THE AMBASSADOR OF EGYPT TO AZERBAIJAN, MR. ADEL IBRAHIM, IN AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW, TELLS THE AZERI OBSERVER MAGAZINE ABOUT THE STATE OF HIS COUNTRY IN THE MIDDLE EAST, PLANNED HIGH-LEVEL MEETINGS BETWEEN AZERBAIJAN AND EGYPT, AND THE ACTIVITIES AIMED AT THE DEVELOPMENT OF TIES BETWEEN AZERBAIJAN AND THE ARAB WORLD. HE ALSO SPEAKS ON THE INTEREST FOR JOINT PROJECTS IN THE OIL SPHERE, BILATERAL EDUCATIONAL EXCHANGE, AND THE PROSPECTS OF ENHANCING INVESTMENT COOPERATION.
BY KATIE DUSTMAN
AZERI OBSERVER EDITOR
Question: Could you tell our readers about the political cooperation between our countries at the bilateral level and within international organizations?
Answer: Egypt and Azerbaijan enjoy historically cordial and excellent relations on both bilateral and multilateral levels. Egypt was at the forefront of countries that recognized the independence of Azerbaijan on December 26, 1991, and later started diplomatic relations on April 9, 1992. The official visit of the former President of Azerbaijan, national leader Heydar Aliyev, to Egypt in 1994 is considered to be the beginning of diplomatic relations between Egypt and Azerbaijan. High-level visits between both countries led to the development of relations and strengthening of collaboration in various fields. Furthermore, there is excellent coordination and mutual support in international organizations.
Q.: Are any high-level visits or meetings expected in the second half of the year?
A.: From my first day of work in Baku, I was keen to knock on every door and exert all of my effort to promote and strengthen bilateral relations in various fields. I wanted to pave the way for a future first visit to Azerbaijan for His Excellency, President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi. This visit would aim to enhance and boost relations between both countries in all spheres. Furthermore, the Embassy is expecting ministerial visits from Egypt during the coming months. Among those visits is Dr. Inas Abdel Dayem, Honorable Minister of Culture of Egypt, who will enhance the cultural relations between people from both countries. On the agenda are plans to organize cultural weeks in Egypt and Azerbaijan, in addition to the opening of the special pavilion of Egyptian books in the library of the National Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan.
Q.: In recent years, civil and religious wars have been raging in numerous Arab countries. Do you consider the Arab League mediation mission in hot spots as satisfactory?
A.: The Middle East region is considered to be a hot spot due to several Arabic countries that are engaged in political and security turmoil. The Arab League is attempting to resolve and mediate these numerous conflicts throughout the Arab world. On the contrary, destructive roles and negative influences are being implemented by some regional countries that are willing to escalate the conflicts within the Arabic world.
Q.: How do you assess the chances of Egypt regaining a leadership role in the Middle East?
A.: Egypt has always been a key player in the Middle East with a leading and supporting role in maintaining peace and stability in the region. Egypt successfully hosted the first Arabic European summit in February 2019. It was an excellent opportunity for the leaders from both sides to emphasize the need for greater strategic cooperation between the European Union and the Arab world, in addition to promoting relationships and discussing mutual concerns. Furthermore, the President of Egypt was elected as the chairperson of the African Union for 2019, signaling the African countries trust in the credibility and transparency of Egyptian leadership.
Q.: Azerbaijan and Egypt have signed cooperative agreements in many spheres of the economy, including agriculture, investments, science, etc. What projects have been implemented within these agreements so far?
A.: The governments of Egypt and Azerbaijan signed several agreements in different sectors to enhance cooperation between both countries in economic, cultural, educational, security, aviation, tourism, information technology, agriculture, and other fields. Although those agreements had a positive impact in further strengthening relations, there are still some agreements pending to be signed, as there are still several opportunities to develop the relationships to a higher level.
Q.: What opportunities does Egypt hold for Azerbaijani investors? What are the emerging sectors in the Egyptian economy?
A.: There are several opportunities for Azerbaijani investors in the Egyptian market, considering the Egyptian Government provides a wide range of incentives. A briefing about this was given to the Azerbaijani delegation, who participated in the fourth session of the Egyptian/Azerbaijani Intergovernmental Joint Commission on Economic, Scientific, and Technical Cooperation. The event was held in Cairo in February 2018, and we hope that Azerbaijani investors took advantage of it.
Q.: How do you assess the current level of bilateral trade between our countries? How does it change year after year? Which goods could contribute to the enhancement of bilateral trade?
A.: Unfortunately, the level of trade between Egypt and Azerbaijan does not reflect the opportunities and capabilities that both sides possess. However, the Embassy recently managed to connect exporters and importers from both sides, and they started trade relations in different agricultural products. In addition to that, one of the main challenges needed to overcome enhance trading was the necessity to have a direct flight that connects both countries. We hope that the direct flights that will be launched by Azerbaijan Airlines (AZAL) starting this summer will have positive impacts in that regard. On the other hand, it is also crucial that the exporters and importers in both countries acknowledge the needs of the other market.
Q.: Both of our countries have developed oil industries. What are the prospects of cooperation in this sphere?
