In an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, Canada’s Ambassador in Cairo Louis Dumas praised the excellent state of Egyptian-Canadian bilateral relations and described the Canadian contributions to Egypt’s education system, trade relations, and broader development efforts.
What distinguishes Canada’s relationship with Egypt?
We have been privileged with an ongoing and vibrant relationship, and Canada has been associated with Egypt for almost 70 years now.
We started our diplomatic relationship in 1954. In 1956, which was a critical moment in the relationship, there were a lot of tensions in the region following the nationalisation of the Suez Canal. Our secretary of state for external affairs at the time, Lester Pearson, who had also worked for the United Nations, proposed the creation of a peacekeeping force in the region, and Canada played a major role in bringing peace and stability to the Suez Canal at that time.
From 1956 onwards, we have enjoyed an amazing relationship. Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize for his action on the Suez Canal, and from then onwards the presence of Canada has been very important in Egypt.
Egypt is always looking to improve its education system. How is Canada playing a role in this?
If we go back to 2020, there was a survey published in the US magazine US News and World Report that ranked Canada not only as the best country to live in in the world, but also as the third most-capable country of delivering a quality education.
We have invested a lot in the education sector here in Egypt through many universities and schools delivering quality education, and we have about 12,000 students involved in kindergarten to 12th grade who receive education through the provincial curriculum.
We are also very interested in the vocational education segment, which ensures that people are well educated and well trained to be good technicians. This segment is becoming of great interest, and we have a number of colleges coming to Egypt that are looking at that segment.
We also have a strong presence in cooperating in the “Digital Egypt” project, through a programme in which approximately 100 students at the Master’s level are receiving a quality education in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and computer science.
How would you evaluate the economic cooperation between Canada and Egypt?
Our economic cooperation is going strong and is stabilising now at approximately $1.9 billion in bilateral trade. We export food products from Canada to Egypt like chickpeas, lentils, and fava beans, as well as manufactured products like aircraft parts.
Some 90 per cent of our imports from Egypt consist of gold. As Ambassador of Canada in Egypt, I have been trying over the past three years to diversify the trade exchanges between the two countries and looking at new ways of Canada’s tapping into the Egyptian market as well as having Egypt look at new ways of tapping into the Canadian market.
Egypt is Canada’s number one partner in Africa with respect to trade, and we look forward to making it grow and benefit the local community by hiring local workers and investing for the long term.
This is a win-win situation for Canada and Egypt. The Egyptian branch of the Canada-based multinational company Methanex has entered a partnership with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to support the ILO flagship project called “Decent Jobs for Egypt’s Young People” (DJEP), for example, which was previously funded by the Government of Canada. Through providing a grant of $1 million to ILO, Methanex Egypt has extended the project’s activities to Damietta, where the company operates a methanol production plant and is its largest corporate social responsibility contribution worldwide.
The aim of the spin-off project is to create decent employment opportunities for young people in the governorate of Damietta, focusing on employment creation through the promotion of entrepreneurship and facilitating job-matching processes, in addition to building the capacities of local partners on the ground for improved employment services to support unemployed young people and job-matching processes.
What are the challenges facing the growth of bilateral trade and investment?
Despite the current state of the global economy and the Egyptian economy, with inflation and hyperinflation coexisting, it is very important that companies, Canadian or of other nationalities, take into consideration that investing might not be easy at first, but that it could be very interesting in three to five years from now. We must keep an eye on the medium term, not only the short term, and that’s why we encourage companies to come to Egypt and have realistic conversations with their Egyptian counterparts.
The Egyptian government is trying to find solutions for the economy and inflation, and in the medium term the country is an exciting prospect because you have to look at what Egypt has to offer: a young population, often multilingual; a very safe and secure environment; and proximity to Europe and the Gulf countries.
Positioned strategically in the Middle East and Africa, Egypt is a country that has much to offer.
What fields do you think might be appealing to Canadian companies and how can they be encouraged to tap into them?
Mining has very exciting prospects, but there are also other sectors to explore, such as education. I think food stuffs has great potential as well.
Canadian businesses are exploring more sectors to invest in. The Canadian-Egyptian Business Council is very active in Egypt, and we are trying to support them as much as possible. There is also the Canadian Arab Business Council that has a big presence in the Middle East and is based in Toronto.
How has Canada contributed to Egypt’s development efforts?
Canada has provided over $1 billion in international assistance to Egypt since the inception of its bilateral development programme more than 40 years ago. Canada’s bilateral development programme in Egypt, valued at around $5 million annually, focuses on helping women and girls overcome barriers to gender equality and supports increased access to a wide range of economic and social opportunities.
Canada’s development priorities also include supporting inclusive growth and socio-economic development and poverty reduction, as well as promoting climate-change adaptation and mitigation.
Canada has recently agreed to fund a new $10 million initiative in Egypt in partnership with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), as part of Canada’s Climate Finance Programme. This initiative will promote the adoption of climate-smart agriculture and agricultural bio-diversity practices to enhance the adaptive capacity of vulnerable rural communities in Upper Egypt (Aswan) and Lower Egypt (Beheira and Kafr Al-Sheikh).
Moreover, the Canada-funded $9 million project for Women’s Economic Empowerment for Inclusive and Sustainable Growth in Egypt, implemented by UN Women and the UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), addresses adverse social norms affecting women’s participation in the labour force. The project aims to reach 6,300 direct beneficiaries and approximately 30,000 indirect beneficiaries in the governorates of Cairo, Alexandria, Giza, Beheira, Fayoum, Beni Sweif, and Minya.
Canada is also currently funding a project with the FAO for the Improved Livelihoods, Nutrition, and Empowerment of Rural Women and their Families, which aims to improve equitable access to gender-sensitive and nutritious food for populations from 10 of the “poorest” villages in the Minya governorate affected by Covid-19. It seeks to reduce Covid-19-related barriers to carrying out smallholder horticultural production and agro-food processing activities while enhancing food-system resilience for exiting the Covid-19 crisis and building back better in the light of present and future climate change and food insecurity challenges.
Canada has decided to provide Egypt with approximately $700,000 in aid in the wake of the Sudan crisis. More than 300,000 Sudanese have arrived in Egypt up to now, and this has put quite a lot of pressure on the hospital system, notably in Aswan.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 28 September, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly