INTERVIEW: Egypt-Indonesia: New agenda for historic ties

Dina Ezzat , Tuesday 12 Apr 2022

Lutfi Rauf, the ambassador of Indonesia to Egypt, talks to Ahram Online about new mechanism to re-invigorate the historic relations between Cairo and Jakarta.

Ambassador of Indonesia in Egypt Lutfi Rauf
Ambassador of Indonesia in Egypt Lutfi Rauf (Photo- Sherif Sonbol)

In 1946, Egypt was the first country to recognise the independence of Indonesia. A couple of decades down the road, Egyptian president Gamal Abdel-Nasser and his Indonesian counterpart Ahmed Sukarno took the lead in promoting for the then revolutionary Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) that was designed to spare the developing African and Asian third world countries from having to side with either of the two camps of the Cold War.

With the end of this era of “third world bonding,” relations between these two populous countries drifted. However, last month during a South East Asia tour that got him to Jakarta on the third leg, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi agreed to launch a joint committee at the ministerial level to work on upgrading bilateral relations.

According to Lutfi Rauf, the ambassador of Indonesia to Egypt, the purpose of this committee goes beyond political coordination between the two countries, which are both members of several multinational groupings, some more functional than others, including NAM, the Organisation of Islamic Conference and others.

“Both our countries are [also] interested to give a boost to economic, trade and cultural cooperation,” he said.

While the pandemic and the Russian war on Ukraine have posed challenges to the international economy, limiting the chances for growth, Rauf said the volume of economic cooperation between Egypt and Indonesia has expanded by over 50 percent during the past two years.

This, he said, is no coincidence. It is rather, he argued, an indication of the interest of both countries to re-launch their “historic ties” to regain past strength, but with an eye on today’s priorities and the aspirations of both nations.

Economy and trade, he said, are key in this respect.

“Growth in Egypt was sustainable during the pandemic, and despite the sharp decline that has been caused by the pandemic, the economy of Indonesia is certainly bouncing back; this makes both our countries in a place to pursue closer economic cooperation,” he argued.

The committee that the two foreign ministers agreed upon during Shoukry’s visit to Jakarta, Rauf said, would certainly be the perfect venue to discuss the modes necessary for the expanding trade and economic cooperation.

Moreover, he said, with Egypt being the host of COP27 that is scheduled to convene in Sharm El-Sheikh in November this year, cooperation on environmental issues will “certainly be key to the joint work of both countries” starting this year.

As two developing countries with some similar challenges, Rauf said, both Indonesia and Egypt have so much to share on attending to the ecological challenges.

“Environment and sustainable development are tied to one another; and both Egypt and Indonesia have similar concerns and aspirations and they can certainly work together on matters of response and mitigation to environmental challenges,” he said.

At the COP26 in Glasgow, both Egypt and Indonesia agreed to join the international momentum to reduce greenhouse emissions.

In COP27, he added, along with other developing countries, Egypt and Indonesia will work to see that the developed countries honour their commitment to help developing countries adopt the required measures to reduce greenhouse emissions.

“Funding is crucial and this is an important agenda item that we will pursue,” he said.

During the past few years, Rauf said, his country has been giving more attention to the management of bio-diversity, combating deforestation and to managing hazardous waste. Indonesia, he added, is ready and willing to share its experience with Egypt.

Expanding the generation and use of renewable energy, he added, is yet another venue for expanded cooperation between Cairo and Jakarta “as part of the commitment of both countries to work for smart environment”.

Meanwhile, Rauf said that his country is keen to expand all forms of cultural cooperation between the two countries. Al-Azhar, he said, has a crucial role in this respect.

“We have close to 1,200 students who come from Indonesia to study in Egypt; most of them attend Al-Azhar University,” he said. And, he added, Indonesia is keen to expand its cooperation with Al-Azhar, which is perceived as a prominent Islamic school of “wassatiyah” (moderation).

“We believe that the pursuit and promotion of wassatiyah is crucial in the battle against extremism, especially in our respective parts of the world,” he said.

On a parallel track, Rauf said that competent Indonesian and Egyptian bodies, Al-Azhar included, have a crucial role to play in supporting the rights of Muslim minorities all over the world, especially in countries where they are faced with serious or even existential challenges.

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