INTERVIEW: Serbia values Egypt as founder of Non-Aligned Movement and a strong economic partner: FM Selakovic

Hany Assal, Monday 23 Aug 2021

Serbian Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic spoke to Al-Ahram about the goals behind his visit to Egypt as well as Serbia's wish to increase cooperation with Egypt on the economic, political and regional fronts

Serbian FM
Serbia’s Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic

Serbia’s Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic sat down for an interview with Al-Ahram during his recent visit to Egypt, the goal of which was to intensify efforts between Serbia and Egypt to improve their level of cooperation and deepen the bonds between the two countries, which stretch back to Egypt’s khedival era.

Selakovic spoke to Al-Ahram about his visit and the invitation he extended to President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to attend the Non-Aligned Movement Summit, which will be held on the 60th anniversary of the founding of the movement on 11 and 12 October this year in Belgrade.

Al-Ahram: At first, we would like to welcome you to Cairo, and we want to hear from you some details about the purpose of your visit and its most important topics.

Nikola Selakovic: It is my great honour and pleasure to visit Egypt, a large and important country with which we are bound by friendship and a tradition of diplomatic relations since 1908, when the Kingdom of Serbia began cooperation with the Egyptian khedivate, through the time of Presidents Tito and Nasser and their joint support for the peoples of Africa and Asia, who fought for freedom from colonial oppression, and until this day, when in the time of serious statesmen like President Vučić and President El-Sisi, we are laying the foundations of our future cooperation, which I am sure will have a serious perspective. 

During my visit to your great country, special attention was paid to my capacity as a special envoy of the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, on whose behalf I have the honour to extend an invitation to President El-Sisi to enhance the conference of the Non-Aligned Movement with his presence, which will be held on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the movement on 11 and 12 October this year in Belgrade.

Egypt’s participation is particularly important given the key and historical role of your country in founding the movement, as well as Egypt’s activities at the international level, where it acts as a strong promoter of the basic principles on which the movement is founded in order to create a more just world in which the principles of multilateralism, peaceful cooperation, equality, integrity, and sovereignty of countries are respected.

AA: Are there plans after this visit to prepare reciprocal visits between the leaders of the two countries in the coming period?

NS: Our leaders meeting is vital to improving our relations. They give new energy to the unity of Serbia and Egypt and encourage all levels of our societies to cooperate internally and fight for common interests in the international arena.

In that sense, there is an open invitation from the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, and it would be a special honour for us to host the President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, His Excellency Mr. Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, who enjoys an exceptional reputation among the citizens of the Republic of Serbia.

AA: What are your expectations for the meetings of the Egyptian-Serbian committee which are scheduled for next October, and the most prominent memoranda of understanding that will be signed between the two countries on the economy?

NS: In addition to making preparations for the presidential visit to Serbia, an important goal of my visit to Egypt is the preparation of the session of the Joint Committee on Economic, Scientific, and Technical Cooperation (JC), co-chaired by the ministers of foreign affairs of Serbia and Egypt, which is scheduled to take place by the end of this year in Cairo.

Serbia and Egypt are seriously preparing for the upcoming session of the JC, and they have an ambitious agenda. I am pleased to point out that the preparations for this session have been very successful so far.

AA: Your government is preparing to provide incentives for homeowners to use solar panels. Do you have plans to cooperate with Egypt in the field of clean energy given that Egypt has a wonderful model in this context?

NS: Serbia has started work on the reform of legislation relating to the field of renewable energy sources by adopting the Law on the Use of Renewable Energy Sources.

We are interested in exchanging experiences in the fields of solar and wind energy, and with the new law, we are creating a stimulating business environment for investing in the field of renewable energy sources through direct investments or public-private partnerships.

Egypt’s experience in the development of renewable energy sources is important to us and we are ready to accept any kind of cooperation that is in the common interest.

AA: With regard to trade exchange, what are the Egyptian exports that Serbia needs the most, and what are the goods or products that Egypt can benefit from?

NS: Serbia wants to further develop and expand its economic relations with Egypt, which includes increasing trade, which is now below realistic possibilities.

Economic relations are generally developing well, but there are potentials for further development and improvement in numerous areas such as agriculture, tourism, health, telecommunications, construction, machine industry, mining, and scientific research projects.

It is difficult to define all the goods that Serbia could export to Egypt, because the list is long, and includes products from almost all industries. Given Egypt’s good relations with Russia, China, and the UAE, the possibility of various trilateral ties in economic projects is not ruled out.

Additionally, the Egyptian and Serbian economies are networked in broader free trade systems, which include markets much larger than the national ones, which certainly represents an opportunity for businessmen to use the markets of Egypt or Serbia as a springboard to conquer new markets.

We are also aware of the importance of holding a Joint Business Council (JBC). We follow the news about the reforms and economic progress of Egypt with attention and admiration, the cause of which are the numerous visionary megaprojects that President El-Sisi started that will essentially and forever transform Egypt into a prosperous, modern, and developed country.

Serbia is considering the possibility of its involvement to a certain extent in the implementation of investment megaprojects, and in this regard, we are seriously considering the Egyptian proposal to store a certain amount of grain in new silos in Suez as a new and expanded logistics centre in Egypt from which our products could be transported to their final destinations.

A significant contribution to the development of our relations is given by the enthusiasm and energy of your ambassador in Belgrade, Amr El-Jowaily, who is an exceptional professional and our sincere friend.

AA: Through the outcome of the meetings held by the Ambassador of Egypt in Belgrade, Amr El-Jowaily, with Serbian officials and ministers, we saw an interest in giving priority to cooperation in the field of small and medium enterprises, what is your opinion on that?

NS: Small and medium enterprises are carriers of economic development. We agree with the assessment that the establishment and expansion of cooperation between small and medium enterprises in Serbia and Egypt could significantly improve economic cooperation between the two countries, increase trade, and positively affect economic development and employment.

We expect that the signing of the memorandum of understanding between the Development Agency of Serbia and the Agency for Small and Medium Enterprises of Egypt will make a key contribution to the development of this cooperation.

Additionally, it is necessary to work on better mutual acquaintances and establishing contacts between such companies in both countries. The preparation and holding of the session of the already mentioned JBC, whose holding is planned in parallel with the holding of the JC, will certainly contribute a lot to that.

AA: How can cooperation and coordination between Egypt and Serbia be strengthened on regional issues, especially the situation in Libya, and the related phenomenon of illegal immigration from North Africa to Europe through the Balkan crossing?

NS: We are following the developments in the Middle East and North Africa region very closely and I look forward to the opportunity to exchange views with Egyptian partners, whose role in resolving these regional issues is very active, significant, and irreplaceable.

Serbia highly respects Egypt’s position and actions in solving regional problems in a way that contributes to peace and stability in the region and beyond.

At the same time, the attitudes of friendly Egypt help us greatly to better understand the situation and, in complex circumstances, serve as a kind of guideline for our positioning.

We support the Egyptian principled approach that is based on international law and the fundamental principles of the UN that crises in the region should be resolved on the principle of respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of states, with the establishment and effective operation of unified national institutions.

Conflicts and instability in the region of the Middle East and North Africa have caused a refugee and migrant crisis, the consequences of which were directly felt by Serbia as a transit destination. Unlike some other countries, Serbia tried to treat refugees and migrants humanely, with the awareness that most of them were people who were forced to leave their homes.

Relevant international organisations, as well as the EU, assessed the position of Serbia during the migrant crisis as extremely responsible, humane, and solidary. For example, we have provided adequate reception centres with many benefits, and with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccination of migrants has been made possible.

AA: What about cooperation in the fight against terrorism between the two countries?

