Egypt and the UK has always been close, with Britain considering Egypt a strategic partner in the Middle East region. During his recent visit to Egypt, Andrew Murrison, the UK’s minister of state for international development and the Middle East, paid tribute to the remarkable improvement in Egypt’s economic indicators in recent years, and Egypt's pivotal role in the Middle East and Africa.
In interview with Ahram Online, Murrison affirmed his country's keenness to enhance cooperation with Egypt in various fields, considering historical relations between the two countries. He underlined the need to maintain the pace of cooperation between the two countries, especially after Brexit.
Murrison's visit to Egypt shed light on the UK's plan to remain at the forefront of countries supporting Egypt's development. Murrison stressed his country's keenness to be a strategic partner with the Egyptian government at the Aswan Forum for Peace and Sustainable Development in Africa, which will be held in December 2019, that will discuss a large number of issues of interest to the African continent.
How do you regard current relations and cooperation between Egypt and the United Kingdom and plans to enhance investments and cooperation between the two sides?
The UK and Egypt are strategic partners. Over the past year, we have made clear progress in deepening this partnership and it has become clear that the British government and British businesses are keen to invest in this country’s future.
We recently signed a government-to-government MoU to support the training of Egyptian doctors, and to share elements of the NHS’s success with Egypt. The UK’s healthcare service is world class and we were keen to offer our knowledge and expertise as Egypt upgrades its healthcare system. This project has since trained two groups of 60 GPs in the UK, with plans for a total of 100 doctors by the end of the year. The success of this project was one of the main topics of discussion between the Egyptian minister of health and I during our meeting in London.
Our joint £12m programme with UNICEF and the Ministry of Education is another success story that is worth celebrating. We are not only providing students with school supplies. We are also supporting the Egyptian government to implement its education reform vision.
As for British businesses, I am delighted to say that we remain one of Egypt’s leading investors: there is £3bn of annual trade between our two countries. We do not plan for that to change. The appetite for investment is growing. We have seen a growth in British companies working in Egypt across a variety of fields, such as transportation, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, and many others. We also have companies like BP. Their investment in Egypt is expected to reach about $14bn by 2021.
Do you find the economic reforms implemented by the Egyptian government enough to attract more British investment?
The Egyptian government has shown a strong commitment to its economic reform programme. These reforms are bearing fruit. Egypt’s macroeconomic conditions have improved. Foreign reserves surged to record levels, and inflation has significantly dropped. The UK has supported the success of these reforms through our £15m World Bank Trust Fund. The Fund supports improved economic governance, improved financial management, and modernisation of the energy and business sectors.
I am delighted to announce a four-year, £13m expansion to this fund, aimed at supporting inclusive economic growth in Egypt. This programme will support macroeconomic stability and improvements in the business environment. It will also increase our support for the government’s ambitious education agenda. This fund demonstrates that the UK will continue to be at the forefront of supporting Egypt’s development and reform goals.
The UK is partnering with Egypt in the Aswan Forum for Peace and Stability. Can you tell us more about that?
The UK is a strategic partner with the Egyptian government in the Aswan Forum for Sustainable Peace and Development in Africa, which will take place in December 2019. The forum covers six themes, including women, peace and security in Africa, finding solutions for Africa’s forcibly displaced, conflict prevention, peacekeeping, and peace building. This forum is in line with the UK’s wider objective to prevent conflict in Africa. It is also a positive way for us to engage with Egypt, particularly in light of its chairmanship of the African Union.
How do you regard tensions in Libya, Syria and Yemen, and how do you evaluate Egypt's role in the region?
It is undeniable that the Middle East is facing increased tensions. The UK is working with its partners to find peaceful resolutions to these crises. We see Egypt as a key partner of pivotal importance in the region.
How do you evaluate the situation concerning Iran, and the fear of its nuclear activities?
We have concerns about Iran’s regional conduct and its threat to cease complying with the nuclear deal to which the UK remains fully committed. As the UK’s prime minister said at the G7 summit, we can all agree that Iran should never, under any circumstances, be allowed to get a nuclear weapon. There is clearly an opportunity for Iran to come back into compliance with a nuclear deal – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – and to resume dialogue as well as to cease its disruptive behaviour in the region.
How would the British economy face the challenges imposed by both Brexit and the trade war between the US and China that has been affecting the world economy?
Of course, this is an important time in the UK’s history. We are the fifth largest economy in the world. We have global partners that we will continue to work with after Brexit. Egypt is one of those countries. We have made significant progress in discussions with the Egyptian government to ensure our strong trade links and our trade terms are unaffected by Brexit.
Now, our priority is to ensure the continuity of the EU-Egyptian Association Agreement. Signing a transition agreement would not only eliminate any disruption in our trade partnership, but would also lay the foundations for our future trading relationship.