Armenian News-NEWS.am presents an interview with Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt to Armenia Mohamed Alaaeldin Saad Elleissy.
Mr. Ambassador, how do you assess the Armenian-Egyptian relations?
Firstly, I congratulate the people and government of Armenia on the 20th anniversary of Independence and I wish longstanding success to friendly Armenia. Armenia and Egypt are linked by mutual attraction and common denominators.
While I’m in your beautiful country just for a few days, I still feel like I am in Egypt, as there are similarities in customs, traditions and music, and also because of the reception that I received at different levels.
Secondly, relations between Egypt and Armenia are not only the result of the last 20 years, but are dating back to the centuries, starting from the time of the pharaohs up to the Islamic state and the Ottoman Empire.
Muhammad Ali, who is known as the founder of modern Egypt, took advantage of Armenia’s experience in the 19th century to create the laws of modern Egypt. At that time, Nubar Pasha was the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and then was a prime minister for a long time. After Armenia became independent from the Soviet Union, Egypt was among the first states to recognize its independence. Egyptian-Armenian relations, I am fully confident, are special in all fields since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries and opening of the Egyptian Embassy in Yerevan back in 1993. Next year we will mark the 20th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries, since the relevant agreement was signed by the two countries on March 9, 1992.
I want to confirm that relations between the two countries in recent years registered a significant development. Over 40 cooperation agreements were signed, as well as mutual high level visits were made. In early 2010, there was an increase in visits of senior Armenian officials to Egypt, including the visit of Armenian Parliament Speaker Hovik Abrahamyan in January, 2010, the visit of the delegation headed by the former Minister of Economy Nerses Yeritsyan to Cairo in May (the delegation also included the Mayor of Yerevan and senior officials from the Minister of Economy, and the private visit of Armenian Minister of Diaspora Hranush Hakobyan in January 2010.
In addition, we add to this the visit by former Secretary General of the Egyptian Fund for Technical Cooperation with the Commonwealth, Islamic European States Somaya Saad in September 2010. Mrs. Saad visited the country to get familiarized with the needs of the Armenian side and offer new ideas for the development of existing cooperation between the Fund and various agencies of Armenia, as well as to include other areas, among them renewable energy and tourism. The visit received great response from the Armenian side.
Egypt and Armenia support each other’s candidates for international and regional posts, as well as resolution-making in the international organizations, which is one of the most popular fields of cooperation. In this context, we mark clarification of ideas on cooperation between Armenian Diplomatic School and the Diplomatic Institute of Egypt.
Regarding the volume of trade between the two countries, it has not reached the desired level, but both sides have desire to increase cooperation, as the volume of trade turnover does not correspond to a particular political relations.
In 2010 trade turnover reached about $7 million increasing from $4 million registered in 2007. The main part of turnover volume falls on Egyptian exports, especially of pharmaceutical products.
Limitation of trade relations between the two countries is conditioned by several reasons, including the location of Armenia as a landlocked country and lack of direct air traffic between Cairo and Yerevan.
The fifth session of the intergovernmental commission is planned. During the meeting, availability of investment opportunities in Armenia for a number of Egyptian companies, especially in the fields of construction, tourism, information technology and pharmaceutical production, will be studied. The sides will also discuss intensification of trade exchange and increase in tourist influx.
Exclusively for your website I would like to note that in November, a week of Egyptian culture will be held in Yerevan. The delegation taking part in this festival, probably, confirms the great importance Egypt attaches to the development of bilateral relations in the cultural sphere, which is continuation of relations between civilizations and the nations.
In this regard, I want to mark great success of the Armenian Culture Week in Cairo in September 2010. The week of Egyptian culture will feature presentations of Cairo Opera Ballet Company, screening of a number of Egyptian films. Armenian actress Liz Sarkisian (who lives in Cairo and became popular in the Arab world) will be present as well.
Among other events are theater performances for children, an exhibition of paintings and copies of Egyptian antiquities, which include civilization of pharaohs, Greco-Roman, Coptic and Islamic civilizations which succeeded each other in the land of Egypt.
Besides, a visit of the delegation of Egyptian journalists to Armenia is prepared. The previous such visit back in December 2010 had a great impact on showing positive progress in Armenia registered over recent years.
How do you assess the Karabakh peace process and what is your view of the solution to the conflict?
Egypt’s position on the issue is clear, and the evidence thereof is Egypt’s voting on the relevant resolutions in the United Nations.
In addition, Egypt has a large experience in managing highly complicated conflicts in the modern times. The result is that the best solutions are achieved through peaceful negotiations.
Egypt does not support war as a means of resolving disputes. It is a progressive state in the terms of creation peace in the region and we believe in negotiations and peaceful ways of solution to problems and disputes between countries.
