INTERVIEW: Cypriot FM highlights Egypt's key role in regional and global stability

Abdel-Sattar Barakat, Sunday 2 Jun 2024

Cyprus' Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos emphasized Egypt's pivotal role in regional and international developments, stating that Egypt is a significant and influential actor in promoting stability and security, regionally and internationally.

File photo of Cyprus Foreign Minister Dr. Constantinos Kombos. Photo courtesy of the Embassy of the Republic of Cyprus in Portugal


In an exclusive interview with Al-Ahram Daily, Kombos indicated that this visit marks his fourth trip to Egypt since assuming office.

The Cypriot Foreign Minister is on a working visit to Egypt on Tuesday and Wednesday, 4 and 5 June, to discuss various issues of mutual interest and enhance bilateral cooperation in multiple sectors, including security, energy, and economic development.

The Cypriot minister highlighted that Egypt was the first country with which Cyprus delineated its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in 2003 through a bilateral agreement based on the International Law of the Sea.

Kombos added that the trilateral cooperation mechanism between Cyprus, Egypt, and Greece, established by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi in Cairo in 2014, is a testament to the vibrant and strong partnership, marking a significant milestone in the naturally developed strategic axis linking the three countries.

He mentioned that Egypt's relations with the European Union have become very robust, a level of closeness not seen with many other countries globally.

Concerning the ongoing conflict in the occupied Palestinian territories, the Cypriot minister stressed the need to respect international humanitarian law and called for an immediate ceasefire and the release of all hostages.

He affirmed that the two-state solution is the only viable political option.

Al-Ahram Daily: What is the significance of your visit to Egypt now, and how do you envision the future of bilateral relations?

Constantinos Kombos: This is my fourth visit to Egypt since assuming my duties as Foreign Minister in March 2023. Last year, I met my Egyptian counterpart and good friend, Sameh Shoukry, on several occasions at various international forums.  This is a testament to the close relationship between Cyprus and Egypt. 

In addition, this is my first visit to Egypt to discuss bilateral relations, following Minister Shoukry’s visit to Cyprus last February.

The timing of the visit underscores the strategic significance and the robust nature of our strong bilateral relationship. Amidst regional and global challenges, Cyprus and Egypt must enhance cooperation and synchronize efforts in areas of common interests and objectives for the benefit of the advancement of our cooperation. My visit provides a timely opportunity to discuss and advance our shared goals across various sectors, including security, energy, and economic development.

In a nutshell, our steadfast focus is to further harness our already excellent relations. The Cyprus-Egypt relationship is a strategic one, which we will continue to deepen through sustained dialogue, joint initiatives, and strategic partnerships that benefit both nations.


AD: How do you perceive Egypt's recent regional and international role, and what are your thoughts on Egypt's relations with the European Union?

CK: Egypt plays a central role in both regional and international developments. Regionally, Egypt is a crucial actor in promoting stability and security, particularly in the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa. Its efforts in mediating conflicts, such as those in Libya and Gaza, underscore its commitment to peace and stability. 

Internationally, Egypt's influence is significant, which is reflected in its active participation in various multilateral organizations and initiatives.

Today, fortunately, this role is recognized not only by the countries in the region but also by countries beyond. This heightened awareness is manifested in the establishment of a strategic partnership between Egypt and the European Union, a level of relationship not afforded to many countries around the world. This is the surest sign yet of the wide recognition of Egypt’s role and value for the stability of Europe itself.

Cyprus has long advocated for this strategic relationship, and we were proud to witness its culmination on 17 March 2024, when President Christodoulides joined the President of the European Commission and the President of Egypt in signing the Joint Declaration for an Egypt-EU Strategic and Comprehensive Partnership in Cairo.


AD: Given the global circumstances, collaboration in the energy sector stands out as paramount. What are the latest developments in your cooperation with Egypt in this field, and which projects are slated for implementation?

