Egypt’s relationship with Italy has a historical and sociological depth that dates back to antiquity, and the people from both countries have long valued this age-old bond. Today, the political leaderships in Cairo and Rome are determined to do everything possible to increase opportunities for cooperation and coordination in matters of concern to both countries, especially the fight against extremism and terrorism, the precarious situation in Libya and the problem of illegal migration across the Mediterranean. In addition, they are working together closely in natural gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean and in other vital development and commercial realms. All these crucial joint activities will further deepen their relationship.
With a five billion Euro volume of bilateral trade, Italy is Egypt’s second largest European trading partner and fourth largest trading partner worldwide. Italy is the largest importer from Egypt, at a rate of $1.8 billion in imports per year, and the fifth largest investor in Egypt, to the tune of eight billion Euros. Italy has always shown great interest in the national mega projects that Egypt carries out, especially in the Suez Canal development axis. Of particular interest to it are the petrochemical and automotive industries, as well as promoting small and medium enterprises. Recently, the Italian Export Credit Agency (SACE) announced that it has raised its credit line for Italian companies and entrepreneurs investing in Egypt to eight billion Euros, the highest credit line available to Italian firms looking to invest abroad. This is a major indicator of the volume of Italian investments in Egypt.
Cairo and Rome share a common vision on their relationship. They see it as a bilateral Mediterranean partnership that is indispensable to the realisation of peace and stability and to liberating the region from terrorism. In their recent telephone communication, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte reaffirmed their determination to continue to strengthen bilateral relations between their countries, especially in commerce, investments and military cooperation. They also emphasised the need to coordinate and consult closely on developments in regional issues and on ways to resolve crises in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. The many exchanges of visits over recent years have also demonstrated Egypt and Italy’s determination to reinforce their ties and to safeguard them against attempts to sabotage what they both realise is a strategically important relationship. Egypt, for its part, will never forget Italy’s sympathetic attitude with respect to developments following the grassroots uprising on 30 June 2013. At the time, Rome had expressed its support for the roadmap Egypt carried out after the overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood rule.
Faced with common security threats in view of the growth of terrorism and related phenomena, Italy and Egypt have worked to develop and expand cooperative frameworks and mechanisms for addressing such challenges. They share very close outlooks on the situation in Libya. Both countries are strongly affected by developments there and are therefore working to support efforts to rebuild the Libyan state and prevent its fall into the hands of terrorist organisations. Their views are also closely aligned on issues related to the security of the Mediterranean, the fight against terrorism and extremism, and policy approaches needed to curb the rise of extremist fundamentalist groups in North Africa and the Horn of Africa. Conditions in the latter region, especially in Somalia, directly affect North Africa and the Mediterranean because of the larger web of terrorist groups that threaten stability, as well as because of interconnected chains of illegal migration, human trafficking and smuggling.
At another level, bilateral communications are still in progress between Egypt and Italy regarding the murder of the Italian researcher Giulio Regeni in Cairo nearly five years ago. Public prosecutor offices in Cairo and Rome are exchanging as much information as possible in order to get to the bottom of this mystery. Egypt has stated that its main concern is to bring the truth to light for the sake of Regini’s family, and to reassure Italian public opinion in general, in keeping with its commitment to sustaining the unique and profound friendship between the two countries and their two great peoples.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 December, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly