INTERVIEW: Malaysia's ambassador to Egypt shares a promising outlook

Dina Ezzat , Thursday 21 Apr 2022

Zamani Ismail, the ambassador of Malaysia to Egypt, says the two countries are “together in many ways.”

Malaysian Ambassador Zamani Ismail. Photo: Sherif Sonbol
Malaysian Ambassador Zamani Ismail. Photo: Sherif Sonbol

Malaysia wants to build a palm oil refinery in Egypt, possibly in the Suez Economic Zone, and the issue is currently being discussed by the competent authorities in both countries, said Ismail. 

Ismail was talking to Ahram Online shortly after Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry's visit to Kuala Lumpur last month. The top Egyptian diplomat’s visit to Malaysia was the first leg in a wider tour of Southeast and South Asia that then took him to Singapore, Indonesia, and Pakistan.

In Malaysia, Shoukry met with Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabry Yaakob. He handed him an invitation from President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to participate in COP27 that Egypt is planning to host in Sharm El-Sheikh in November this year.

Preparing for COP27 is an issue of crucial interest for Malaysia, Egypt, and other developing countries, Ismail said. He added that the commitment of developed countries to support developing countries on issues of mitigation and adaptation in Glasgow, during COP26, did not really meet the expectations of many developing countries that have to worry about their share of sustainable development.

Discussion over preparations for COP27, he said, were only part of a larger agenda for the talks that Shoukry held during his visit to Malaysia. Talks in Kuala Lumpur, Ismail explained, covered cooperation in economy, technology, trade, and tourism.

The proposed palm oil refinery is one of many potential projects that the two countries are considering for their cooperation, he stated. “We have a wide range of projects that we are examining, including cooperation in oil and gas.”

The Malaysia-owned oil and gas company Petronas, he added, is currently operating in Egypt and could well expand its cooperation well beyond the currently agreed late 2030s.

Cooperation in information and communication technology, Ismail said, was also key on the agenda of talks that Shoukry held with his Malaysian interlocutors in Kuala Lumpur last month. 

Malaysia is an advanced country in ICT and it is on its way to become a regional digital hub in Southeast Asia, Shoukry said in Kuala Lumpur.

The foreign minister added that there is a huge potential for cooperation in ICT between Egypt and Malaysia in view of the fact that digital transformation is a high priority for Egypt.

There is “a very promising outlook” for cooperation between the two countries, according to Shoukry’s statement in Kuala Lumpur.

“We are together in many ways,” said Ismail. He added that the two countries expressed their wishes to boost bilateral relations on all fronts. 

Ismail referred to the Malaysian foreign minister's visit to Cairo in June 2021 shortly after a top-level telephone call between El-Sisi and Malaysia’s former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

As of that point, Ismail said, the two countries have embarked on an initiative to “refresh bilateral relations” that were established in the late 1950s.

Upon the Sisi-Yassin phone call, he added, “there was an agreement to enhance bilateral relations and consultations, including direct leaders’ contact.”

In January, the Joint Egyptian Malaysian Committee met in Cairo at the level of the assistant foreign ministers. The committee is scheduled to meet at the ministerial level in Kuala Lumpur later in the year. 

This, Ismail said, should be followed by a visit of the Malaysian prime minister to Egypt and subsequently a visit by the president of Egypt to Malaysia.

The meetings will focus on upgrading cooperation on the ground, Ismail pointed out. Already, he added, the volume of trade between the two countries has increased by over 80 percent in one year to reach approximately $1 billion in 2021. 

“We are hoping to take this volume to $10 billion [in the next few years] as we work on diversifying [facets of our cooperation],” Isamil said. He added that relaunching the Egyptian-Malaysian Business Council “with the right and motivated members on both sides” is currently being pursued.

“We want to increase our trade,” Ismail said. “Egypt is Malaysia’s largest trading partner in North Africa and is certainly a gateway to all of Africa.”

Ismail said the two countries are committed to upscaling cooperation in multilateral forums that bring them together, including the Organisation of Islamic CooperationNon-Aligned Movement, G-15, and D-8 Organisation for Economic Cooperation. “As developing countries, we can voice out our [expectations and concerns] for the world to hear it,” he said. 

Coordination between the two countries, he said, covers the battle against both terrorism and Islamophobia. “There are other issues; and of course the Palestinian cause is key for our countries,” he added. 

Ismail noted that the two countries are committed to upgrading cooperation in education. There are over 7,000 Malaysians studying in Egypt, mostly at Al-Azhar University. 

“In fact, relations between our two countries started in the 1920s when students started to enrol in Al-Azhar, and since then our cooperation in education has continued to grow,” he said.

Malaysia, Ismail added, is expecting a visit by the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed El-Tayyeb later this year or early next year. Al-Azhar, he argued, is a cornerstone of Egyptian-Malaysian relations.


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