CK: Egypt was the first country with which Cyprus delimitated its EEZ as far back as 2003 through a bilateral agreement based on the international law of the sea. Our mutual respect for international law is the bedrock of Cyprus-Egypt cooperation, including in the energy field.

This cooperation has, at times, moved more slowly than both Cyprus and Egypt would have liked, but this is primarily due to commercial factors not a lack of political will.

Both countries are determined to achieve maximum cooperation in the energy field, not only for the benefit of our internal markets and consumers but also for the benefit of energy security in an evolving energy landscape.

Cyprus and Egypt are currently discussing cooperation regarding the exploitation of specific gas fields, where mutually beneficial synergies can contribute to establishing our region as an energy hub. I should also recall that the East Mediterranean Gas Forum, whose creation was spearheaded by Egypt, is making a significant contribution to shaping regional energy cooperation.


AD: Cyprus has hosted the trilateral summit for the tripartite cooperation mechanism (Egypt, Cyprus, and Greece) three times. How do you view this cooperation?

CK: The trilateral cooperation mechanism between Cyprus, Egypt, and Greece is a testament to our strong and dynamic partnership.

The Cyprus-Egypt-Greece trilateral formation was the first to operationalize a partnership that emerged organically and bound the three countries by a common strategic axis. The institutionalization of this relationship has been replicated throughout our region as it provided added value to the countries involved.

The Cyprus-Egypt-Greece collaboration addresses a broad spectrum of issues, including energy, security, and economic development.

This cooperation not only fortifies our collective security and economic interests but also promotes regional stability and prosperity. It also provides a platform for coordinated actions and mutual support in addressing common challenges.

The continued success of this mechanism reflects our shared vision and determination to work collaboratively for the benefit of our countries and the broader region.

We look forward to the next Summit and the strategic objectives it will define. 


AD: What developments have occurred regarding the “Roots Revival” initiative launched by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi during the tripartite summit in Nicosia in 2017?

CK: The “Return to Roots” initiative was launched within a trilateral framework between Cyprus, Egypt, and Greece, to encourage Greek and Cypriot communities who lived in Egypt to renew their ties with the country. Under the umbrella of this initiative, the “NOSTOS” programme was launched in Alexandria in May 2018.

Almost 50-70 Cypriots and 100-120 Greeks of Egyptian origin returned to Egypt for one week to visit the places where they or their parents were born and the schools they attended.

Following the success of this visit, NOSTOS II took place in London (October 2018), NOSTOS III in Melbourne (March 2019), and NOSTOS IV in Egypt, Greece and Cyprus (between July and August 2021). In organizing these visits, we relied heavily on the active participation of the Youth Diaspora in the three countries. Currently, Cyprus, Egypt, and Greece are in consultation to organize the next edition of NOSTOS.


AD: Is there any update on the negotiations for resolving the Cyprus issue?

CK: Since his election in March 2023, President Nikos Christodoulides has invested all his efforts in the resumption of a negotiation process to solve the Cyprus problem within the UN framework.

As a result, the UN Secretary-General has appointed a Personal Envoy, Maria Angela Holguin Cuellar, to seek common ground to return to the negotiating table. Ms Holguin has visited Cyprus three times since January. She has spoken with the leaders of the two communities, the stakeholders locally and internationally, and the civil society. She is expected to report to the Secretary-General in June. 

My Government is fully committed to supporting her mission and engaging in a new round of negotiations to reunify Cyprus within the agreed UN framework of a bizonal bicommunal federation with political equality.


AD: As a European Union member state, how do you assess Egypt's political and humanitarian efforts in resolving the ongoing crises in the Middle East region?

CK: As a member state of the European Union, Cyprus highly values Egypt's vital efforts at the political and humanitarian levels in addressing the successive crises in the Middle East region.

Cyprus appreciates Egypt's indispensable role in mediating conflicts, promoting regional stability, and supporting peace initiatives. 

