Far more than trade
Dina Ezzat, Thursday 13 Feb 2020
Michael Labenda, Poland’s ambassador to Egypt, talks to Al-Ahram Weekly about the mechanisms of bilateral ties


By the end of this year Polish tourism to Egypt could reach levels last seen in 2010.

“There has been a steady increase since 2015 and we are getting close to half a million a year, which is what the figure was prior to the [January 2011] Revolution,” says Michal Labenda, Polish ambassador to Egypt.

Hurghada is the top destination for Polish tourists. Already, Labenda told Al-Ahram Weekly, there is an established Polish community in the Red Sea resort and many Poles work in the travel sector which encourages the flow of tourists.

Polish expatriates in Egypt, including in Cairo and Alexandria, help consolidate the “good and established” relations that exist between Egypt and Poland, says Labenda.

“Trade between our two countries stands at $600 million a year and covers many sectors, including agriculture, chemicals, mining and construction.”

But bilateral cooperation between Egypt and Poland, Labenda says, involves more than tourism and trade. He is particularly hopeful about expanding cultural cooperation. Poland already has an established archaeological presence in Egypt.

In October a section in Alamein Museum commemorating the participation of Polish soldiers in World War II is due to be inaugurated.

“Polish soldiers were in the battle of Alamein. There was not a specific division of the Polish army but the soldiers were part of the British troops, in North Africa, and we thought that, like other nations that took part in the battle, they should be represented.”

A delegation from the Polish Museum for World War II was in Egypt last month to agree on the details of the Polish exhibit.

Remembering Polish participation in World War II is part of a wider effort his country is making to uncover Polish traces in Egypt, says Labenda.

In the early 20th century there was sizable Polish community in Helwan, large enough to justify two homes for the frail and elderly. Those houses are now gone, but at the time they were significant enough to merit visits from the leading Polish politician Jozef Pilsudski during his sojourns in Egypt in the early 1930s.

There is, too, Ignace Tiegerman, the legendary Polish pianist who lived in Egypt before and after World War II and who headed the conservatoire that bore his name in Champollion Street.

They are part of a forgotten history that Labenda is keen to foreground Poland, he says, is “very much engaged in the historic aspect”.

In spring Warsaw intends to convene an abridged round of the international Chopin Piano Competition in Egypt, one of the most important musical competitions that takes place in Warsaw. Labenda is also considering a plan to provide Arabic translation of Polish literature for the benefit of Egyptian readers, an initiative that has gained urgency “with the 2019 Nobel Prize for Literature going to Polish novelist” Olga Tokarczuk.

The Chopin competition, scholarships and summer course that Warsaw grants to Egyptian students of Polish and the growing presence of Polish students in Egypt to learn Arabic help boost bilateral relations between the two countries, says Labenda.

Meanwhile, Egypt and Poland constantly consult over ways to promote regional peace and security.

Cairo took part in the Warsaw Process launched, upon a Polish-American cooperation, in the Polish capital on 12 February 2018 to promote peace and security in the Middle East.

The Warsaw Process was launched to reduce tensions between Iran and the West, especially the US. It quickly adopted a wider concept of regional peace and security in the face of Washington’s lack of appetite to pursue serious rapprochement with Iran.

A year after the launch of the Warsaw Process a final meeting is scheduled to convene in Washington late in April to review work on a wide-range of issues including combating terrorism, energy, cyber, aviation and maritime security, refugees and human rights.

While the Washington meeting is not expected to result in detailed recommendations on the wide range of problems the region is facing it will offer guidelines “in terms of a horizontal roadmap”.

The meeting will also provide an opportunity for the foreign ministers of participating states to discuss ways of reducing tensions between Iran and the West and hostilities in Syria, and ways to support the UN’s role in helping Libyans overcome their problems.

Following US President Donald Trump’s offer of a final settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli struggle the meeting will also provide a forum for consultation on the matter.

“We appreciate the efforts and the wish of the US administration to resolve this conflict but we believe that the resolution has to be based on a two-state solution and we don’t think the Trump offer is a good basis for this,” says Labenda.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 February, 2020 edition ofAl-Ahram Weekly.

http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/363391.aspx