INTERVIEW: Bosnia's President Denis Bećirovića highlights commitment to strengthening ties with Egypt in first such visit in 14 years

Maged Mounier, Wednesday 1 May 2024

Denis Bečirović, chairman of the presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said during an interview with Maged Mounier, the editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram, that he hopes to rekindle his country’s traditionally strong relations with Egypt by encouraging economic and cultural cooperation, including investment, tourism, and academic exchanges.

Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Denisa Be irovi a
Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Denisa Be irovi a

 

The Bosnian president visited Egypt on Sunday in the first such visit by a Bosnian head of state in 14 years for discussions with President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to expand the cooperation frameworks between the two countries.

While speaking to Al-Ahram ahead of these discussions, Pečirović said that strengthening ties with key partners like Egypt is a centerpiece of Bosnian foreign policy.

He expressed that Egypt has always been a major supporter of Bosnia and its people, expressing his appreciation for Egyptian peacekeeping forces that played a prominent role in preserving peace in this country under the banner of the United Nations.

 

Al-Ahram: Congratulations, your excellency, on becoming chair of Bosnia and Herzegovina's Presidency. What are your key foreign policy goals, especially regarding Balkan stability?

President Bečirović: Thank you. My focus is achieving Bosnia and Herzegovina's strategic foreign policy goals. This means strengthening ties with key partners like Egypt. We aim for lasting peace, security, development, and stable democracy. Cooperation based on equality, trust, and mutual respect is key to regional stability.

We believe cooperation based on equality, trust, and mutual respect for internal and external sovereignty is key to the region's long-term stability.

Bosnia and Herzegovina actively participates in international organizations and multilateral activities. It also fulfils its international obligations and promotes the values ​​of peace at the global level.

Bosnia also enjoys the status of an “observer state” in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Non-Aligned Movement, and others. I attach great importance to cooperation within the framework of these important multilateral platforms. Our country is characterized by ethnic and cultural pluralism, so it works to “build bridges” with the East and the West. Therefore, I will continue to work to make Bosnia and Herzegovina a reliable partner in international relations and a safer and more prosperous country.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Al-Ahram: How would you describe Bosnia and Herzegovina's relations with Egypt?

 

President Bečirović: Traditionally, Bosnia and Herzegovina has had good relations with Egypt throughout history. Egypt demonstrated the strength of “friendly relations” during the most difficult periods for our country and people during the 1990s aggression. Egypt, as a regional power and a very influential Arab country, led a strong movement at the international level to stop the war and bring peace. Let us not forget Egypt's active role in the reconstruction process. For this reason, shortly after declaring independence in 1993, Bosnia and Herzegovina opened its embassy in Cairo to foster relations between the two friendly countries. However, the relations between the two countries have recently seen a period of stagnation.

 

We believe Egypt to be an important player in the Middle East, Africa, and the Islamic world. We also want to strengthen economic ties considering Egypt's regional economic power and vast market. We also see potential for increased military cooperation. We appreciate past Egyptian participation in peacekeeping forces and the equipment and training program that Egypt implemented based on an agreement with the American government.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Al-Ahram: What are the key issues on the agenda of your discussion with President El-Sisi?

 

President Bečirović: My official visit to Egypt is the first by a BiH Presidency Chair in 14 years. I consider the visit and discussions with President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to be an important event, and I want to show Bosnia's commitment to strengthening ties.

 

During the phone call with President El-Sisi in November last year, I confirmed that Bosnia and Herzegovina was ready to improve relations. Here I take the opportunity to warmly congratulate him once again on his re-election as President of Egypt, wishing him to continue to lead his country successfully in a world full of serious challenges.

 

We'll discuss advancing bilateral cooperation, especially economically. We will have the opportunity to consider several other issues at the regional and global levels. Egypt is an important actor in international relations, and the continuous exchange of views on many issues of common interest is important to us.

 

Of course, I want to brief President El-Sisi on the current situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and our foreign policy goals, particularly regarding our approach to join the Euro-Atlantic integration. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Egypt have close or identical views on many international issues and challenges, and we cooperate well, especially in multilateral forums.

 

 

 

Al-Ahram: To what extent do the two countries agree on issues such as the war in Gaza?

 

President Bečirović: For decades, the Palestinian issue has been a global issue, of paramount importance to world peace. The current events in Gaza highlight this. We believe that the time has come to reach a peaceful and just solution that includes the existence of two equal states -- Palestine and Israel.

 

I believe that it is necessary to reach an immediate truce, to stop the suffering of innocent people, and to deliver the humanitarian aid that the Palestinian people desperately need.

 

The killing of civilians in Gaza is a disgrace to humanity. I support President El-Sisi's efforts to achieve a permanent ceasefire and a fair solution to the Palestinian issue.

 

The process of establishing a lasting and just peace should be launched. Such peace can only be achieved based on a two-state solution. We believe that the Palestinians should have a sovereign state that works to develop the best possible relations with the State of Israel and neighbouring countries. We also believe that there is no other path that would lead to a lasting solution.

 

A just solution will pave the way for a brighter future for the entire region, contribute to global security, and reduce tensions between countries worldwide to a great extent. Bosnia and Herzegovina maintains full diplomatic relations with the State of Palestine.

 

 

 

Al-Ahram: What are the most promising areas for cooperation between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Egypt?

