INTERVIEW: Greek Ambassador in Egypt Nikolaos Garilidis explores fields for bilateral cooperation and investment

Eman Youssef, Monday 2 Mar 2020

Ambassador of Greece in Egypt Nikolaos Garilidis says there is a dynamic and strong relationship between Egypt and Greece, revealing that further development of ties and activities are on the way.

Greek Ambassador in Egypt Nikolaos Garilidis
Greek Ambassador in Egypt Nikolaos Garilidis

Given the exceptional relationship between Egypt and Greece, what are the current plans to expand cooperation?

There are many fields for cooperation between Egypt and Greece, be they in cultural or archaeological programmes. In other fields, there is a wide range of possible projects varying between low-budget and high-cost projects. We can start with the former and move on to bigger plans.

Egypt also receives many official visits from Greece. For example, the Greek minister of foreign affairs visited Egypt four times in the last five months. We also received the Greek prime minister on the occasion of the trilateral summit between Greece, Egypt and Cyprus.

In the energy sector, we have a win-win situation and it will evolve. Concerning investments, in both countries the investors are welcome, but we have to facilitate their activities by simplifying the bureaucratic procedures to attract more investments. Many Greek businessmen are interested in investing in Egypt because of the excellent political relations, the invitation of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and the friendliness of the Egyptian people.

There are many Egyptian businessmen in Greece, with Egyptians currently working in Greece numbering around 100,000.

Cooperation between the two countries in the fields of trade, commerce and investment is strong. What are the main sectors with a potential for growth, and what is the bilateral trade balance?

On the economic front, our bilateral trade volume has grown exponentially over the past 11 years, by more than four-fold when compared to the years of the crisis (between 2008 and 2019).

The volume of our bilateral trade stood at €1.78 billion in 2018, compared to €427 million back in 2007. In 2019, Greek exports to Egypt amounted to €942.6 million, while Egyptian exports to Greece amounted to €842.6 million, according to recent data from the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT).

At the same time, Egypt is a top destination for Greek investment. The stock of Greek investment in Egypt is estimated at €1.2 billion, while the main fields of Greek investment in Egypt are cement manufacturing, oil and gas exploration and extraction, construction, food industry, manufacturing of building materials and paints, aluminium production, distribution and logistics, irrigation systems, banking, sea and air transportation, and training services.

Sectors of bilateral economic and trade cooperation with high growth potential are energy, oil and gas, renewable energy sources, environmental protection technology, construction, building materials, agriculture, health (hospitals, medicines, medical equipment), tourism and real estate, food and beverage, pharmaceutical industry, ICT, shipping and related activities, shipbuilding, cooperation among ports, transportation and logistics, water resource management, wastewater processing, development of drainage and irrigation systems, waste management, defence industry equipment and know-how, and franchising including clothing, furniture, hotels, gift or gadget stores, and fast food chains.

How do you assess Egypt's accomplishments and successful economic reforms?

Egypt's great progress can be seen everywhere: in big projects, new cities, factories and industry. One of the largest projects is the Grand Egyptian Museum. Egypt is on the right path. I am very impressed with Alamein city. It is huge and very luxurious. We all need to focus and work for the future of our children, to make sure they have the good experience that we had in our youth, like swimming in a clean sea and eating good food.

How can cooperation between Egypt and Greece in the field of culture be further developed?

I am very glad about the exchange of visits to examine further cooperation in the field of the restoration of antiquities. It is very important to work to preserve cultural heritage.

Greece has been very advanced and I believe Egypt is very advanced as well, so they can work together in several fields like underwater antiquities, or restoring antique pieces made of metal, marble and ceramics. I will be happy to see joint studies conducted by Egyptian and Greek archaeologists on tracing the mutual influence that has been changed over the last 4,000 years.

The Embassy of Greece in Egypt usually organises plenty of activities and participates in many events. What are the most prominent activities that contribute to boosting bilateral relations?

We organise cultural activities and events through the Greek Cultural Centre in Cairo and the Greek Cultural Centre in Alexandria, a branch of the Hellenic Foundation for Culture.

We also participate in festivals organised by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture, such as the Cairo Film Festival, Alexandria Film Festival, the International Festival for Drums, Ismailia International Festival for Documentary and Short Films, and the International Folklore Festival.

One of the most important activities is the International Literature Forum, which is held every two years under the name of the great Greek poet Constantine Cavafy who was born in Alexandria.

The embassy cooperates with the Egyptian Opera House in organising concerts for Greek singers. Many seminars and exhibitions are being held with the aim of highlighting the Greek culture and the history of the Greek community in Egypt.

The embassy also organises workshops for short films and music concerts. One of the most important activities of the Cairo and Alexandria cultural centres is the organisation of Greek language courses. In cooperation with the National Centre for Translation, the embassy contributes to translating classic and modern Greek literature into Arabic.

How did being born in Egypt influence you?

My family has lived for 100 years in Egypt. I was always fascinated by the rich, multi-layered cultural heritage of Egypt -- the Pharaonic, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Coptic and Islamic. I wanted to be an archaeologist, and this was my first unaccomplished love in my life. However, my wife is an archaeologist in Greece, and she has visited Egypt many times.

How do you find your experience in Egypt?

I joined the Greek foreign ministry 36 years ago. I am very happy that towards the end of my career I came back to my place of birth. I served in Moscow in 1988 then I went to London for four years, Albania two years, then to Baghdad from 2002 to 2005, to Cyprus for three years, and to Iran for six-and-half years. The Greek culture and mentality are very close to the Egyptian culture and I am very happy being here in Egypt.

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