Over the past two years, Egypt has supercharged its foreign policy agenda. Seen as an ally of the West and a key player in the Middle East, it is the biggest country in the Arab world, overseeing one of the most important waterways, the Suez Canal. Over this period there has been a definite rapprochement with its African neighbours. At the centre of all this has been Sameh Shoukry, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Arab Republic of Egypt.
How do you see the role of diplomacy in terms of economic development?
To a great extent, the focus of diplomacy now is on issues related to development and how to create the best conditions in regard to taking advantage of productive political relations to provide an economic return for both sides.
This is how modern diplomacy is geared to respond to the actual, practical needs of people in relation to development, in relation to creating employment opportunities and greater investment volumes.
All this is certainly facilitated by a productive political relationship that can produce and generate momentum and the developmental side of any bilateral relationship – and multi-lateral relationships, for that matter.
Some say there has been a shift in the global balance of power from the West to the East. How does this affect your interactions with other countries?
We hope it will create greater competitiveness between the West and the East, thereby benefitting the developing world in attracting more investments and more synergies that can be productive for our developmental objectives – especially in the African continent.
We have been disadvantaged by a long history of our resources being taken out of Africa for the benefit of development in other parts of the world. It’s about time that some of these past debts are paid up, that there is greater involvement and there is a potential of mutual gain.
It’s not a one-way street, it can be rewarding, but there has to be greater commitment. It should not solely be a matter of lip service to Africa’s developmental objectives and the occasional visit here and there, after which we return to a lack of true engagement.
In view of this, would you say there should be a greater emphasis on South-South relationships?
South-South is important and I think it can generate growth and development because of the interdependency and complementarity between many in the South and their ability to take advantage of that complementarity.
But there has to also be a North-South relationship because of the capabilities in the North and the need to create a deeper degree of justice in the distribution of abilities and resources.
While emerging markets are opening up their economies, we are seeing a rise in protectionism in the US and possibly in certain countries in Europe, does that worry you?
Well, it worries me because it is not consistent with policies that have been advocated for a long time. But now it seems that it isn’t a matter of principle, as much as it is a matter of expediency. And it is difficult to operate on shifting sands when it comes to national relations, both political and economic.
As information technology has created a smaller, more interdependent and more interactive world, we should all have to operate on the basis of fixed and recognised standards.
How would you describe Egypt as an African partner and in terms of reaching out to your close friends in the Arab world? How can other African countries leverage on this relationship?
Egypt is on a road of economic reform and I think the potential is clear. Despite the last seven years of turbulence, the Egyptian economy has been able to absorb, to grow and to still provide great returns on investment.
With the economic reform policies, with the influx of larger volumes of investment and the Egyptian attention now being
given to our cooperation with our African brethren, we can generate a great deal of benefit for both sides.
Would you say you are playing a role in terms of advocacy to the Arab world?
Yes, advocacy to both the Arab and African worlds. Hosting the Africa 2017 conference in Sharm el-Sheikh last December and other engagements, and our desire to expand the legal frameworks of our relationships with the Arab world and with Africa, are all indicative of the policy we are implementing.
The EU was created to form a common market and avoid conflict. It also produced some collaborative projects such as Airbus as well as others in the steel and coal industries. Should we be more inventive in Africa to create economies that are tightly interlinked?
We certainly need to do more. But I think we haven’t reached the necessary maturity in comparison to developments in Europe. There have been good policies advocated on the African continent but the conditions in Africa, the instability, the conflicts that have arisen, have hindered our ability to move forward on the implementation of these principles and policies.
So, in principle, this is an objective that we should strive to achieve, but I don’t think we should burden ourselves by unrealistically thinking that we can achieve something similar, at this specific point, as maybe our European partners, who operate in very different circumstances.
Is there strong collaboration between you and African partners in areas of peace and security?
We do as much as possible, with our role in the UN Security Council, our membership of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union, our bilateral relations, our intervention in many of the conflict areas, our peace keeping forces – all of which have contributed to the relaxation of some of the tension areas in Africa.
Can you tell us a little more about your role as a Non-Permanent Member of the UN Security Council?
We coordinate closely with the other two African states that represent the positions of the AU, and intervene with a common position related to the conflicts in Africa and their resolution.
This is done on the principles of political dialogue and non-intervention, and that we should advocate African solutions for African problems.
The AU and its member states have a greater knowledge relating to the dynamics of African situations and thereby, can provide the necessary resolution based on a deeper understanding of the causes of the conflicts and the personalities involved and the aspirations of the peoples of any specific country to move forward.
What about other groupings, like the G20? There was talk a few years back that the balance of power would shift to these as opposed to the power brokers of the UN?
They will become more influential, once they incorporate Egypt among the G20! NA