AFRICANGLOBE – Recently Nabil Fahmi spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat about Egypt’s stance on the Nile waters issue, its resurgent relations with Africa, and next month’s Arab–African Summit
Since the ousting of Egypt’s first democratically elected president Mohamed Mursi, Egypt’s new government has struggled to assert its legitimacy in international forums outside of the Arab world. In particular, the African Union (AU) which suspended Egyptian involvement in its activities on July 5, “until the restoration of constitutional order,” as the chairman of the organization’s Peace and Security Council put it.
This has not gone down well in Cairo, given the recurrent Egyptian view, once laid out by Gamal Abdul Nasser in his book Egypt’s liberation;: The philosophy of the revolution, that the country lies at the intersection of “three circles”: the Arab, Islamic and African worlds.
Unsurprisingly, Egypt’s interim government has been keen to try to reverse the AU’s decision, and is making new attempts to reaffirm ties with Egypt’s southern neighbors. Asharq Al-Awsat spoke to Egyptian foreign minister Nabil Fahmi during his tour of the Nile Basin about Egypt’s approach to African relations.
The following interview has been edited for length.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Egypt’s involvement in Africa has been in decline for a long time. How has Egypt’s foreign policy approach to the other African countries changed?
Nabil Fahmi: First, I would like to emphasize that Egyptian foreign policy . . . does not operate in a vacuum. We have well-established principles governing our foreign policy that always seek to further the national interest and maintain national security.
I believe that we have a historic responsibility to restore Egypt to its rightful regional and global position. I have often said that Egypt’s approach will be based on two axes, one Arab and one African, given that Egypt is Arab in identity and African in its geography and interests.
We must rise to Egyptian society’s aspirations for a better future. In order to meet these expectations, we need to have a long-term vision. Those following Egyptian foreign policy know that we have immediately begun carrying out our commitment to place Africa in its rightful place among our diplomatic priorities. Egypt’s strategic interests are tied to Africa, and restoring Egypt to a leading role in the African continent is not some luxury that we can do without. Egypt was one of the founding fathers of the Organization of African Unity, and then the AU after it, and Egypt has done much in other ways to further the development of its brothers in African countries.
Therefore, I would like to reaffirm the important fact that Egyptian interest in Africa following the June 30 revolution is neither temporary nor meant to make headway on one issue in particular, but rather it is focused on building a strategic relationship that can realize mutual gains for all parties without causing harm. Cooperation between Egypt and its African brothers will advance development and identify developmental needs by tapping Egyptian expertise. Moreover, the Egyptian private sector will be encouraged to double its investments in Africa.
Q: How do you envision the strategic development partnership between Egypt and the countries of Nile Basin that you mentioned playing out?
The truth is that Africa has undergone major changes over the past decades, with many African countries managing to achieve very good rates of growth, attract foreign investments, and exploit their countries’ rich resources. Meanwhile, other African countries have undertaken the daunting task of democratization. African cooperation has taken concrete steps with the establishment of the African Union and its various institutions. Egyptian foreign policy will adjust to these changes and will take a different approach towards African countries, in that it will treat them as partners for development through cooperation in both the public and private sectors. An uptick in trade and investment would benefit the common interests of all parties involved.
Certainly, the initiative Egypt announced in its statement at the 68th General Assembly session of the United Nations in New York to establish the Egyptian Partnership Agency for Development represents a concrete step in this regard. The new agency will guide the activities of African countries and will encourage the Egyptian private sector by providing incentives to increase investments in the continent, opening new horizons and serving the interests of all parties.
As for Egypt’s strategic approach regarding the Nile Basin, it represents one component of Egypt’s new foreign policy platform towards the African continent. This includes ensuring water security for Egypt by all legitimate means so as to preserve the rights and interests of Egyptians to the waters of the Nile. In fact, we aim to increase Egypt’s share so as to meet the developmental demands of our country. At the same time, we aim to respect the developmental aspirations of the countries and peoples of the Nile Basin, including the Ethiopian people.
We look forward to finding solutions through dialogue so as to secure the interests of all parties. Each party wants more than it currently has, whether it be water, energy or economic development, and these aspirations cannot be met without joint action among the Nile Basin countries.
Q: Together with the minister of agriculture and land reclamation, you recently took a tour of Africa that included Uganda and Burundi. What was the purpose of this trip, and what did you discuss with the officials of these two nations?
The tour reflects that we have made our brothers in the Nile Basin and Africa at large a top priority. Despite the fact that the Nile waters issue is of paramount importance, it will not be the only component of Egypt’s foreign policy platform. The Nile should be a source of unity and not a division for the countries of the Nile Basin.
During the tour I met with the presidents of Uganda and Burundi and handed them letters written by President Adly Mansour, in which he spoke of Egypt’s newfound priority and vision for Africa at large, politically, socially and economically. It was a message of cooperation and friendship, and we emphasized Egypt’s interest in supporting the two countries in their developmental programs and building on preexisting cooperation.
In Uganda, I met with President Yoweri Museveni. He understood Egypt’s sway in Africa, the importance of Egypt’s engagement with African issues, and the benefits Egyptian participation brings to the African Union. He also stressed that it is in the interest of the Nile Basin countries to take into account the interests and needs of the other parties. He said that all Nile Basin countries, from its source to the Delta, must work together, given that they all depend on this vital river. He underscored that his country will work with Egypt to build bilateral relations, along with a better future for Africa as a whole.