Egypt will further maintain its balanced approach and will continue to support the efforts of the Minsk Group to reach a peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict within the framework of the international law. In this regard, we are grateful to the Minsk Group for its efforts. Besides, President Sargsyan also expressed gratitude to the Minsk Group in his recent address to the UN General Assembly.
How do you assess the statement of your colleague, the Ambassador of Egypt to Azerbaijan Sabir Mansur that "if it will be impossible to return ‘occupied territories’ peacefully and war begins, then we will support Azerbaijan?"
I think that the statement, which is ascribed to my colleague, the Ambassador of Egypt to Azerbaijan, is absolutely untrue. Ambassador Sabir Mansur made a refutation, the more that his interview with the Azerbaijani mass media was given in connection with Egypt's national holiday and was recorded (video and audio materials are available). Azerbaijani media apologized to our Ambassador for the error, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Egypt immediately issued a statement and clearly expressed its official position.
In what condition is the country and the Armenian community of Egypt after the revolution of January 25?
In this matter I would like to express my appraisal of important role of the Armenian community in strengthening social and cultural ties between the two countries. I would like to stress that
Armenian Egyptians or Egyptian Armenians occupied the highest posts in the Egyptian administration; among them were Prime Minister and the Minister. There are also a poet and writer, cultural figures, stars in dramatic art, music, and applied arts who sincerely expressed their hopes, sorrows and expectations with the people of Egypt.
Although the Armenian community was integrated into Egyptian society, it has retained its cultural peculiarities. The Armenian community has become a part of the Egyptian nation, and, of course, it was touched upon by the Egyptian revolution, after which the community members were concerned over certain instability in the country. However, I think that gradually their concern was gone and positive participation of the Armenian community in Egypt’s life was renewed.
The date of elections to the Egyptian parliament was revealed. Elections for the lower house of parliament will be held on November 21. Some observers expressed the view that it is done to block the access of members of former leader Hosni Mubark’s party to the Parliament. Are these views correct?
I want to emphasize a high degree of awareness of Egyptian voters and the fact that his vote will be counted and may influence the outcome of elections. I would like to stress that various political forces, government and heads of the military council are engaged in a positive dialogue to adopt methods for these elections and their organizations, as well as the rules of participation to avoid any attempt to undermine the political life of Egypt.
The key point in this period is organization of the electoral process and especially adoption of democratic laws. Therefore, timetable for elections to the People’s Assembly and the Shura Council is proposed. It will take place in three stages: the first round of elections to the People’s Assembly will be held on November 28, 2011, while the third round will be completed on January 10, 2012. Then on January 29, 2012 the first round of elections to the Shura Council will start, and the third will end on March 11. Candidatures can be nominated starting from October 12.
When will the date for the presidential elections in Egypt be announced?
The next national council may appoint presidential election during the elaboration of a new constitution, while the latter will last for 6 months. Therefore, it is expected that the date of presidential election will be announced immediately after a new parliament is formed. These elections are expected to be held in November 2012.
I would like to stress that the Military Council seeks to transfer power to civilian authority, elected on democratic basis. All political forces of Egypt have agreed on this point. The Military Council aims to make legal steps in proclaiming the Constitution in order to avoid any violation of law.
Egypt is known as the country hosting many tourists, but after the revolution of January 25 several countries stopped tourist trips to Egypt. Today, nine months after the revolution, what is the state of tourism in Egypt?
The situation has improved considerably. The normal rate of tourist influx to Egypt has resumed. Occupancy of the hotels in the Red Sea coast is more than 80%. Over 14,000 foreign tourists have recently visited the Egyptian museums. There is an ambitious tourism program - to increase the number of tourists visiting Egypt to over 14 million a year in 2012-2013. Yesterday Aswan Governorate accepted the World Tourism Organization in connection with an official celebration of World Tourism Day.
The most important thing is that most countries that have limited visits to Egypt, especially Russia and Japan, have abolished these limitations, taking into account stable situation in the country, as well as their desire to travel to Egypt.
I would like to stress that the Tahrir Square, which became a powerful witness to the revolution, has become a special tourist spot. After the revolution it is visited by tourists of different types, officials and diplomats. During this period, no tourist was threatened in any tourist area of Egypt.
I was very happy to find out that immediately after my arrival, Yerevan - Sharm el-Sheikh charter flights resumed (after a pause) in response to willingness of Armenian tourists who consider Sharm el-Sheikh as the best and cheapest tourist destination (in 2010 Egypt was visited by approximately 12,000 Armenian tourists).
I also learned that flights to Hurghada will be operated this year, as the city became new direction for Armenian tourists, and we can also think about the flights to the city of Alexandria and tourist destinations in the North Coast.
I read an article published on your website saying that the Armenian tourist insist they would like to visit Egypt, despite warnings about certain instability.
I invite all who are interested in tourism in Egypt, contact the Embassy, and if there are questions, visit the Embassy or enter the Embassy page on Facebook at “Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt Yerevan”.