ve had in September a joint committee between the two countries, we had over 30 delegates as part of this delegation last year in Kyiv. In was the first time… in eight years, so this was a breakthrough as well. This joint committee spoke of cooperation on a wide range of issues that are on the table. We see eye to eye on a number of ways forward, so this is moving very well.
We have intensified our cooperation and our contacts on a political level. I have very close contacts with the foreign ministry almost daily. We have a very healthy and consultative manner of work. We work in complete transparency. So this is something, I think, that helped get us to welcome the previous ministers of foreign affairs of Ukraine in Egypt on an official visit in April 2018. And we also see it as one of those steps that led to the meeting of both presidents. But I can tell you that president al-Sisi was among the very first leaders who actually congratulated president Zelensky for assuming office in Ukraine. Our respect for Ukrainians is high. They are very friendly people. We interact with them in Egypt as tourists, on business, on a number of other levels.
Let’s talk a little bit about the business aspects. There are many Ukrainians that are opening businesses right now in Egypt. What about the sectors?
I know that, of course, there is a very big interaction on the business level. I can just highlight that the trade balance is around $2 billion. This makes Egypt the number one African and Middle-eastern trade partner with Ukraine. But I can tell you that also we have this active effort on both sides to promote interaction in that field and highlight upgrades, immediate trade exchange and cooperation and efforts to jointly benefit from advancing a very visionary developmental view of Egypt because Egypt is going through very big changes. Now for anybody like me when I go to the country back, when I go every year, I’ve been very positively surprised by the number of roads, the thousands of miles of new roads that are done, buildings that are set up, buildings that are amazing, new museums that are thrilling. It’s very good that Ukrainian businesses understood that there was something for them there. I can say, for example, that a new tram in Aleksandria is from Ukraine. I can tell you that the big association of companies of Ukraine have already been bidding on the various bids of the government to upgrade the steel industry. The national steel industry of Egypt has a very huge contract that is also very important for us. And I can tell you the only office of Naftogaz outside Ukraine is in Egypt. And hundreds of millions of investments in the exploration of petroleum are being put there. I can tell you that big companies like Nibulon have been investing in Egypt, planning $2 billion of repayment for 10 years with the very helpful elements of its upgrading our national processes in handling grains and in dealing with them. So the picture is positive and it is dynamic. And we as government try to pay the way of this interaction to advance and facilitate it in every possible way.
There has been an influx of the students from Egypt coming in Ukraine in the past years that many Ukrainians experience with Egyptians here. It’s not been a positive thing for the students although because of drawbacks. Would you like to discuss this with us?
Yes, I can tell you. We have currently in Ukraine three-and-a-half thousand Egyptian students studying in different Ukrainian universities. A good number of those students were brought here through intermediaries that tend a little to put students through easier fraudulent practices. So the students would find themselves in another university, not getting the education expected or blackmailed for his paperwork passing from one year to another and so on. And we receive from our students almost on a daily basis, complaining in this regard. We are working very closely with the Ukrainian side on this. We are cooperating and exchanging information in this regard, observing the situation very much. I very often try to take every possible effort to talk to universities, to authorities or try to assist the students to the extent possible. But, of course, there is a need for this joint governmental dialogue and joint work in order for us to address this single beyond. I understand that Ukraine provides a fantastic education for Ukrainians. And the situation might be different when it comes to foreigners, at least for Egyptians from our experience. Some have a good experience, but a big majority confront different types of problems that we are now trying to address because we see that every other possible element of bilateral relations we are moving forward this, we are progressing, we are advancing are very positively and nicely. On education, we are trying to put in it enough efforts to also bring it to this level , addressing those problems, trying to eliminate this negative role by intermedia which are urges for the profit, not caring about the students or universities that are longing to cooperate with intermedia to bring them on the biggest number of students to make a profit. While not being in the situation to actually guarantee that those students are going to get a proper education or have their rights preserved or be immune against possible blackmail or extortion by the brokers. So, I can tell you, that the feedback we got from the Ukrainian government is very positive. We have people with outstanding integrity, who understand fully that this situation can not continue and it is not sustainable and they are working with us very closely. And I am very optimistic that on the bilateral level and on these two we can achieve progress and move forward.
It sounds like there’s been a lot of progress made on all of the fronts. Just one short last question: in the next one or two years are there any key projects that Ukraine and Egypt have?
I can tell you that the relationship with Ukraine is a very wise one. We are basically, as I said, it is anchored in mutual benefit, on mutual understanding, on mutual respect. We are pursuing our interests in areas where we can advance those interests. We move to build a strong relationship that is well funded. It has a political dialog, it has encouraged exchanges on various political levels. And this promotes mutual understanding and enables us to work together better. Our efforts and ambitions for bilateral relations are driven by our mutual interests. These are many. And I think that the potential of the bilateral relations with Ukraine and the potential of bilateral cooperation is far from fully unfolded. I think we still have a lot to do, we have a lot to do if our cooperation can advance benefit from our people. And I think we have everything we needed to do in full trust and confidence in each other. So, my understanding of the next years is that they’re going to be promising also. This curve of slowly building up a very healthy, very mutually appreciated relationship continues. The prospects are wide. I hope, we can see for the cooperation in the industrial area, in the agricultural area, in the medical area, in education and we can twist this forward in a way that, rather than have brokers market, bad, corrupt education, we can actually enable our students to get the true quality of education that Ukraine truly has without brokers. That we can encourage exchanges in every different sector of life. We are working on advancing our abilities as a nation in Egypt. And using it as a platform for cooperation with foreign countries like Ukraine. And I think it is going to continue. I think that the determination of both sides on moving forward is clear. And we will continue to exert every effort with our Ukrainian counterparts to maintain this very healthy and very friendly relationship and build on it for expansion.