A.: There are ongoing relations and cooperation between Egypt and Azerbaijan in the oil field, as Egypt is currently importing some petroleum products from Azerbaijan. After coming here, I connected with SOCAR (Azerbaijan’s national oil company) and the Honorable Minister of Energy. We discussed the opportunities in the Egyptian economy as one of the most favorable markets in terms of investment in Africa. We have tackled the opportunities for investment in the Egyptian market. As it is known, SOCAR has an area of activity in Egypt, but it is not at the desired level of cooperation we are expecting between two friendly countries. Furthermore, there are still negotiations between the Egyptian authorities and SOCAR to establish refineries and a bitumen facility in Egypt. Additionally, we expressed our willingness with the Azerbaijani national oil company to invest in the exploration of offshore oil fields and to share the Azerbaijani experience in that field. Mutual visits are expected to take place to discuss the challenges in this area.
Q.: Egypt was one of the leading destinations for Azerbaijani tourists for many years. However, the flow of tourists from Azerbaijan to Egypt has decreased in recent years. Is the Egyptian Embassy planning any measures to solve this issue?
A.: I noticed during my time in Azerbaijan that the Azerbaijani citizens are attracted to visit Egyptian touristic sights. I was keen during my interviews with Azerbaijani national television, different magazines, and newspapers to assure the stability and security of Egypt. I am confident that the Azerbaijani tourists will be impressed after visiting all of the stunning tourist destinations. I recently met with the President of Azerbaijan Airlines, Jahangir Asgarov, who confirmed that AZAL will have charter flights from Azerbaijan to Egypt. There will be flights from Baku to Cairo beginning on June 8th, and another flight to Sharm El-Sheikh starting from July 18, 2019. We hope that all of the necessary preparations are carried out to enable the flights to be successfully implemented and increase tourism rates between both countries, as we consider this line a key factor for the development of our relations in all spheres.
Q.: Our countries have a long history of cooperation in education. Could you tell our readers about the current state of this cooperation and the measures that are planned in this sphere?
A.: Education is one of the principal spheres of cooperation we are keen to maintain with Azerbaijan. Egypt annually provides 25 scholarships to Azerbaijani citizens to study at Egyptian universities, including at Al Azhar University. Additionally, the Egyptian Culture Center, which is considered to be the only Arabic culture center in Baku, provides the Azerbaijani citizens with Arabic lessons and conversation classes for free.
There is also an Egyptian professor being sent by the Egyptian Agency of Partnership for Development under the Egyptian Foreign Ministry to give lessons at the Baku Language University to teach Arabic lessons for undergraduate students.
I met with the Education Minister of Azerbaijan, and we discussed strengthening educational relations between Azerbaijan and Egypt. I also urged Azerbaijani educational institutions and universities to think about opening branches in Egypt’s new administrative capital, as several universities around the world have decided to open their own branches in this new administrative capital next to Cairo. I believe this step will strengthen ties between both parties, especially in the field of education. An agreement on student exchange between Egypt and Azerbaijan is in effect, and it is expected to be resumed again. Many Egyptian students study in Azerbaijan, while many Azerbaijani students concurrently study in Egypt.
Q.: Could you tell our readers about the cultural ties between Azerbaijan and Egypt and measures taken to enhance these ties between populations of both countries? Tell us about the activity of the Egyptian Cultural Center in Azerbaijan. What kind of initiatives does the center implement?
A.: There are historical and cultural relations and ties dating from a long time ago between Egypt and Azerbaijan. This is considered to be one of the main pillars enhancing cooperation between citizens of both countries. As part of the strong cultural relations between Azerbaijan and Egypt, a Friendship Agreement was signed between the Qalyubiya Governorate in Egypt and the Absheron Governorate in Azerbaijan, through which Egypt/Azerbaijan Friendship Park was built. In the park, a monument of the national leader of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev, was erected, and an Egyptian Azerbaijani school was built in the province of Qalyubiya. In return, a statute of the symbol of Egyptian poetry during the Pharaoh period, which played a key role in intellectual and cultural life in Ancient Egypt and its civilization, was erected, and an Egyptian school was opened in Absheron.
The Egyptian Cultural Center plays a supportive role in enhancing and developing cultural and educational relations between both countries. Besides the educational role that is being implemented by the cultural center, it will also organize several cultural events that the Azerbaijani citizens from different age categories can participate in. This will provide an opportunity for acknowledgment by Egypt’s cultural history.
Q.: What are your impressions about Azerbaijan after over one year of service in our country?
A.: I am very pleased to be working in Azerbaijan. I started working here at the end of February 2018, and I feel so comfortable and embraced by the hospitality of the Azerbaijani citizens. The development going on in the country is a key result of the strong leadership of His Excellency President Ilham Aliyev on continuously working and exerting efforts for improving and developing the country. Additionally, I believe Azerbaijan is considered to be a unique model of religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence between members of different religions.
I feel as if Azerbaijan is my second home, and I am keen to not only be the Ambassador of Egypt to Azerbaijan but to also be the Ambassador of Azerbaijan to Egypt. Naturally, this warmth proves the strength of our historic relations and the significance of a wide range of opportunities for further development of bilateral relations based on mutual benefits of our two countries.