TBY talks to Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, President of Egypt, on the strength of social and economic ties between Egypt and the UAE.
In recent years, the UAE has delivered nearly half of the foreign aid budget to developing projects in Egypt. How crucial has UAE aid been in stabilizing Egypt and promoting development?
Egypt and the UAE have always shared special and close relations at both official and popular levels. Today, ties between the two Arab nations are developing on all fronts at an unprecedented rate and are considered a model upon which inter-Arab relations should be styled. Strong bonds of friendship with the UAE's leaders, HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed have reflected on the growing political and economic ties between both countries, as a result UAE ranks high among Arab and foreign countries investing in Egypt. Cultural ties between both nations are also reaching new horizons, in light of the common social and cultural heritage both peoples share. In this context, I would like to commend the appreciated efforts of Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad al-Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah, aimed at supporting various cultural activities as well as restoring a number of historic institutions in Egypt.
During recent years, the UAE has become one of Egypt's most important strategic allies as well as a key development partner. This was demonstrated by the stance taken by the UAE following the developments in Egypt in the past few years and the support it has pledged to Egypt's stability.
Following the revolution on June 30, 2013, a framework agreement was signed between the two countries by virtue of which the UAE supported the implementation of development projects in vital sectors including energy, housing, education, healthcare, transportation, infrastructure, and food security, in addition to industrial staff training and strategic studies. Talks are also underway with the UAE to finance projects implemented under the Sinai Peninsula Development Project. The UAE's support of Egypt's development plans has been very useful and we look forward to continued collaboration between and witness the implementation of a number of megaprojects aiming at boosting the economy and fostering Egypt's stability.
How would you welcome collaboration between the two countries to help boost employment in Egypt, particularly among the younger population?
The welfare of the Egyptian citizen is the principle objective of our development strategy. Development projects across the various sectors contribute to easing the problem of unemployment by accommodating thousands of people, primarily young people, into the job market. The UAE government has supported the implementation of many projects in various sectors in Egypt, which helped reduce unemployment by creating hundreds of thousands of job opportunities. Other UAE-funded projects, which are currently being implemented in various fields, generate thousands of jobs as well. Egypt is also focusing on enhancing the SME sector and strengthening entrepreneurship, bearing in mind how vital this sector is for addressing unemployment and providing the youth with job opportunities. We are also exchanging experiences with the UAE in this crucial field and have launched joint-training programs to empower human capital and prepare young Egyptian men and women to enable them to find jobs and build their own careers. This is in addition to joint efforts to employ 10,000 young Egyptian people in the ICT sector. The ongoing economic cooperation between Egypt and the UAE has definitely contributed positively to national efforts aimed at creating jobs and improving the livelihoods of many Egyptians.
The New Suez Canal opened last year. Has Egypt seen interest from the UAE to develop special economic zones near the canal, like Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah, which have developed efficient business-friendly centers for industry?
The Suez Canal corridor is one of the most prominent projects in Egypt. In November 2015, we launched the first phase of the Suez Canal Area Development Project. The project envisages the promotion of special economic zones and industrial areas. Work is now underway on the infrastructure in the area to turn it into an international investment destination, a global logistics hub, and an industrial center for the new Egypt. As an integral part of this vision, the government is currently reviewing the special economic zones law to improve the tax and investment incentives offered to investors in these zones. The UAE was at the forefront of countries showing interest in this ambitious project, given its commitment to supporting Egypt's comprehensive economic and social development process as well as its successful experience in managing special economic zones. The Emirati interest in the Suez Canal project started early in phase one, where Abu Dhabi's National Marine Dredging Company was instrumental in delivering the New Suez Canal on time, leading a consortium of four of the world's largest dredging contractors. Momentum has now switched to phase two of the project, the new special economic zones, which offer a huge opportunity for the UAE, particularly the private sector, to set up industrial parks and logistics hub. I met with several groups of Emirati businessmen and investors over past years and discussed with them the diverse business and investment opportunities offered by Egypt as well as steps and measures undertaken by the government to offer an environment conducive to more investment and to eliminate bureaucratic impediments. They showed great interest and commitment to increasing their investments in Egypt, and we are currently cooperating with them in order to translate this interest into tangible actions and projects that would be of mutual benefit for both sides.
What are the challenges facing the Egyptian government and how can the UAE assist in measures taken to improve the economic situation?
It is important to point out that the UAE has been a major supporter of Egypt at some of the most critical junctures in Egyptian history. Egypt will always remember with much appreciation the honorable positions taken by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan during the 1973 war and its aftermath. This support demonstrates that the UAE views Egypt's political and economic stability and viability as an integral part of the region's stability. The UAE's support to the Egyptian economy over the past few years has contributed to national efforts aimed at restoring confidence in our economy. Nevertheless, the economy faces many challenges, which the Egyptian government is vigorously addressing through adopting an ambitious plan to restructure subsidies and introduce further structural reforms. We also aim at boosting investment opportunities by adopting a series of measures to combat bureaucracy and encourage investors to do business and take advantage of various business opportunities Egypt has to offer given its considerable market size, human capital, strategic location as well as the many preferential trade agreements it has concluded with its European, African, and Arab partners that provide preferential access rates to Egyptian exports. Our aim is to eventually see our economy get back on its feet, realize sustainable development, and achieve higher growth rates. This will serve both Egypt and the region's economic interests.
How do you envision future relations between Egypt and the UAE?
At the bilateral level, Egypt and the UAE will continue to strengthen the political, economic, cultural, and social ties that have been established since the UAE's independence in 1971. There is a large Egyptian expatriate community in the UAE, which has positively contributed to its development and modernization process during the past decades, and many Emiratis have a strong affinity to Egypt, where they have received their education at Egyptian universities and enjoyed some of Egypt's most attractive tourist destinations. The political leadership in both countries is interested in seeing these relations further prosper and flourish to serve their mutual and regional interests.