 

President Bečirović: Our relations are strong and we have no outstanding issues. I believe it is possible to improve significantly our trade and economic ties. As part of former Yugoslavia, Bosnian and Herzegovinan companies successfully implemented major projects in Egypt. We have a positive foundation to build upon.

 

We need to encourage mutual investments during the upcoming period. Bosnia and Herzegovina with a strategic location and capabilities has a lot to offer on the economic and trade levels that can benefit Egypt. We're integrated into regional initiatives in Southeast Europe, which presents opportunities for Egyptian interests and investments. Increased communication between business communities from both countries is crucial.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Al-Ahram: You give utmost importance to stimulating economic cooperation with Egypt. How can we achieve this goal?

 

President Bečirović: Bosnia and Herzegovina and Egypt have a rich history and cultural heritage that provides a solid foundation for cooperation. Our focus extends to several areas, especially strengthening economic relations. During my presidency, my vision for developing our economic partnership will focus on implementing stronger measures that facilitate bilateral trade, encourage investments, and create a favourable business environment. We stress the importance that business sector representatives in the two countries increase visits. This will foster new relationships conducive to cooperation, allowing us to present and promote investment of interest to investors. Ultimately, strong economic cooperation will contribute to the prosperity and progress of both Bosnia and Herzegovina and Egypt.

 

 

 

 

Al-Ahram: What are the most promising sectors for advancing the Egyptian-Bosnian economic partnership?

 

President Bečirović: Several promising investment opportunities exist across various sectors. Key areas for potential collaboration include the food industry, particularly halal and organic products, metal industries, military manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, and construction. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, tourism, infrastructure development, energy, agriculture and information technology offer huge investment potential. The country's rich cultural heritage, natural beauty, and historical monuments make tourism a lucrative investment opportunity.

 

Energy, including renewable energy projects, offers attractive investment prospects since our country has huge potential to establish hydroelectric, solar, and wind power plants to support development and energy security. The agricultural sector also provides investment opportunities, employing modern technology to benefit from the fertile soil and favourable climatic conditions.

 

We have identified many investment opportunities in many sectors of the Egyptian economy. Owing to Egypt's strategic location, advanced infrastructure, and growing consumer market, it attracts tourism, real estate, energy, manufacturing, and agricultural investors. We plan initiatives and organise meetings for businessmen from both countries to enhance economic cooperation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Al-Ahram:  How can tourism become a major driver for both our economies?

 

President Bečirović: Tourism is crucial for Bosnia's economy, and it's been growing, especially with more visitors from Arab nations. We have simplified the procedures for issuing entry visas to our country to attract tourists from both sides. Bosnia and Herzegovina should collaborate with Egypt on tourism promotion and cultural initiatives. Improved transportation links, such as direct flights and easier visas, can make travel smoother for citizens of both countries. Cultural exchange and joint events can also attract visitors from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Egypt, thus benefitting the two countries economically and fostering cultural exchange.

 

I am glad more of our citizens visit Egyptian resorts. We must work together to increase Egyptians visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina. I am sure that they will enjoy our distinguished hospitality and unique beauty. Cultural exchange and tourism initiatives deepen bilateral relations and strengthen economic growth.

 

Cultural exchange also plays a major role in deepening our relations. Exchanging artists, organizing cultural events, preserving heritage, and cooperating in education constitute significant areas of ​​cooperation between Sarajevo and Cairo.

 

 

 

Al-Ahram: Speaking of culture and education, many Bosnian students attend Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, promoting moderate Islamic thought in Europe against extremism. How does this influence Egyptian-Bosnian relations?

 

President Bečirović: Al-Azhar University remains one of the most respected universities today. Throughout its long history, it has played a major role in developing Islamic thought and modern society in general. It provides knowledge in various scientific fields, thus providing an additional opportunity for students from Bosnia-Herzegovina. Many of our citizens have had the honour of studying there, becoming respected professors, businessmen, and government officials who contribute to the development of Bosnia and Herzegovina society. Similarly, graduates from Al-Azhar are considered ambassadors for Egypt in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region.

 

We wish to expand cooperation with Al-Azhar and to have more of our students studying at this prestigious university. Under the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the University of Sarajevo and Cairo University established a partnership. We have witnessed fruitful cooperation between these two universities, and it would be good to revitalize it. I believe great progress can be made in higher education between the two countries to achieve greater acquaintance and rapprochement and strengthen cooperation between our universities. In Bosnia- Herzegovina we have several good universities, and we would like Egyptian students to study there.

 

In addition to Bosnian certificates, certificates from Western European universities are awarded, which could be attractive to Egyptian students. I am sure that considering the warm hospitality of Bosnia and Herzegovina, they will feel at home.

 

I am thrilled to visit Cairo and contribute to further developing comprehensive relations between our two countries and the friendship between the peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Egypt.

 

 

 

Al-Ahram: Last March, the European Council gave the green light to start negotiations with Bosnia regarding its accession to the European Union. You are also seeking NATO membership. What progress have you made?

 

President Bečirović: We must intensify our efforts to join the European Union and NATO. On 21 March this year, the European Council gave the “green light” to start negotiations on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s accession to the European Union. This means opening a new chapter in relations with the European Union, marking entry into the final stage of the integration process.

 

In parallel with this process, we are working intensively to accelerate the Euro-Atlantic integration process, which is essential, given the security challenges and geopolitical changes in Europe. Our prospective EU and NATO membership constitutes the “best guarantee” for stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Balkans, and the entire South-Eastern European region.

 

 

 

 

Short link: