Egypt’s Minister of State for Emigration and Expatriate Affairs Nabila Makram talks to Nora Koloyan-Keuhnelian about the ministry’s Roots Revival initiative, Egyptian-Armenian relations and the upcoming tribute to the community for the Armenian minister of the diaspora’s visit to Egypt.
How did the ministry’s Roots Revival initiative originate? What are its objectives and what has it accomplished so far?
The initiative was launched under the patronage of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi in April 2018 and involved inviting delegations of Greeks and Cypriots who once lived in Egypt to a “homecoming” to the country.
The initiative seeks to benefit from the “soft power” of the communities that once lived in Egypt, as well as to strengthen relations between the Mediterranean peoples through “people’s diplomacy.”
It also profiles Egypt as a country of refuge that has opened its arms to foreign communities throughout its history. These communities in turn have enriched Egypt’s cultural diversity.
The initiative was also inspired by the desire to celebrate the Greeks and Cypriots who once lived in Egypt side-by-side with their Egyptian brothers and sisters and who were instrumental in generating a commercial, cultural and artistic revival.
Members of these communities worked in all fields of economic life: trade and industry, ship-building and guiding ships through the Suez Canal, tourism and agriculture, the press and publication, and so on.
Among the many aims the initiative seeks to accomplish is to promote “roots tourism” and to reaffirm Egypt as the cradle of civilisation and as a harbour of safety and peace that welcomes all visitors and looks forward to knowing them better.
The initiative also seeks to profile the places that are infused with the memories of the Greek and Cypriot communities, such as the neighbourhoods where they grew up, lived and went to school, in the hope that one day the members of the visiting delegations will return, bringing their children and grandchildren with them.
Another important aim is to bolster friendly relations that will open horizons for cooperation in all economic and commercial fields between Egypt and these countries, thereby attracting more promising investments to Egyptian markets. In the process, the initiative seeks to promote the exchange of knowledge and expertise between Egyptians and members of these communities and to encourage greater familiarity with others’ cultures, customs and traditions.
We are now preparing to launch the Roots Revival initiative among young people from Egypt, Cyprus and Greece as we look forward to a future in which we can benefit from the past and the shared histories that bring us together.
What were the results of your meetings with the bishop of the Armenian Orthodox Church, the Armenian ambassador in Cairo and members of the Armenian Patriarchal Council last week?
I met with Ashod Mnatsaganian, bishop of the Armenian Orthodox Church in Egypt, in the presence of the Armenian Ambassador to Egypt Armen Melkonian, and president and members of the Armenian Patriarchal Council Vahe Pladian, Armen Mazloumian and Mardig Balayan to discuss the details of our ministry’s initiative to celebrate the Armenian community that has lived in Egypt for many decades and the impact it has had on Egyptian life.
His Excellency Bishop Mnatsaganian warmly welcomed the idea of celebrating Egyptian citizens of Armenian origin and stressed the friendly and cooperative relations between Egypt and Armenia that are founded on mutual respect and cooperation at all levels.
Egyptian-Armenians played an important role in the history of modern Egypt, and they continue to cooperate in important ways to this day in bolstering relations between the two countries.
The meeting also addressed ways to format the initiative to celebrate and pay tribute to the Armenian community in a manner commensurate with the relations between the two peoples.
The initiative will serve as a cornerstone for efforts to study and discuss ways to strengthen relations between the two countries at the level of their respective communities and peoples.
Why is it important for Egypt to celebrate the Armenian community in particular? What has been the impact of this community on Egyptian life in the past and present?
It is very important for Egypt to pay tribute to the Armenians in order to focus attention on the contributions this community has made at many levels and to work to promote its role in supporting bilateral relations between the peoples of the two countries, relations which have always been characterised by warmth and the spirit of co-existence.
The Armenian community has had very important impacts on political, economic and artistic life in Egypt. Its members have assimilated into the national fabric.
What are the details of the cultural evening that will take place next week honouring the Armenian community in Egypt?
The activities are being closely coordinated with the church and the embassy. The main event, which will be held on 26 September, will include official addresses by the ministers of emigration of Egypt and the diaspora of Armenia and Bishop Mnatsaganian.
An Egyptian-Armenian chorus will perform songs in the Arabic and Armenian languages; two folkloric dance troupes will perform too.
A documentary on the historic role of the Armenians in Egypt will also be screened.
What is the programme for the upcoming visit by the Armenian Minister of the Diaspora Mkhitar Hayrapetian to Egypt?
In his first visit to Egypt, which will take place on 24-28 September, Minister Mkhitar Hayrapetian will visit numerous places in Cairo and Alexandria, most importantly Egypt’s antiquities and monuments at the Pyramid Plateau and Al-Muizz Street and the Armenian School in Heliopolis.
He will meet members of the community in Cairo and Alexandria. While in Alexandria, he will visit the Ras Al-Tin Naval Base and the Armenian Orthodox Church.
What avenues (in tourism and investment, for example) should be explored to strengthen relations between Egypt and Armenia?
We constantly strive to communicate with different communities around the world, whether Egyptian communities abroad or communities that once lived in Egypt.
The aim, of course, is to promote Egypt’s tourism and to strengthen relations between those communities and Egyptians at home. Such efforts open horizons for investment in both Armenia and Egypt, as is the case with the Roots Revival initiative.
Closer economic ties and partnership agreements can provide many opportunities for Armenia and Egypt. These have political dimensions that reflect the importance of the Eastern Mediterranean region, the countries and peoples of which share common interests and face common challenges.
These efforts can help in strengthening the existing bonds between the two countries and their peoples, maintaining the geostrategic relations which form a shield for Egyptian national security.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 20 September 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Celebrating fraternity