INTERVIEW: Cairo-Islamabad - Inching closer

Dina Ezzat , Friday 8 Apr 2022

Sajid Bilal, the ambassador of Pakistan to Egypt, talks to Ahram Online about a new momentum of cooperation between Islamabad and Cairo on the bilateral and multilateral fronts.

Sajid Bilal, the ambassador of Pakistan to Egypt. Photo by Sherif Sonbol


“We are moving closer to start the operation of direct commercial flights between Pakistan and Egypt and this will certainly serve the purpose of consolidating our bilateral relations on all fronts – including trade and culture,” Sajid Bilal, the ambassador of Pakistan to Egypt, said in an interview with Ahram Online.

The issue of the direct flights, Bilal added, was being discussed between the respective aviation authorities of the two countries.

He stated that Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry discussed with top Pakistani officials during recent visit to Islamabad a range of bilateral cooperation measures, including the holding of the Joint Ministerial Commission meeting ahead of schedule.

Shoukry was in the Pakistani capital on 22 March on a two-day visit, where he met with top state officials and took part in a ministerial meeting of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

Shoukry’s stop at Islamabad came at the end of an Asian tour that started in Malaysia on 14 March and then took him to both Singapore and Indonesia before visiting Pakistan.

During the tour, the top Egyptian diplomat delivered invitations to respective head of governments and states to participate in the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) that Egypt will be hosting in November in Sharm El-Sheikh.

Bilal told Ahram Online that in addition to the discussion on the need for the developing countries to discuss their agenda for the next round of the climate change summit, Shoukry’s meetings in Islamabad allowed for a thorough discussion of bilateral relations.

Both countries, he said, are keen to give a serious boost to the current volume of trade, which stands at $430 million – with Egyptian exports to Pakistan amounting to $330 million.

“Currently, we send many items to Egypt, including textiles, medicament and surgical instruments, and we import from Egypt petroleum, gas, fruits, seeds and cotton; but we both have a lot more potential within the complementary framework of trade relations that has been established,” the Pakistani ambassador said.

Moreover, consultations are underway between the respective authorities in the two countries about the prospects for cooperative connectivity between Suez Canal and the Gawadar Port, he said.

The avenues to upgrade trade and economic relations between the two countries are very large and the political will to move forward is clear, he added.

Bilal stressed that cooperation between the two countries has vast horizons, citing the OIC, which is currently chaired by Pakistan, as one important area. 

“The OIC is the second largest organisation after the UN; and it is not true that the organisation has little relevance on the front of international relations because the organisation remains active on many issues and its member states are certainly active too,” he said.

Egypt and Pakistan, Bilal argued, have, as two leading members of this organization of 57 members, a lot of cooperation on some particular files, including that of Palestine.

Bilal argued that keeping Palestine on the agenda of an organisation that brings together close to one quarter of the UN member states is not at all insignificant because it means that this issue is important for all these countries.

Standing up to Islamophobia is another issue that Bilal said is of significance to both Pakistan and Egypt.

Earlier this year, Pakistan managed to get the UN to mark 15 March as an international day to combat islamophobia. This, he said, is significant at these times “when Muslims in many parts of the world, including Kashmir, are subject to a lot of discrimination."

While Kashmir is of particular relevance to Pakistan in view of the context of the Kashmir conflict, the issue of Islamophobia is becoming a world-wide problem.

Bilal said that Islamabad will work closely in the OIC with other nations keen to make sure that Muslims’ rights are fully respected, especially in the countries where they are a minority.

In its most recent ministerial meeting, Bilal said, the OIC agreed to appoint a special envoy for combating Islamophobia.

Once appointed, Bilal explained, the envoy will lead collective efforts, on behalf of OIC, on this critical issue.

However, Bilal declined to comment on any specific cases because he said he would not wish to come across as interfering in the internal affairs of any particular country.

“We don’t wish to do this at all; our objective is to create awareness," and "to help people all over the world to see Islam and Muslims away from the unfortunate stigma of radical Muslim groups including the radical militant groups."

The struggle against these groups like IS, he said, is something that his country and Egypt are committed to work for just as they are committed to work to combat Islamophobia.

In this respect, Bilal said, Al-Azhar, as the core of Wassatiyah (moderation), is a crucial partner.

“We think very highly of the role of Al-Azhar in promoting the ideas of moderation and facing up to radical and violent calls,” he said.

Pakistan is a country that sends a significant number of students to attend Al-Azhar University “where they learn a lot about tolerance, moderation and inter-faith harmony."

Pakistan, he added, is hoping to see Al-Azhar given even a bigger space in the Muslim World to promote these ideas.

Expanding cooperation with Al-Azhar, he stressed, is certainly central to expanding cultural cooperation between the two countries.

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