NS: The Republic of Serbia and the Arab Republic of Egypt act in solidarity, unity, and coherence when it comes to the fight against terrorism and, in that sense, our competent services achieve appropriate cooperation.

For us, Egyptian experiences in the fight against terrorism are valuable. We are impressed by the results and efficiency of the Egyptian security services in the fight against this plague, which is never limited to one country, which knows no borders, and represents one of the biggest transnational threats.

Egypt’s defence against terrorism is at the same time a defence against that evil of the region to which Serbia belongs.

AA: Serbia has been waiting since 2012 for the European Union to respond to its application to become a full member of the EU. However, the EU recently said that the stalemate in negotiations brings Serbia ever closer to Russia and China, how do you comment on this?

NS: Regardless of its priority interest for EU accession, Serbia pursues a multi-vector foreign policy, which is never directed against third party countries and is never to the detriment of the interests of cooperation with traditional friends and partners, but serves to promote peace, stability, and cooperation.

Such is our policy in the region to which we belong, as well as towards the countries of the region to which Egypt belongs. We have close cooperation with other partners outside the region, especially with China and the Russian Federation.

The close ties between Serbia and Russia can be attributed to centuries of historical and cultural cooperation and the connection between the two peoples. Cooperation with China is very intensive, both politically and economically. Just as Germany is one of the largest investors in the Serbian economy, so is China one of the largest investors in the infrastructure and mining sector in Serbia.

The countries of the Arab world and Africa remain a particularly important place for us, and I am convinced that our commitment to them will only rise in importance in the future.

In the last week, I had the opportunity to visit several countries in southern Africa with the goal of donating vaccines against COVID-19. In meetings with my colleagues, I was convinced of how great the potentials for our cooperation are because they are based on sincere friendship, openness, and commitment to the same values.

Don’t forget, Serbia has 14 embassies in the territory of Africa, and all former Yugoslav republics together have four embassies.

AA: Can we say that Serbian society was able to overcome past conflicts after the painful memories of the war, or that the multi-ethnic file still represents a combustible crisis at any time?

NS: It is of key interest for the Republic of Serbia to preserve stability in the region and the orientation of all countries in the region towards more intensive cooperation in all areas, because only such a region enables the sustainable development of Serbia itself.

In that sense, the improvement of good neighbourly cooperation, which is in the interest of everyone in the region, represents a fundamental and unchangeable starting point of the overall foreign policy of Serbia.

Serbia is aware that inherited problems, especially with some of its neighbours, are very serious and difficult. With our steady and constructive attitude, we have contributed and continue to contribute to the relaxation of relations. We are determined to promote a “positive agenda” oriented towards the future in our relations with our neighbours and countries in the region.

Thus, in order to help its neighbours who did not start the vaccination process, Serbia has donated a part of its vaccine supply to neighbouring countries: North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro.

In relations with our neighbours, we have focused on the development of economic cooperation, which can contribute to a more favourable climate for resolving open issues from the past.

In this regard, President Vučić, together with the prime ministers of North Macedonia and Albania, launched the Open Balkan Initiative, which aims to deepen the regional economic market and facilitate the movement of people, goods, services, and capital, following the four freedoms of the EU, reducing costs and increasing competitiveness.

AA: Serbia is the second country in terms of the number of tourists coming to Egypt. Are there opportunities to increase the number of Serbian tourists to Egyptian beach resorts in the coming period?

NS: Egypt has become one of the most popular tourist destinations for Serbian tourists, who also visited Egypt during the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to being able to enjoy the beauties of your country, they feel welcome, safe, and very comfortable in Egypt.

I am convinced that the trend of increasing the number of Serbian tourists in Egypt will continue, and this is the result of the improvement of the economic situation in Serbia and the rapid rise in living standards.  

During the previous seven years, Serbia has embarked on a path of stable progress, the key contribution to which has been the visionary policy of President Aleksandar Vučić. I am convinced that our relations will have an even greater impact on the increase of tourist exchange in the future.

Short link: