“There is a flaw in the international system which negatively affects its performance and casts a shadow over its credibility in the eyes of many peoples, particularly in the Arab and African regions” is how President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi began his address to the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on Tuesday.
Al-Sisi asked why Arabs and Africans should believe in the role of the UN and its values when their regions were threatened by disintegration and the collapse of nation states.
He cited the plight of the Palestinians “as a perfect example of the failure of the international system to find a just solution to the conflict, based on international legitimacy and UN resolutions, that guarantees the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”
Al-Sisi spoke not just as the president of Egypt but also as the chair of the Group of 77 and China, a grouping whose members are home to the majority of the population of the planet.
He was also wearing an African hat — Egypt assumes the presidency of the African Union in 2019 — when he called for partnerships between the UN and regional organisations to be strengthened to face up to escalating political, economic and development challenges.
“We look forward to strengthening the strategic partnership between the African Union and the United Nations through programmes that have a real impact on the continent, and to build on the progress already made in consolidating the African Union’s post-conflict reconstruction and development policy,” he said.
If African nations are to achieve the ambitious goals set by the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda more resources for development must be made available. “This can be achieved,” said Al-Sisi, “through the creation of an enabling environment which allows for the free flow of resources without imposing conditions, and by supporting national efforts to mobilise the financing necessary for development.”
In New York Al-Sisi also attended the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit. The summit, held to mark the centenary of the birth of Nelson Mandela, focused on ways to build world peace. In this context Al-Sisi said the UN must renew its commitment to three basic principles: “International commitment to the preservation of the nation state, the peaceful settlement of disputes and strengthening cooperation to achieve comprehensive development and address imbalances in the global economic system are necessary conditions for any serious revitalisation of the United Nations system and the restoration of its credibility,” he said.
To implement these principles he argued that a comprehensive international framework to fight terrorism and counter terrorist narratives was needed.
Speaking of Egypt’s experience Al-Sisi said “the level of finance, the sophistication of arms and training, as well as the means of communication used by extremist groups and the way terrorist fighters moved across international borders point to the urgent need to develop a global system to combat terrorism.”
Al-Sisi also drew attention to Egypt’s efforts to empower women and young people, pointing out that women hold 25 per cent of ministerial posts and occupy 15 per cent of parliamentary seats.
“We are determined to continue to accord priority to the economic empowerment of women, to building opportunities for young people and developing science, technology and innovation during Egypt’s presidency of the Group of 77 and China, as a practical example of our commitment to the promotion of human rights in a comprehensive manner,” he said.
Al-Sisi’s speech to the General Assembly was the highlight of a seven-day visit to the US during which he held meetings with US President Donald Trump and other world leaders, the heads of international financial institutions and US business people.
President Trump praised Egypt for the “outstanding job” it has done fighting terrorism. The two presidents also discussed regional conflicts, including the situations in Libya, Syria and Yemen, the Palestinian issue and ways to revive the peace process.
President Al-Sisi stressed Egypt’s willingness to cooperate with the US in order to revive Palestinian-Israeli negotiations and reviewed Egypt’s efforts to mediate a Palestinian reconciliation, a key step towards the resumption of negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis.
President Sisi in UNGA (Photo: Courtesy of Egyptian presidency spokesman official Facebook page)
While the Trump administration has adopted a number of pro-Israeli moves in recent months, moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem and halting funding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), Al-Sisi underscored that Egypt’s position on the Palestinian cause remains constant, and that a just and comprehensive solution must ensure the rights of the Palestinian people and allow for an independent Palestinian state to be established in line with international resolutions.
Al-Sisi also stressed that Egypt is committed to upholding equality among all its citizens without discrimination. He emphasised that the Egyptians’ national unity had held firm over the ages and that Egypt cherishes the values of citizenship, non-discrimination, tolerance and full partnership.
Pushing for a greater share of US investments, Al-Sisi met with representatives of the US Chamber of Commerce and the Egypt-US Business Council and shone the spotlight on major national infrastructure projects as he invited them to bolster their investments.
He reviewed investment opportunities available in the various sectors in Egypt, including infrastructure, communications and IT, energy, pharmaceuticals and the auto industry.
Egypt, he said, is committed to closely engaging with American investors in order to better understand any problems they might encounter while investing in Egypt.
He noted that the Egyptian-American partnership is one of the cornerstones of security and stability in the Middle East and Egypt the largest recipient of US investment in Africa and the second largest in the Middle East. The US, he said, is one of the most important investors in the Egyptian market.
US foreign direct investment (FDI) in Egypt stood at $9.4 billion in 2017 and the trade balance between the two countries reached $5.6 billion according to the US Trade Representative.
Egypt’s economic reform programme was in the spotlight during Al-Sisi’s meetings with the business community and heads of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.
Egypt has undertaken unprecedented reforms to complement the programme developed in partnership with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and in line with Egypt’s Vision 2030 strategy for sustainable development, he said.
Following her meeting with Al-Sisi, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said “Egypt’s economy is showing strong signs of recovery, and its economic growth is among the highest in the Middle East.”
Lagarde argued the time was ripe to capitalise on Egypt’s macroeconomic gains to advance home-grown structural reforms: “These reforms will help achieve more sustainable, inclusive and private sector led growth which will help create jobs for Egypt’s young population while also ensuring adequate resources are available for social protection.”
During the president’s visit to New York he met with Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiadeson, Lebanese President Michel Aoun and the UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed.
President Al-Sisi emphasised Egypt’s keenness to support security and stability in all Arab countries, and reiterated Cairo’s refusal of any attempts to interfere in their internal affairs.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 September 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Adjusting the compass