Furthermore, Cyprus recognizes Egypt's significant humanitarian efforts, such as providing aid and shelter to refugees and displaced individuals.

These actions are crucial contributions to regional stability and align with the broader objectives of the European Union in promoting peace and security in the Middle East. Cyprus fully supports Egypt's ongoing efforts and stands ready to collaborate in these vital endeavours.

The invaluable contribution that Egypt makes needs to be reflected by the EU in many ways, including inter alia investment and financial and political support.


AD: What is Cyprus' position regarding the killing and intimidation of civilians in the occupied Palestinian territories by the Israeli occupation? And how does Cyprus contribute to ending this aggression?

CK: We are deeply concerned with the escalating humanitarian impact and the deaths of so many civilians, including children, in Rafah. We believe that the humanitarian situation is dire and that the unhindered flow of humanitarian aid is essential. Moreover, we are aware that Egypt and Jordan have been providing the lifeline for the people of Gaza.

We have been crystal clear from the beginning: international humanitarian law must be fully respected and protected. We call for an immediate ceasefire and the release of all hostages.

The political horizon is the only safeguard for the future and the stability of our region. A two-state solution, in line with United Nations Security Council Resolutions, is not just a talking point, it is the only viable political option. Cyprus has long recognized the state of Palestine (since 1988) and the Palestinian people's right to self-determination.


AD: Cyprus plays a crucial role in delivering aid by sea through the “Amalthea Initiative” for Gaza. What is the latest development on this issue? Also, what is your opinion regarding Palestinian concerns that the construction of a floating sea pier off Gaza could be used for other purposes besides aid?

CK: The Cyprus maritime corridor, the Amalthea plan, has since its inception been an additive route.  It is a one-way maritime lifeline for the civilians in Gaza.

The importance of land routes, especially the Rafah crossing, has been something that we have also underscored at every turn.  We firmly believe in enabling rapid, safe, and unhindered assistance reaching Gaza via more access points, including by multiplying the corridors – by land, by air, and, of course, by sea.

In this respect, I cannot overstate the importance of Rafah for the delivery of the required quantities of aid and the need to return as soon as possible to those conditions that will allow the crossing to be reopened and for safe cross-border humanitarian operations to resume.

In this context, let me reiterate the obvious: Cyprus rejects in the most absolute terms any displacement of Palestinians from Gaza.

Anyone stating otherwise deliberately ignores the historical realities of Cyprus, which, for reasons that are obvious to all, would be the last country in the world to assist in any way, shape, or form the displacement of even a single Palestinian. 


AD: What is the content of the discussion regarding the recruitment of Egyptian labour to Cyprus, following a similar agreement with Greece to hire 5,000 seasonal workers in agriculture?

CK: The agreement to send Egyptian workers to Cyprus aims to address labour needs, thus providing essential support to various industries. Under this agreement, a designated number of Egyptian workers will be employed in Cyprus.

This initiative not only bolsters Cyprus' economy by meeting labour demands but also creates valuable employment opportunities for Egyptian workers.

Legal migration is, for us, not only a way to address labour market shortages but also a way to combat irregular migration, human trafficking, and labour exploitation.

It is my sincere hope that the relevant Memorandum will be implemented as soon as possible, creating an additional link between Cyprus and Egypt, and encouraging other countries to consider similar solutions.


AD: Thank you, Your Excellency, for this insightful discussion. Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers of Al-Ahram?

CK: I want to say how happy I am to be in Egypt and how the civilizational similarities between the Cypriot people and the Egyptian people make me feel at home.

I wish to express my gratitude for the very warm hospitality of the Government of Egypt and in particular my counterpart, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Egypt, dear Sameh. I would also like to express my appreciation for the opportunity to become more acquainted with the unparalleled Egyptian civilization during my visit to the wonderful Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

I conclude by expressing my biggest hope, which is none other than to see peace prevail in our region as soon as possible.

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