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26° Nicosia,
23 July, 2019
 
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Interview with Egyptian Ambassador Mai Taha Mohamed Khalil

The Ambassador spoke to Kathimerini about Egypt-Cyprus relations, energy and regional politics

Michalis Tsikalas

Michalis Tsikalas

Egypt - Cyprus Relations

Some limit the relations between Egypt and Cyprus to only the new discoveries of hydrocarbon in East of the Mediterranean, and only look at it from this angle. This is a very narrow and limiting view of the relations between the two countries that extends over centuries. Hydrocarbon is definitely, an important component but the relations go deeper in history than just the current state of affairs and are diverse historically, politically, economically and culturally. In recent history, the two countries stood together; Egypt held a firm position in support of Cyprus during its struggle for independence and now supports the efforts of Cyprus for the unification of the Island. Cyprus also was keen to show support for Egypt after the 30th of June revolution in 2013, when so many failed to understand what was going on in Egypt and in the region in general during the period of the Arab spring.

Egypt and Cyprus are forging a new strategic partnership based on the understanding of the common interests and threats in the East of the Mediterranean region. Egypt as the oldest and one of the biggest countries in the Middle East and East of the Mediterranean, considers itself a key player in stabilizing a volatile region plagued with conflict, found an understanding partner in Cyprus. Due to its proximity to the Middle East, Cyprus understands the complexities and sensitivities of the issues in the region and is assuming an important, evolving and a much needed role in bridging the gap between Europe and the Middle East, particularly east of the Mediterranean.

Egypt and Cyprus focus on common interests to cooperate and identify common threats to find ways to address them. Issues like terrorism, extremism and illegal immigration are high up on the agenda. People-to-people interaction is an important dynamic in the relations between the two countries. Egypt, within the trilateral cooperation, hosted a huge event (Nostos) or back to the roots initiative, under the auspices of the three presidents of Egypt, Cyprus and Greece in Alexandria, Cairo and Sharm Elsheikh, in the spring of 2018. The Event brought back Cypriots and Greeks who used to live in Egypt to the places where they lived. Apart from the emotional aspect of it, it highlighted the potentials of cooperation and the opportunities for investment, tourism, and so many more areas. Ultimately, we believe that all of these efforts will lead to stability and peace in the volatile region of East of the Mediterranean.

It is also important to highlight Nicosia’s firm position within the EU that Egypt must be supported in a more tangible way, noting that Egypt has a pivotal role to play in addressing the issues of terrorism, migration, maritime and energy security in the Eastern Mediterranean and stability in the region.

Egypt and the Cyprus Problem

Egypt fully supports Cyprus in its efforts to unify the Island in accordance with all relevant United Nations Resolutions and International Law. Egypt makes it a point, in all international and regional fora to support the just cause of Cyprus in its quest for Unification. Egypt also supports the right of Cyprus to have full control of its natural resources as any sovereign country and to exploit its natural wealth within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Cyprus-Egypt bilateral cooperation in Gas, The creation of Energy forum & developments on Cyprus EEZ

Egypt and Cyprus signed an agreement in 2013 for the re-demarcation of the maritime border, despite Turkey’s opposition to it. Under the agreement, Egypt discovered the mega Zohr gas field in 2015. This discovery changed the natural gas map in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, in light of the field’s gas reserves, which are estimated at more than 30 trillion cubic feet.

On September 19th 2018, Egypt signed an agreement with Cyprus to establish a direct maritime pipeline that would transport natural gas from the Cypriot Aphrodite field to Egypt’s liquefaction plants for re-exportation. By pumping Cypriot gas to Egypt, the region is heading for more economic integration in the field of energy.
The oil and gas sectors have become important pillars of the Egyptian economy in the last few years, contributing around 15% to the GDP. The Egyptian government is keen on transforming Egypt into a regional energy hub, benefiting from the recent discoveries in East of the Mediterranean and the Nile Delta, as well as its well established infrastructure. Egypt has two liquefaction plants. EDCO, which is owned by Egyptian Liquefied Natural Gas, has two liquefaction units. Another plant, in Damietta, is affiliated with Union Fenosa Gas, a joint venture between Italy's Eni and Spain's Naturgy Energy Group, and has one liquefaction unit. Egypt no longer imports Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), as Egypt has managed to achieve self-sufficiency in gas due to the Zohr gas field whose output increased six folds since its inauguration.

Within its new strategic vision for cooperation in energy, Egypt is working towards forming a new eastern Mediterranean alliance that includes Cyprus, to take advantage of the new discoveries of the energy-rich region, which has natural gas reserves estimated at 122 trillion cubic feet (3.45 trillion cubic meters). ‘Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF)’ was established in Cairo on 15th of January 2019. The EMGF countries include Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Israel, and Jordan and Palestine. The premise of the forum is to use the newly discovered gas as an element for cooperation and stabilization to mutually benefit its countries than being a potential element for conflict.

Cyprus-Egypt collaboration in maritime cooperation

Maritime cooperation between Cyprus and Egypt is further strengthened after meetings held in Egypt in January 2019 between Deputy Minister of Shipping Natasa Pilides and Egyptian Minister of Transportation and the Chairman of the Suez Canal Authority. The meetings aimed at enhancing cooperation between the two countries, especially since Cyprus and Egypt are developing a very strong alliance through bilateral and trilateral cooperation. The meetings stressed the importance to establish continuous communication between the governments in order to facilitate action on issues of common interest.

It is worth mentioning that establishing new transportation and shipping lines between the two countries is at an advanced stage, especially regarding resumption of cruises, as this issue has been included in the outcomes of the trilateral cooperation summits between Cyprus, Egypt and Greece. During the visit, opportunities for cooperation, exchange of experiences and enhancing knowledge through providing educational opportunities were explored. One of the priority targets is to prepare highly qualified staff to work in shipping companies and fleets.

General matters of the region, situation in Syria, withdrawal of American forces, the role of Turkey and Russia

Egypt’s position on the Syrian conflict is based on the following principles: a) stressing that the peaceful settlement of the conflict is the only way to solve it, b) stressing the importance of maintaining territorial integrity of Syria, c) emphasizing that only the Syrian people have the right to choose their government and decide how it should be formed and run, d) providing humanitarian assistance to ease the situation on the Syrian population and finally, e) opposing any foreign interference in the domestic affairs of Syria.

Egypt contributes in efforts to mobilize the international community to reach a permanent and comprehensive solution to the Syrian crisis that has torn the country since 2011. It also believes, that the Syrian conflict would be resolved in a much shorter period should all regional and international powers stop interfering in Syrian affairs. The involvement of foreign parties in the conflict has exacerbated the already dire situation in Syria, spurring further chaos. Many countries have cited humanitarian and civil rights reasons for their involvement.

Egypt remains the only country that maintains good relations with both the peaceful opposition and government. Accordingly, Egypt has been working vehemently with all affiliated parties and organising meetings of the non-militant opposition in Cairo while keeping channels open with the Syrian regime. The aim is to find a peaceful and practical solution to the Syrian conflict.

Recent visit of the President of France to Egypt, security cooperation between Egypt and France and Cyprus in the region

Egypt and Cyprus signed the first agreement on defence cooperation in 2015, followed by several programmes of bilateral military cooperation. On December 2017, the first trilateral meeting of the defence ministries of Cyprus, Greece and Egypt was held in Larnaca, and since then the cooperation in the field of defence and military was elevated between the 3 countries. Cyprus for the first time participated in the Joint military exercises “Medusa” that was held in Egypt in 2018.
As for the relations with France, president, Emmanuel Macron’s made his first visit to Egypt end of January 2019, where economic, political, and military fields were discussed. After his visit to Egypt, the French president arrived to Cyprus to participate in the MED7 summit in Nicosia where several topics were discussed among which security topics in the Mediterranean region and how it reflects on the security of Europe.

There is a proposal that is being currently discussed to have meetings within the framework of the trilateral cooperation on ad hoc basis focusing on certain strategic topics where interested countries are invited to join. One of those proposals is to invite France to join trilateral talks on security issues on the East-Med region.

 

TAGS
Egypt  |  Cyprus  |  Energy  |  LNG  |  Cooperation  |  Syria  |  Diplomacy  |  Security

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