FROM ASTARTE TO ACHRAFIEH

Lebanon 2017 | DIPLOMACY | GUEST SPEAKER

TBY talks to Nicos Anastasiades, President of the Republic of Cyprus, on the ancient ties that bind Cyprus and Lebanon, the importance of recent and future offshore energy discoveries for bilateral relations, and the importance of working together to combat common security and political problems.

Nicos Anastasiades
BIOGRAPHY
Nicos Anastasiades is the President of the Republic of Cyprus. He was born in Limassol in 1946. He studied law at the University of Athens, received his postgraduate degree in maritime law at the University of London, and has practiced law since 1972. He was elected president of the Democratic Rally in 1997, a position to which he was re-elected in 1999, 2003, 2007, and 2012. He participates in all the European People’s Party (EPP) summits and conferences and actively participates in conferences of the International Democrat Union (IDU). He was elected President of the Republic of Cyprus on February 24, 2013 by winning the run-off presidential election with a majority of 57.4%.

How would you evaluate the historic relations between the two countries?

Cyprus and Lebanon share excellent bilateral relations. These relations date a long way back: from ancient times, when Phoenicians traveled and traded their goods throughout the Mediterranean, to the medieval and the modern. This interconnection has been facilitated by close geographical proximity and is manifested among other things, through shared cultural expressions, traditions, and social practices. The presence, furthermore, of the Maronite community in Cyprus is another strong connection between our two countries. The intertwined history of Cyprus and Lebanon is splendidly revealed with a visit to the archaeological site of ancient Kition (modern day Larnaka) where one can witness the ruins of the temple of the Phoenician goddess Astarte, who coexisted with Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, a surviving proof of the historical bonds that unite our two countries. In modern times, our two peoples came together once again, in times of hardship and distress, both after the 1974 Turkish military invasion of Cyprus, as well as during the Lebanese Civil War and the 2006 crisis, when Cyprus proved a hospitable and safe haven for Lebanese refugees fleeing their homeland.

In which areas is Cyprus currently looking to expand relations with Lebanon?

An important area of ongoing cooperation where we place particular importance is security, as the challenges and threats we face are common. In this light, we continue to focus on military and defense cooperation, and Cyprus offers training to Lebanese officers in search and rescue operations. In the energy field, we are happy to see that Lebanon has proceeded with its first offshore licensing round. Through our joint concerted efforts we can create the conditions to secure unperturbed oil and gas exploration in the region, boosting both local economies while strengthening regional energy security. By strengthening bilateral collaboration, we actively promote security, stability, and prosperity and counterbalance the forces of violence and extremism that undermine stability and peace in our neighborhood.

What advantages does Cyprus offer in attracting FDI?

Despite the economic difficulties we have faced, our country's comparative advantages not only remain intact, but have been enhanced. These include a significant network of 60 agreements for the Avoidance of Double Taxation, a highly qualified and professional workforce, and a fully EU-harmonized tax and legal system. Cyprus has one of the lowest and most competitive corporate tax rates in Europe, at 12.5%, making Cyprus a highly competitive center for international business, and offering a platform for operations and preferential access to markets such as Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. The safe environment, our traditional hospitality, and our all-year-round good weather are other huge comparative advantages. Sectors such as tourism, port privatization, telecommunications, shipping, real estate, large-scale development projects, research and innovation, and education and health all offer growth opportunities. The energy sector is also a promising field. The discovery of natural gas reserves within Cyprus' Exclusive Economic Zone also creates excellent investment prospects in the energy sector and its supplementary services.

How will relations between the two nations evolve?

They will further flourish in the years to come. After all, we share a rich common past that inevitably conditions a common future. The Foreign Minister of Cyprus, along with his Greek counterpart, paid a joint visit to Lebanon in November 2016 shortly after the election of General Aoun. The deep-rooted historical relations will be further enhanced in the future for the mutual benefit of our two countries and peoples based on our common interests in various domains in multilateral diplomacy, energy, and regional issues, to name but a few. As regional actors, we shall also continue to closely collaborate to address issues that pose a threat to the entire region, predominantly the ongoing political and humanitarian crisis in Syria. Finally, we need to work together to protect religious minorities in the Middle East, currently under existential threat, and uphold the diverse human mosaic that has always characterized the region.