A meeting with Albania's president: "We were, and will remain here"

Ahmed Al-Moslemany
Wednesday 23 Oct 2019

A swan after a swan was munching the lake’s grass in confidence and quietude. Swans seemed to be like a water peacock chewing the lake’s banquets while holding its head high, then off they went as if nothing has happened.

While I was following the swans’ movement and sitting at the lake’s bank near to the Adriatic Sea, I remembered Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece "Swan Lake" and that prince who fell in love with a beautiful girl whom a magician turned into a swan throughout the day except for a part of the night. Her mother continued to cry until she filled the lake with her tears. The story concludes with the prince catching the magician, ending the girl’s tragedy and marrying her.

This lake I called the Swan Lake to distinguish it from other splendid lakes and captivating scenes that this wonderful country is full of in the Western Balkans.

This was my first trip to Albania, the country with an ancient history dating back to the Illyrian period. Mountains, valleys, plains, the Adriatic Sea and the Ionic Sea, coasts, cities and farms made this country, which has a population of 30 million, a touristic destination.

There, I met the distinguished Egyptian Ambassador Mohamed Khalil, as well as the president’s advisers and professors from the University of Tirana, intellectuals and economists from the Albanian elite. Then I was honoured to meet President Ilir Meta.

I crossed the distance from the hotel to the presidential palace on foot because it is very tempting to walk in areas designated for pedestrians. It is also possible for one to live in Albania’s contemporary history through its streets. These buildings date back to the royal era where King Ahmet Zogu, who was a friend of Egyptian King Farouk, lived. Those buildings belong to the communist era where Enver Hoxha ruled. And the contemporary buildings represent new Albania.

President Meta possesses a captivating charisma; he was a foreign minister, parliament speaker and prime minister. He has a clear vision about his country and the world. He also sees that the best possible strategic cooperation in the Mediterranean Basin would be between Albania and Egypt, for Egypt is the gate to Africa and the Arab world. Likewise, Albania is the gate to the Balkans and Europe. Both countries agree on modernity and peace and oppose extremism and wars.

Meta was the first Albanian president to visit Egypt in 60 years. When I asked him about his impression, he replied: “I was very happy to visit Egypt and meet President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. Egypt is an important partner to us. Albania isn’t a big country and can’t have relations with all the world’s countries. But through Egypt we can be friends of all its friends. Albania is important to Egypt as well. Albanians, who are in every part in the Balkans, especially in Kosovo and Macedonia and in every other place, are real friends of Egypt. I’ve visited mega projects; the New Suez Canal and the Grand Egyptian Museum. My estimation is that Egypt is moving in the right direction.”

The president has total faith in Europe. He said: “The EU now isn’t in its best condition. However, it is the best human enterprise, where economic progress parallels the human and civil rights progress. The EU condition will get better after the new reforms.”

President Meta believes the Western Balkans will join the EU someday and doesn’t see this cumbersome to the EU. The entire area of the Western Balkan countries equals the area of a single country the size of Romania.

When I asked the Albanian president on his viewpoint on the rise of the populist right in Europe he said that it was proof of the left’s failure. For the left, that led the modernisation of Europe, couldn’t respond to people’s demands. However, this doesn’t mean that the continent won't resuming its path and power.

The Albanian president believes in regional peace and when I asked him about his relations with Turkey and Greece. He said, “Albania’s relation with Greece is extremely important… we were and we will remain neighbours. Both of us are members in the NATO. There is a Greek minority in Albania and there is a great number of Albanians living in Greece. Our relation with Turkey is also historic. We have big economic interests and both of us are members in NATO. But I would like to mention clearly: It is important for Albania that the internal problems of other countries shouldn’t affect us here. It isn’t Albania’s duty to play the role of arbiter in conflicts and problems that take place in other countries.”

I asked the president about what some intellectuals raise concerning “Greater Albania” and whether this suggestion was serious. He said, “All Albanians have a common project. It is the merger with Europe. The idea of Greater Albania isn’t feasible at all. The “Greater Serbia” project failed. We are living in a complicated area. There is no 'ethnically cleansed' country in the Balkans. It is sheer madness to talk about expansionist projects.”

I told President Meta that he had warned against attempts to tear the political society apart and establish a parallel country in Albania and Kosovo, and I asked him whether he still believed this.

The president replied, “We are living in a world in which [we see] the influence of apolitical personalities and [foreign] players, especially NGOs. Those are part of the dangers of globalisation. It is very important to defend the people’s sovereignty in order to maintain the state’s sovereignty.”

My meeting with the Albanian president lasted for nearly an hour. I appreciate he received me despite his preoccupations and after I saw the palace was crowded as it was to receive the Italian prime minister. The president was scheduled to visit Monaco and Japan in the framework of his policy to make friends with all the world’s countries.

“The Egyptian state history goes back to more than 7,000 years and we have encountered on our borders many wars and problems for long centuries. However, a great gift came from beyond our borders and we can never forget it… He was our country’s leader of Albanian descent Mohamed Ali Pasha," I told President Meta.

The president’s political adviser, who was present at the meeting, said: “I live in Zamalek where Mohamed Ali was brought up. We invite you to see the place.”

With a promise to accept the invitation I left the president and his adviser, thanking them for Albania's great gift to Egypt. 

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