Egypt is keen to strengthen its "strategic relations" with the US, and work is currently underway to prepare for the first official visit by President Mohamed Morsi to Washington, the Egyptian ambassador to the US, Mohamed Tawfik, told Ahram Online.
In an interview given to Ahram Online by phone from his office in the US capital, Tawfik, who took up his ambassadorial post in September, said that the recent re-election of US President Barack Obama could " help keep a good pace for the upgrading of relations between the two countries" given that the current US administration, despite expected changes, is well aware of the details of Cairo-Washington ties and of the demands that Egypt has made to the US.
"Ultimately Egypt and the US do have strategic ties and ultimately it is in the interest of the US as a world power and Egypt as the central Arab state to pursue cooperation on issues of common interest; but certainly continuity is useful at this point in time," said Tawfik.
Cairo, according to its ambassador in Washington, is going to pursue the immediate processing of an economic aid package that the US promised in the first quarter of 2011.
"The transfer of an aid package of $450 million is a priority that we are currently working on; this is the first instalment of a wider aid package that the US has promised," Tawfik said. He added that action is already being taken and that the US administration is working with the US Congress to finalise the matter soon.
Other elements of the US package include a debt swap and the initiation of small scale projects.
However, as Tawfik stresses, there is more than simply aid at stake.
"Upgrading trade relations, especially through granting Egyptian products better access to American markets, and encouraging direct US investment in Egypt, are also matters that we would like to pursue actively with the US," he added.
Economy, Tawfik insisted, is a top priority in Egyptian-American relations, given that it is clearly a priority for the Egyptian state at this point in time. But this economic interest, he added, does not undermine the political cooperation between Cairo and Washington, especially in relation to regional issues – the Arab-Israeli issue being a permanent priority.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s ambassador to the US insisted that there is no disagreement between Cairo and Washington over Egyptian-Israeli relations.
"It is all very stable; Egypt has asserted its commitment to the peace treaty and the matter is not open for discussion," he said. He added that Egypt is working on underlining the bilateral rather than trilateral nature of Egyptian-American relations to free it from any third party influences.
According to Tawfik, Cairo and Washington are currently reviewing the schedules of Morsi and Obama to prepare for the first Egyptian presidential visit to the US capital. This visit, he added, would help launch a new phase in Egyptian-American relations.
According to the ambassador, this new phase is bound to resemble the bilateral relationship of the past, but will also offer a new profile whereby Egypt will not hesitate to decline any policy lines that it sees as unbecoming of post-revolution realities.
Tawfik agreed that there is a certain concern that is being expressed in many quarters currently over the future of Egypt. The possible ‘Islamistation’ of Egypt is an issue that is being raised, particularly in relation to the debate over the constitution.
"Yes, questions are being asked but we are making it clear that what is underway now in Egypt is a debate amongst the many political trends, and that this debate will produce a constitution that would be offered for referendum, and not imposed on the Egyptian people," Tawfik said.
Tawfik also acknowledged that other concerns are being raised in the US over the challenges facing Copts and women in Egypt, in relation to the debate over the constitution and beyond.
This said, he insisted that "it is being made clear to all concerned that at the end of the day it is the Egyptian people and the Egyptian people only that will make their own decisions – in line with the commitment to the principles of citizenship and the long history of established bonds amongst all Egyptians."